Independent, strong, resilient, respectful: these are just some terms used to describe America’s military brats. Over 1.2 million children in the United States currently live in an active duty military home. Of those 1.2 million, 900,000 will have experienced at least one deployed parent. To honor their commitment and sacrifice, April has been designated as the Month of the Military Child. So, what is it really like to be the child of a service member?
I was born and raised in the same home my entire life. My mom still lives there and has since the 70s. My best friends from Kindergarten were in my wedding, and my hometown was all I ever knew until college. But that’s not the case for my husband., Jesse. Born to an Air force pilot, Jesse moved around quite a bit as a child: New Mexico, California, Missouri, Florida and even overseas to Japan and Germany. His father would be gone, often. Even an entire year as he received unaccompanied orders to Iceland. But, like most children in any household, it’s all Jesse knew. Dad was leaving again. “See you later.”
He made friends, only having to part from them later. Sometimes they would remain friends for a couple of years-sometimes only a few months. As a result of his having to make new friends so often, he was forced out of his comfort zone. He was compelled to have an outgoing personality and a sense of humor, so that he easier fit into new schools and new cliques. These social skills that were developed at a young age not only helped him make friends quickly, but also stave off bullying . After spending most of his childhood changing schools, he was finally able grow roots in high school and become the extravert he was intended.
During college, Jesse was enrolled in ROTC, where he received training for his future as a fighter pilot in the United States Marine Corps. Now, not only is he a fighter pilot, but he is raising two military brats of his own.
Currently, our family is stationed overseas on a base of 5,000 with children everywhere. We have two elementary schools, a middle school, and high school all within walking distance. We feel so blessed that our children are growing up around other military children, and Jesse plans to use his own nostalgic feelings to help our children grow and adapt in this unique lifestyle in which we live.
Is it easy? No. Are there challenges that are unique to military children? Definitely. My two year old often cries for Daddy when he’s deployed. The answer’s always the same: Daddy’s at work. I give my son his “Daddy Doll”, and he seems to accept that for the time being. Our children are 10,000 miles away from their grandparents, some whom we haven’t seen in almost two years.
I watch my best friends’ children (back home in the U.S.) go to the same birthday parties and have play dates, yet my children don’t even know who they are. We don’t always tell our children when Daddy (or Mommy) will be coming home because often times, their return dates get pushed back, and we cant bear to see another look of disappointment.
But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Our children are happy, really happy. Friends who are living the same lifestyle surround them. Children quickly learn the popular acronyms (PCS, USO, OCONUS, DOD, etc.) They are able to travel and have experiences that many people do not have in a lifetime. In the last two years alone, our children have visited seven countries over three continents and have been exposed to various cultures that I hope influence them as they mature and become adults.
But possibly one of the most important traits of these military brats is they learn to have pride in their country even at a young age. On our base, the National Anthem plays at 0800 every morning. Everyone stops what they are doing and stands in respect, including children. They have been taught the importance of this act, and is a truly beautiful site to see children playing in the yard or riding the bike stop to honor their country.
Military children will become independent because they have to be. They often have only one parent at a time to rely on, and they quickly learn to help out around the house. They become strong because although relocation moves are never easy, they begin to learn to accept them and to cope. They are resilient because Mommy or Daddy may deploy for several months, and they know to just keep moving forward. And finally, these “military brats” are some of the most respectful children you will ever know. Of course, when your dad is a drill sergeant, there’s not a whole lot of leniency.
Those that know me know I have a strong love for travel. When asked where do I want to visit, my answer is always the same: Everywhere! But I seldom travel alone (or even just with the hubs). I almost always have my two under two with me, and although I would never say it’s easy, it’s definitely possible.
I understand that just the thought of traveling with young children is enough to cause anxiety even in the most tolerant parent; however, don’t let children be an excuse not to see the world.
My kids have flown seven international flights, countless domestic, over 32,000 miles and have spent over 82 hours on the plane in the last 12 months. Even though its tempting, leave the Xanax at home, and check out my Top 10 Tips for Traveling with Toddlers (and infants):
1.Car Seat Strap: This suggestion only applies if you’re bringing your own car seat. This tip I learned the hard way. Before discovering the Cares Harness (tip # 4) I brought Maddox’s carseat on the plane. He was comfortable in it, and it made things much easier for longer flights; however, waiting to board was incredibly difficult. I had to push a stroller, hold onto my carryons, and balance a car seat on top. Turtles could have passed me, but then I came across the Car Seat Strap. This strap wraps through the handle of a carry on and connects to a car seat. Since we were loading Maddox’s car seat directly on the plane, this seemed like a way I could strap Maddox in, and then just use my moby wrap for Asher. It took a couple of practice run throughs before I had mastered it, but it ended up being a huge help. Throughout the airport, we were stopped multiple times and asked where we got the strap. We even had our picture taken.
Maddox absolutely loved it since he could “ride” through the airport. . When it was time to board, we simply unstrapped it (approximately 10 seconds), threw the strap in the diaper bag and loaded on the plane. (This could also be beneficial if you’re taking your car seat on your trip, but don’t plan on having your child sit in it on the plane. Car seats can always be gate checked-just bring a protective bag.).
2. Night Flights: I cannot express this tip enough! If given the choice, book a night flight. Ten minutes before we board a flight, we change the kids and put them in their pajamas. Once on the flight, we settle in our toddler, give him some milk and read him a book. We try to keep all of our nightly rituals as close to home as possible, down to brushing his teeth. The flights provide pillows and blankets (and the attendants have always offered us more), so we make him as comfortable as possible. Most of the time, he is asleep before we even take off, which allows us to get some shut eye as well. The only issue we have with night flights is they are quiet, so if Maddox wakes up, he tends to start crying. Be prepared if your child suddenly wakes. We keep pacifiers near by, his singing bear, and adjust him as quickly as possible to get him back to sleep.
3.Bassinet: Every commercial plane has it’s own style of bassinet. Once an airline ticket is booked, customers should call the airline as soon as possible and request a bassinet for their infant (first come, first served). If available, the parent(s) seat assignment will change to accommodate the request. The bassinets are located in front of the bulkhead seats (the seats right behind the walls that separate the different classes), and once the seatbelt sign is turned off, the flight attendants will attach it on for use. Not only does the bassinet allow parents to lie their child down for periods at a time, but the extra leg room is a major bonus. Even though there isn’t any under seat storage, after take off bags can then be placed in front of you (still with plenty of leg room). Having anything you need at a hands reach, makes it much more convenient than having to constantly stand up to get more formula, diapers, or toys.
4.Cares Harness: Children can remain in a parent’s lap until the age of 2; however, when Maddox was a year and a half old, we flew with him from Japan to Florida, and it was a miserable experience. He slept most of it across our laps, but we had to remain as still as possible because when he wakes up, he wakes up screaming! After that, I knew it was time to just get him his own ticket (even though we had to pay his seat, tickets are still discounted quite a bit for young children). Unless a child under two is in a car seat, they have to sit in your lap at take off and landing with one exception: they are using the Cares Harness. The Cares Harness is the ONLY FAA-approved child harness and takes less than a minute to strap to the seat. It’s incredibly safe and fits the child much like a car seat. Once the seat belt sign is turned off, the harness can be adjusted to make it more comfortable, or we even just put the normal seatbelt on him. Call and confirm with the airline that you are bringing a harness, but we have never had an issue. In fact, on our flight to Australia, the attendant even told us that the harness we had was the only one Qantas airlines approved!
5) Moby Wrap: If you’re traveling with an infant, obviously requesting the bassinet is the first step, but what if its unavailable? As much as you love your baby, holding him/her the entire time on a long flight will get old. Even with the bassinet, I would wrap my son up for at least some duration on the plane. It allowed me to be hands free, he liked it, and it was comfortable. Babies can’t be wrapped at take off or landing (or going through security for that matter), but the rest of the flight was a breeze. I personally love my Moby Wrap, but any kind of cloth wrap should work fine. I would just avoid bulky carriers like the Ergo. With multiple ways to wrap your child, there is bound to be something that works.
6)Quart-sized Zip lock bags (organization): In the past, my husband and I would shove a bunch of toys into our carry on. When Maddox needed something else to play with, we would have to take the entire carry on down from the above compartment to get just a couple of toys out. Heaven forbid Maddox see the carry on full of toys because regardless of what we pulled, he would make a fit to get something else. Anyone that has been on a plane knows that getting up, getting something out of your carry on, putting it back and getting readjusted is not the easiest task in the world (See tip #3). Try doing it several times throughout a single plane ride. We often have multiple connecting flights, so with several plane rides ahead, I had to come up with something easier, especially if I’m also holding a baby. Each zip lock bag is full of certain styles of toys. I have my book bag, my coloring/sticker bag, my noisemaker bag (they really aren’t that loud, promise), etc. Every bag is themed and can go together, so when I bring out a different one later, it is an entirely new set of activities. It’s very easy to just reach in and grab a bag. I don’t even look at what I’m taking out of the carry-on! (Bonus tip: In the weeks leading up to the flight, pick up cheap toys, coloring books, activity pads, etc from the local dollar store. Hide them, or go ahead and start organizing them in your zip lock bags. That way, your child(ren) has lots of new and exciting toys on the plane).
7) Lots of snacks: For the love of all things good and holy, do not rely on airplane food to feed your kids. My son ate a roll on the 10 hour flight to Australia, even though he was given every meal that we received. A roll! Thankfully, we had two ziplock bags full of his favorite snacks. We filled one with multiple fruit and veggie packs, his favorite crackers, some fruit, etc. The other had the fun snacks that we used for the pill box (goldfish, teddy grahams, animal crackers, etc.). I wanted to bring snacks that I knew he loved (sorry, let’s save the kale chips for home), but that wouldn’t give him too much of a tummy ache. One mistake we made on one of our first international flights is we brought packaged toddler meals. Again, we brought the favorites (macaroni and cheese is a staple). The issue we ran into is airlines do not have microwaves. For some reason, that didn’t even cross our minds. A flight attendant was able to help us out by heating some water and letting the meal sit for awhile, but it honestly wasn’t worth it. Save the heated meals for home or your actual destination.
8.Pill box: I happened to stumble upon this genius idea while researching snacks to bring on the plane and thought I would give it a try. Maddox has a lot of energy but not a long attention span. When I find activities for him, I am really hoping to get a solid 5, maybe 10 minutes of his focus, and then I need to be ready to move onto the next “game.” I purchased a pill box from our local Dollar Store. The pill box bought me a good 45 minutes three different times on our long plane ride stretches! We are talking over two hours of focused activity, people! In each section of the pill box, I loaded some of Maddox’s favorite snacks (goldfish, animal crackers, gummies-remember, I’m looking to keep his attention. I will save the healthy veggies for at home). He would open a container, eat the snacks, and close it before moving on to the next one. After all the snacks were eaten, he just enjoyed opening and closing the compartments for a bit. I didn’t hesitate to reload the sections to “play” again. I do know of some who use each part of the pill box for small toys such as miniature dinosaurs or race cars. For my son, those toys don’t hold his concentration more than a few seconds, but give him some goldfish=winner! My husband made sure to tell me, “Do not forget the pill box on our next trip.”
8) Electronics: I know some parents are against letting your child(ren) use electronics at a young age. I understand, and if this tip isn’t for you, just skip it; however, I will do close to anything to have a peaceful plane ride for not only me, but the passengers around me and that means occasionally breaking out the electronics. Our go-to is the Ipad. Before we travel, we load the Ipad up with lots of toddler friendly games. We NEVER give him the Ipad at the beginning of the trip. We often wait until he is starting to get really restless, and our ziplock toys just are cutting it at that moment. His whole face lights up, and he will usually play for a good hour. We often have to help him, but toddlers catch on quickly! In addition, on international flights, we have access to a plethora of movies, so we put on one of his favorite cartoons, give him some snacks, and he is good for quite awhile. He absolutely hates earbuds, so he wears his Cozyphones or occasionally wants my husband’s Bose headphones, which he gets. 😉
9) Diapers, Formula, & extra outfits: Pack what you think you would need and then double it. I tend to pack one diaper for every hour of the flight, plus a couple of extras for check in and luggage pickup. I also bring a brand new packet of wipes and am never surprised when I’ve practically gone through the entire container by the time we land. The bathroom has a changing table that simply folds down, and although its small, it is convenient to have a location where the kids can be changed. I also have a formula feeding baby, and throughout my day-to-day life, the three section formula dispensers are great, but for a flight, leave them in the checked suitcase. Bring the whole flipping formula container! I always have a fresh, never opened one to bring so that I know I have enough. Don’t think you need that much? I recently had a friend stuck on the tarmac for five hours. It was only a four-hour flight! That is nine hours on the plane. Make sure you have enough food for your baby, and plan for the unexpected. Finally, bring each child at least one change of clothes. As stated in Tip #2, I put my children in pajamas right before boarding the aircraft, but I still bring another set for my toddler and two extra sets for my infant. My toddler can sometimes make it through the entire flight without having to change clothes. My infant-never!
10) Take Off/Landing Ear Popping: At takeoff and landing, make sure your kids are sucking on a pacifier, eating snacks, or drinking. It will help with their ears and keep them from being in pain. The LAST thing you need is for a cry fest to begin because they can’t get their ears to pop. If he’s not already asleep, we tend to hide our toddler’s evening milk until take off because we know he will down it .(It also shows that it is bedtime, so GO TO SLEEP). We almost always have a bottle prepped and ready to give our baby as well.
Every time we travel somewhere knew, we think of something that we want to add to our next trip to make it even easier to with our small children. What tips do you have that make traveling a breeze?
“Riding a bike is a great cardio workout while pregnant.”
“Riding a bike is the absolute worst thing you can possibly do while pregnant.”
“Everything you can have in moderation, except alcohol. Do not touch it.”
“You can have a glass of wine here and there. It’s fine.”
“Stay out of the sun. You’ll burn easier.”
“Make sure to get some sun. You need that Vitamin D.”
Everyone of these statements were said to me throughout my pregnancy by loved ones. They all meant well in their advice, but to be honest, it got old! I have no doubt that others have experienced similar statements, probably even more bizarre.
When I first became pregnant, I didn’t want to take any chances with my unborn baby, so I tried to listen to everyone! About halfway through my 2nd trimester, I snapped. At first, I thought it was one of my crazy hormonal breakdowns. I had just come home from spending an evening with some girlfriends and began to unwind for the night. I slipped on my pjs and realized they were now too tight. I’m not sure if it was the realization that I could no longer fit into even my baggy clothes, or that the pregnancy was quickly nearing the end, and I still had no clue what I was doing, but I just fell to the floor. I cried and cried and cried. I truly believe that everyone has their breaking point, and this was mine.
My husband was home, and he happened to come into our closet to find me in a fetal position just staring at my too small clothes. At the time, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. Why was I acting this way? Like any caring husband (who has no clue why his 7 month pregnant wife is on the floor crying), he sat with me and just listened. I told him my fears, my concerns, and everything that was on my mind; however, even after talking it out, I couldn’t figure out why I was still so down, and then I simply said, “I’m so sick of listening to everybody.”
My husband said the simplest, yet profound words that changed my entire outlook on the remainder of the pregnancy: Then stop.
And at that moment, I did just that-I stopped. I stopped listening to everyone who wasn’t my doctor, and I began listening to my body. As long as my Obstetrician gave me the go-ahead, I kept doing what I wanted.
I did my best to watch my weight while still eating, for the most part, what I wanted. I went to Zumba several days a week, rode my bike miles (even on a busy highway-gasp), took long walks, and didn’t touch alcohol.
Enjoying the day at the beach.
And guess what-I never felt better. I was happy and still smiled when I got the occasional advice, but I just didn’t care anymore. Every pregnancy is different, and each should be treated as such. For every article or statistic stating what a woman should do, there is another one rebutting the same “facts.”
So now, the only advice I ever offer is simply this-Listen to your doctor and your body, and enjoy this time in your life.