On Day 2 of the 4 Great Military Spouse Books for 4th of July Giveaway, I welcome fellow Air Force spouse Kristin Ayyar, mom of three kids and author of Countdown ‘til Daddy Comes Home. Her gorgeous new children’s book helps parents prepare kids for a parent’s upcoming deployment and offers loads of creative ideas for staying connected during long separations. I wish I’d had this book on my shelf six years ago when my first child was born during a long deployment!
I asked Kristin to share a bit about her own family’s experience with separation, reunion and how to stay connected. Here’s what she had to say:
1. What has been your personal experience with military deployments and separations? Can you share how many, how long, and what were the biggest challenges?
My family is currently half way through my husband’s one-year deployment. This is our 3rd deployment but we have had over 200 days of TDY some years due to flying missions, schools and command requirements. The challenges have changed over the years due to my children’s ages and where we were living. I personally have found deployments easier when I have lived on base. Most people have been in your shoes and are more willing to help and support you. I think the biggest challenge is communication. I have had deployments and long separations with only a weekly call, then e-mail & weekly call and now currently Skype, texts, and e-mail and still staying connected is the biggest challenge.
2. Do repeated deployments get easier or not? Why?
That’s a hard one. I don’t know if they are necessarily easier but I think you do learn from your mistakes and will know what worked and what didn’t. You also have the confidence to know you will survive and thrive. The hardest part of repeated deployments is the cumulative loss of time together. Missing holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and special events all take a toll on our military families.
3. If you could give a new military spouse one piece of advice about deployment, what would it be?
When people say, call me if you need anything, ask them, what can I call you for? Can you fix the computer? Pick up my kids from school? Be called in the middle of the night of the night if you need to take one of your children to the ER? Then load all the contact information in your phone. I personally had a family medical crisis only days after my husband left for Afghanistan. Thankfully I had asked those questions and knew exactly who to call to watch my preschooler and take her to school while I took my son to the ER. My son spent 5 days in the PICU and because of my planning some of the most stressful and worrisome days of my life was less so because I knew who I could call. Have a plan!
4. What is your favorite way to keep in touch as a family during the service member’s absence?
Writing cards and letters. It is so nice to be able to re-read them and see my husband’s handwriting. E-mails just don’t have the same warmth. We have a special box where we keep all the cards and letters my husband has sent us so when can’t talk to him we re-read his cards. I try and make sure I send a card or letter at least once a week.
5. Did you find that your children were drawn to different keep-connected strategies? How so?
My teenagers are more comfortable with texting and e-mail although I do have them write their Dad every Friday after school. My 5 year old loves to draw pictures for her Daddy. We currently always have a USPS flat rate APO box on our dining room table and she knows to put anything she wants to send to Daddy in the box. My husband tapes her masterpieces on the wall of his room and office and she loves seeing them via Skype. I have a lot of great ideas on ways to stay connected on my website www.daddycountdown.com
6. Do you think family members underestimate the challenge of reintegration after deployment? How do the things you do while you’re apart make it easier to come back together?
Absolutely! We have a policy that if there is an issue with something that my husband usually handles when he is home that he still makes the decisions even though he is thousands of miles away( if possible). A good example is our cars. We have had a few car issues (of course) since he has left and thankfully I have been able to describe them to him and he has told me to take it to the repair shop or wait until he gets home for his mid-tour. Our car dealer has even Skyped with him and discussed the repairs and charges. My husband is a car guy so this is important to him and it has also saved us a lot money. I probably would have said fix everything and my husband knows what really needs to be done immediately. Most importantly, he is still able to take care of us and feel needed. We also continue to have a policy to talk or e-mail each other if we want spend over a certain amount of money or if the kids are going to have consequences for something they have done wrong. The most important thing is try and keep the same roles in the home if possible so reintegration will be easier.
Now it’s your turn.
To enter the 4 Great Military Spouse Books for 4th of July giveaway, share your best tip for keeping connected with your spouse either during deployment or when ops tempt is insanely high. What works for you?Please post only one comment per day and come back tomorrow to enter agai at! http://heidiluedtke.com/2013/07/4-great-books-for-4th-of-july-countdown-til-daddy-comes-home/
Next week the Ayyar family will mark having completed 25% of Balan’s deployment and we are not only surviving we are thriving.! Don’t get me wrong, my son Vasan’s hospitalization really tested us early in the deployment but we are stronger spiritually because of it. Was preparation the key? I say, absolutely yes! Balan and I were very up front and honest about what could test our family during our year without him. We talked about expectations, challenges that could arise and that I my not be mother of the year all the time. Having your best friend half a world away is trying and effects you in many ways. During my Mom and Sister’s visit during Christmas break we decided that my book Countdown ’til Daddy Comes home should have a list of questions to prompt parents to discuss certain issues with their children. Our family discussed most of these issues prior to our deployment and I think it has made the transition to our new normal easier. Here is the list of questions that I am planning on having in the back of the book. Have I missed anything? Please give me your suggestions. I only get one chance to make this book really make a difference for military and frequent business travel families.
Questions to discuss with your child prior to goodbye
Do you want to do anything special to say goodbye to Daddy?What will you miss most about not having Daddy home?
Is there someone else that can do them?
Are you ever mad at Daddy for going away?
Do you know where Daddy is going and when he’ll be back?
How can we help you stay connected to Daddy while he is gone?
How should we countdown the days ‘til Daddy comes home?
How should we break up the time so the countdown goes faster?
How do you think we are going to be able to communicate with Daddy?
How often do you think we think we are going to be able to communicate with Daddy?
Where do you want to keep the special things you want to show Daddy when he gets home?
What kind of Daddy comfort item do you want to get? (Daddy bear or pillow case with picture on it, etc.)
If we send Daddy a care package, what should we put in it?
Who should we call if Mommy can’t fix something herself?
What can you do to help get ready for Daddy’s arrival?
What should we cook for Daddy when he gets home?
What do you want to do for your Daddy-son or Daddy-daughter time?
Please visit http://www.daddycountdown.com for more ideas on how to help your children cope with a separation from a parent.
You never want to tempt fate and say what else could happen, but my life over the past six weeks has been filled with goodbyes, excitement, and the terror of the medical unknown. I said goodbye to my dear husband Balan who was deployed to Afghanistan at the end of October. I thought I had a great coping plan in place. My mother and sister- in- law were going to stay a few extra days after saying goodbye to Bal to help with our annual Halloween cotton candy and raise the spirits of my 3 little Indians. I had also launched my kickstarter campaign to help cover the costs of publishing my children’s book “Countdown ’til Daddy Comes Home.” My book project would give me something to focus on after my kids went to bed and the loss of my alone time with my husband would make me weepy, snack and watch worthless TV. All my plans we changed with a single “Mom!” waking me in the early morning.
There are so many sayings about testing your strength… here is one of my favorites.
Nothing can ever prepare you for the experience of watching your teenage son have a “seizure,” not knowing where he is or answering simple questions. My logical, rational mind took over in the ER that morning. I was able to answer all the Doctors questions, plead with Vasan to come back to me and hold him down while they attempted two lumbar punctures (spinal taps). On the outside I handled everything quite calmly and politely. It wasn’t until Vasan came back to me in the PICU with an unknown infection in his brain that I finally took a moment to reflect on the past few hours and I totally lost it! I believe that God is in my heart and he put me on auto pilot that early morning in October. I made all the right decisions and things could have been quite different or even tragic if I would have made even one alternate choice. Thankfully the Air Force brought Balan home from Afghanistan and he was able to stay until Vasan was on a path to recovery, but that meant another tearful goodbye for the entire family wrapped in even more uncertainty. My faith is what is now keeping me sane because 6 weeks later we still do not know what exactly infected Vasan’s brain and if we are on the correct course of antibiotics. The MRIs show a steady improvement but the not knowing is nagging me. I have to let it all go! Easy to say but extremely hard to do. Things are starting to get back to normal and I know that I am stronger for experiencing all of the past six weeks but I silently hope this is the last of my tests during Balan’s deployment.