The Birth of Daddy’s Deployed

I was recently asked to write a blog for SargesList about how I started this awesome little company. So here’s a modified version:

I read somewhere that most people have their “big” ideas while they’re doing something else: working, washing dishes, etc. Mine came to me while I was driving. But let’s start at the beginning.

We live 17 hours away from our families and the birth of my daughter was the first grandchild on my side, and the third on my husband’s. Both sets of families were equally as excited and planned immediate visits. Charlotte’s due date was February 16th, and I was convinced I was going to go early. Sweet Charlotte had other plans. By the 23rd my parents were floating in Asheville after a few days in Memphis, and waiting for the call. There was little room for flexibility as my in-laws were arriving the first week in March. Charlotte arrived early morning on the 25th, after a storm that was Shakespearean in nature (Shakespeare often used weather as an added character to set the scene, and this storm fits Charlotte’s personality exactly: strong).

Craig had 10 days off and they were eventful: my family arriving, then leaving, his family arriving, then leaving, and then his returning to work. I will never forget the look on his face when he came home from work that day. We knew they were leaving in a few weeks for a three-month long training exercise. What we didn’t know was that he was going advon, and would be leaving only a few days later. My heart sank. I held this tiny baby, crying, (me, not her) I called my mom who immediately flew back out and we drove to Illinois together. I drove almost the whole way (because I’m a control freak) and my mind ran wild with concern about how my daughter would know who her father was: he had just left for three months, he would return in May only to leave again for over a month in June/July, then deploy for seven months in the fall.

I thought to myself that a book would help. But not just any book. It would have to be her book. It needed to show our family, Craig’s uniform and looks, and it had to be good. I had many details worked out in my head by the time we got back to IL and I created a shotty business plan. My brother had just graduated from Harvard Business School about a year prior, and is a straight-shooter, so I knew he would tell me if I had a good idea. We had our first “meeting” on the living room floor of my parents house: my dad, my brother, and myself. I told him my idea and I could see the wheels turning in his mind. I then showed him my plan, as well as the research I had done. He finally spoke: “This is great. What if we could create an environment where every child was the star of the book…” and he started spouting off ideas and I typed so frantically, and quickly, thanking God my parents encouraged me to take a typing class in high school.

It wasn’t that easy though…and being a teacher, not a business major, I had to figure out a lot of things at a slower pace. I registered the name Daddy’s Deployed as an LLC and then started working with illustrators and graphic designers. It took about six months from concept to initial product, and we have changed the story several times since we started. At first there were less options, but we wanted to reach more families, so we perfected Mommy’s Deployed, added multiple children per book, options for family day outings (beach, zoo, park, etc), deploying venues, and the list continues on as our product is ever changing.

As we move forward and near year two (this August) of being an active company, I am always thinking of where we’re headed next. For DD/MD we are organizing corporate partnerships so that we can get our product into the tiny hands that desperately need it faster and cheaper, without compromising the quality. We’re currently in the planning stages on a product for teens, something extraordinarily near and dear to my heart, with my background in teaching high school English. Stay tuned!

 

 

An Open Letter to GMC

An Open Letter to GMC
I hope you will take a moment to read about my customer service experience today at Ultimate GMC in  Fredericksburg, Virginia.

I live in North Carolina, and had an event in Washington, DC last night. I drove out in our 2010 GMC Terrain without problem. I woke up early, at 0700, with an urgency to get back to my two-year-old daughter, as I hate being away from her, even for one night. I started my five and a half hour journey back in the sleet filled skies over I-95. I’m sure you can imagine my disappointment when I stopped for gas and smoke billowed out from under the hood. I assumed that this meant that the oil leak we had it in for service for the previous week had not been properly fixed, and I certainly did not intend to drive further.

I called our roadside assistance provider who informed me that we had 100 miles of towing available, and each mile past 100 would cost $4. I had about 400 miles of my trip left and even though I was an English teacher, I was able to calculate that we could not afford that tow. I thought quickly and searched for a nearby GMC dealership. Ultimate GMC in Fredericksburg was less than twenty miles away. I called there and explained to Dave, the service manager, what was happening. He told me to have the car towed there, and what ensued next will be forever known as the greatest customer service I have ever experienced. When my lovely tow truck driver, George, dropped me off, Mike from service greeted me by name and immediately had a team out getting our SUV down and into service.

Almost a decade as a Marine’s wife, I am not frazzled easily. And, even though I showed no emotion, it was as though Dave and Mike knew I was crushed to lose another day with my daughter. They checked in on me, provided me updates on the car, and had me back on the road within three hours. They never once acted as though I was an inconvenience (even though the waiting room was filled with people waiting for their cars) and they spoke to me with respect, something that is often rare in a male-dominated industry.

When Mike escorted me back to the front to settle the bill, he said, “I did have to charge you for the dye we used in the oil tank…” almost remorsefully. I shrugged it off until I went to pay the bill and saw that the dye was the ONLY thing I was charged for. There was no labor fee, no emergency car appointment fee, nothing. Only the dye. I was shocked. My uncle owns a GMC dealership back in Illinois, so I am used to great customer service there, but here was another story. I wasn’t anyone to these men, and being from out of town, it’s unlikely that I would be back for more service, or to purchase a car there. But I can tell you that I will never forget how full my heart felt driving away in my fixed car.

Often, people look at the business I own, serving military families, and my husband’s active duty status and thank us for our service. Mike and Dave from Ultimate GMC should be recognized for THEIR service. I literally cannot fill the pages with enough praise for these two men.

Thank you, Mike and Dave, from the bottom of my heart. You showed me that good still exists, and I promise I will promote your service and the mission at Ultimate GMC to anyone that will listen.

Bravo, GMC. This is what families need to see when deciding where to buy a car. I will never buy any brand other than GMC, based off of my experiences today alone.

Most sincerely,

Bridget Platt
CEO of Daddy’s Deployed, LLC

The Holidays…And How Sittercity DOD Can Help!

One of the first blogs I wrote on the DD/MD site was about how difficult it is to deal with a deployment during the holidays. When I wrote it, Craig was actually deployed, and it was the first Christmas with the baby. It was hard: being at home with family should help, but sometimes it only makes you realize how you’re not at your home with your family. On the other hand, when you are at your home with your (incomplete) family, you’re wishing that you had the support of trusted family members, and good friends that really know you.

To say that I am a worrisome parent would be an understatement, but I’ve also made a conscious effort to not project fear onto my daughter. I hate that she will run full-force towards a staircase, but I love that she’s not afraid of them, even though she hasn’t mastered going down stairs yet.

Going hand-in-hand with being a worrisome parent is, sometimes, being too terrified to leave your child with someone, a babysitter, when you live away from family. There are two people here that I trust to leave my daughter with. Two. And when they’re both unavailable to help out, oftentimes I’m left without a sitter, and staying home from a squadron event that I would have liked to have gone to. If the event is child-friendly then that’s great, but with the holiday season coming up, most parties are adults only (for reasons I completely understand), and it’s hard to feel like you’re constantly missing out.

Enter Sittercity’s partnership with the DOD. If you don’t know about Sittercity, check them out here: https://www.sittercity.com/dod. I have known about Sittercity for awhile: friends back home in Chicago talk about how amazing the service is, and how convenient it is to find a well-respected person to care for your child. One of my good friends here recently moved to Hawaii. She was the type, when you met for coffee, who knew at least three people in the room at any given time. Before she left, she sent me her “little black book” of gold for mommies: her babysitter recommendations, in ranked order, with brief descriptions accompanying each. I kept that file in my purse, attached to my person at all times. I remember thinking how great it would be if there was an online world where this existed for us, out in the rural area of Eastern North Carolina.

When I was at the AUSA convention, I had the pleasure of meeting Lauren T., the woman in charge of Sittercity’s military program. Immediately, I knew that I wanted to get to know her better, and find out more about what Sittercity offered the military. Lauren was, without a doubt, the friendliest person I met at the convention. Even though several people around us were vying for her attention as well, she stayed completely engaged in our conversation, answering all of my questions with knowledge, and a knowing smile. The knowing smile later surprised me when I learned that Lauren is not directly tied to the military; but she is so dedicated to her job, and to helping military families, that she gets “it.” I quickly moved her business card to the top of my stack to ensure that I followed up with her as soon as possible after the convention was over.

When I returned home, I began looking into Sittercity’s military program further, but not too optimistically, as I assumed they didn’t exist where we live. I signed up for it, because it’s free for military members, and was shocked! This program is EVERYWHERE, and I mean everywhere. The list of sitters in my area was plentiful, and I scrolled through the list excitedly. The cherry on top, for me, was seeing Kristi on the list of care providers. Kristi was number one in the list of sitters that my friend left me before she moved to Hawaii. Kristi is the one who, my friend says, loved her child and raised him as though he was her own when my friend returned to work. I knew a little about her, but now, with Sittercity, I was able to see her background, know where she is from, and how long she’s been a mother/care provider/etc. I couldn’t have been happier.

Here’s what’s awesome: Sittercity is free for us because they have a partnership with the DOD. We sign up online, they verify that we’re military, and then the DOD pays them for our memberships. And they’re not cheap folks: we’re talking $140+ PER MEMBERSHIP. And it’s not just for babysitting; you can also find references for nannies (full and part time), pet sitters, housekeepers, PCS help…the list goes on and on. Make sure you check them out, and register: https://www.sittercity.com/dod. If you have any questions, reach out to Lauren through their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Sittercity.DoD

Oh, and don’t forget to enter to win a free copy of DD/MD! They’re giving away a book a day this month! :)

.

The Most AUSAme Experience

I think this is going to be one of the most difficult blogs to write. How do you sum up a life-changing experience into a few hundred words? How do you put into the words the feelings of excitement that words don’t justify? Here’s my best shot:

Right after I completed the application for consideration for the Military Spouse CEO Experience (http://militaryspouseceo.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/MilitarySpouseCEO) I knew in my stomach that it was going to be a game changer. I will probably use the phrase “game changer” several times throughout this blog, because few other words are as appropriate. We, at Daddy’s Deployed, are still a relatively small venture, but I’m so proud of what our products have become that I knew I had to be selected as one of the Top 10. I started planning the layout of my booth, started pricing out swag (do you have any ideas how many options there are for personalized pens?!), mentally packing my suitcases with non-iron Brooks Brothers shirts and pencil skirts, wrap dresses, and heels (terrible choice for a 10 hour day, future CEOs!).

On the day that the results were to be released I was a hot mess. I mean nerves to the extreme. The baby knew I was on edge, so she was on edge; the dog knew we were both testy, so she started losing her mind…and when my husband returned from work that night he later told me he was afraid to make any sudden movements. I had every single MilSpouse CEO page open: website, facebook, twitter…and I was refreshing about every minute. Craig took Charlotte outside to play so I could run and burn off some of my anxiousness. When the results posted, we were finishing up dinner and all I could muster was “Got it.” in a voice just above a whisper. We celebrated for a few minutes, and I immediately went into overdrive: called my mom, booked her flight out to stay with the baby, made hotel reservations, ordered my loot, ordered extra copies of Daddy’s Deployed and Mommy’s Deployed books, ordered business cards, networking cards, and my amazing sign (http://www.undercoverprinter.com/). I felt like I was on top of the world.

I started researching all the other winners’ businesses, as well as the organizers, and was completely blown away. We’re talking BIG business here (see bottom for their information). I started stalking them out on Facebook (don’t judge, you know you do it too!) and began to worry I didn’t really belong. We are a young business, a great one, but not nearly as established as some of our fellow selectees. I knew that if I worked my tail off this could be “it.” The big “it” that everyone talks about. I woke up the next morning early for a 10k, feeling so incredibly lucky and confident in my place as an exhibitor.

The drive to DC from NC was five hours of me getting so excited that I had to peel my clenched fists from the steering wheel when I finally arrived. I didn’t even care the dumpy inn & suites at the base I was staying at had no heat, no TV, and wallpaper drooping down from the moldy ceiling.

I got lost finding the MilSpouse CEO booth in the main hall of the AUSA convention at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and I think my jaw hit the floor more a few times: seeing employees rolling out plush carpeting, actual conference rooms being constructed on the floor (I later asked a nearby booth what it took to get a meeting in one of the conference rooms and he said, “a $5 million dollar contract to start.”), tanks and HUGE helicopters being wheeled in through open hangar doors.

After I set up my booth I went and picked up groceries, then went back to my spectacular suite and started filling out promotion codes on my networking cards. Everything was as it should be: perfectly organized and put together. If you know me you know I might be the poster child for organization, and I didn’t come up short here. I looked around and burst into tears. I can only describe the feeling well to those that have been through a deployment: you know the days right before your spouse returns and you feel amazingly excited yet completely and utterly terrified at the same time? That’s how I felt.

Early Monday morning I got up and turned on my running playlist while I got ready: I encourage you to try getting ready to your work out music. It’s so motivating. I left early, battled DC traffic, and arrived early. I knew where I was parking, which streets I needed to follow to get to the center, and practiced my pitch in my head as I walked. I proudly wore my yellow exhibitor page and was thrilled to reach the booth and introduce myself to the other featured companies. The diversity of the group was astounding (I tried to summarize here, but didn’t do anyone justice…please scroll down to read all summaries and links to pages at the bottom here) and I stood proud to be among this group of spouses.

One of the most amazing feelings was being surrounded by like-minded business people who were also military spouses AND have started their own companies. The organizers moved about swiftly and seamlessly, ensuring that everyone was set up, happy, fed, and motivated. When the announcers came on to say that the convention was officially starting, my heart fluttered with anticipation…but only for a minute…

Once the convention started it was as if someone had opened the floodgates. I began explaining our products and received the most amazing feedback. Over the next three days I would personally meet thousands of people and sell many books (not on the floor of course, but we did offer sample illustrations and those were a big hit!). I remember one of the organizers saying something about us never knowing who we could be talking to, so to (figuratively) sell our business no matter who was at our booths. I was speaking with one really nice gentleman who told me to get into contact with his wife…a GM for Delta Airlines…and gave me her personal email address! :) Another person I spoke with was a grandmother who was helping raise her grandchildren while mommy is deployed and daddy gears up to deploy in a few months. A few LARGE corporations were really excited about our books and asked to take a sample to show to their bosses and have since contacted me about potential sponsorship opportunities; I was happy that I ordered a few extra copies!

The organizers arranged really fantastic meet and greets with higher ups in the Army and AUSA organization; authors to come and sign free copies of their books, including the likes of Jason Anderson (Active-Duty Entrepreneur) and Jacey Eckhart (I Married a Spartan) among many others, and there were publishers there to meet with us that gave great advice. One of the highlights for me was meeting the Sergeant Major of the Army, SMA Chandler, and him really liking our book and what we do at DD/MD. When I tweeted a photo of that, it was retweeted by several large organizations, including the AUSA handle.

Above all else, I was most excited to meet the ladies who created and run Inc. magazine’s military entrepreneur program. My older brother, an HBS alumni, is a brilliant entrepreneur and gifted me a subscription to Inc. magazine the Christmas after I started DD/MD. It started this love affair for both my husband and I: our copies of Inc. are almost immediately dog-eared and highlighted throughout. I had missed the deadline for applying for the Inc. 500/5000 military experience and was crushed over it. Natalie and Courtney were truly two of the most inspiring people I have ever met. Incredibly knowledgeable and quick witted (two of my favorite characteristics). As Natalie and I were finishing up our conversation, she invited me to meet them for drinks afterwards and I pinched the inside of my folded hand to keep from smiling like a five-year-old. This doesn’t happen in real life.

The final day we were invited to be guests at the Sustaining Members’ Luncheon and the reception preceding it. One of my new friends (fellow CEO selectee) and I decided that we would use this opportunity to network the heck out of our businesses and connected with some great people in powerful positions. Sitting next to a table of retired Army generals, all I could think was how thankful I was to be there. As a Marine Corps spouse, I was surprised by how warmly welcomed I was into this Army family.

That evening we packed up our booths and rushed back to our rooms to get ready for the Marshall Dinner, a black tie event, that closes the convention. I have been to countless military dinners, birthday balls, dining out, etc…but there was something about this room that took my breath away. As they were retiring the colors every service-member in there, including the hundreds of retired men in their tuxedos with decorations, stood at attention and the tears flooded my eyes. I can’t tell you why, but it was so touching, to be apart of this intimate event. I knew that I belonged there all along.

I’ve had a few people ask me if it was worth it. Was it worth it to leave my daughter for the first time? That was beyond difficult, but yes. Was it worth it to spend quite a bit of money getting materials and heading out to DC? Yes. Was the overall experience worth it? Absolutely. If you are thinking about applying next year I want you to know that the networking alone is worth every cent it takes to get there. The people that are in one room, the people you’ve been trying to get an email address for, the people you know would make amazing friends and potential partners, the people whose careers you’ve followed and admired as a fellow spouse…they are all there. The friendships you will form with the other selected CEOs and organizers will last a lifetime. It’s always been very difficult for me to open up and allow people to become good friends (stems back to mean girls in grade school; they once glued my desk shut when I was absent), and I can honestly say that I have become close, real friends with the majority of the other CEOs from this event, as well as the amazing organizers. I can’t wait to see them all again, and I know I will.

If you’re thinking about applying for this event in the future and have any questions, don’t hesitate to email me: Bridget@daddysdeployed.com

In the meantime, please take a few minutes to read through the organizers’ businesses as well as the other businesses that were selected (in random order) as the Top 13 CEOs:

Avening Tech
http://www.aveningtech.com/
AveningTech is a woman-owned/veteran owned small business focused on providing strategic management and technical support services to Federal Government organizations. Our expertise includes requirements development, acquisition support, web and software development services and subject matter expertise in information, network and systems security.

InGear Career
http://www.ingearcareer.org/
In Gear Career is a nonprofit organization created by Military Spouses for Military Spouses past and present. We provide a free forum for professional development, community support, information sharing, and networking to address the unique challenges faced by the career-minded Military Spouses.

The Rosie Network
http://therosienetwork.org/
A nonprofit organization founded by military spouses with one mission – to promote veteran and military spouse-owned businesses to the public. Our search tool allows online shoppers to locate products and services anywhere in the country provided by our members. Every military family-owned business is verified by id.me and receives a free profile page. Move over Angie – Rosie is in town!

Women Veteran Interactive
http://www.womenveteransinteractive.org/
Women Veterans Interactive is a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to meeting women veterans at their points of need through Advocacy Empowerment Interaction Outreach and Unification. WVI offers a wide range of support for women veterans to include health and wellness, financial literacy, networking opportunities, peer to peer support groups and employment and housing assistance.

Powerhouse Planning
http://www.powerhouseplanning.com/
At Powerhouse we work with small to growing companies that can’t necessarily afford full-time staff members (marketing director, business developers, etc.) We work their projects by using a pool of freelancers (primarily military spouses) to complete rock solid HIGHLY impactful products and services. We save companies a ton of time and money…and we support our military community.

R. Riveter
http://www.rriveter.com/
R. Riveter is a company born out of a sense of military community. As military spouses, there is a pride and a passion that gives our company a unique identity. Our handbags are inspired by a unique lifestyle that brings both challenges and opportunities. The company goes far beyond the creation of unique, handmade purses. R. Riveter was founded on providing inspiration and opportunity to other military wives. Using up-cycled military materials, our handbags bring together elegance and history in a product entirely made by hand. With classic simplicity, rugged design, and modern styling, our military inspired handbags fit any occasion.

It is our mission at R. Riveter to inspire pride and patriotism into the hearts of each customer. We delight in the fact that we are completely ‘homegrown’ and produce high quality, well crafted items. Our collection of handbags will build the foundation of a company dedicated to serving the spouses of our service members.

We are inspired by the challenges of our day and innovations that evolve as a result. Old military materials like duffle bags, wool blankets, and shelter halves are up-cycled with a modern aesthetic producing a kind of character that is totally unique and full of history.

Lock-N-Load Java
http://www.locknloadjava.com/
Lock-N-Load Java is premium coffee and cocoa company that sells over the internet and ships directly to consumers. We donate $1 to military charities for every order we ship.

Trajectory Communications
http://trajectorycommunications.com/
Trajectory Communications takes your brand and message to the military community: 30 million customers with $1 trillion in purchasing power.

Military Spouse Education Initiative
http://www.milspouseeducation.org/
The Military Spouse Education Initiative was created to support all spouses of all ranks and education levels on their pursuit of graduation day. Through advocacy, support programming, and the voice of military spouses, we are working to impact policy to work with the obstacles of military life rather than against them.

DumBell Fitness
http://dumbellfitness.com/
DumBell Fitness is a veteran and military spouse owned company that provides physical fitness for other military spouses and active duty personnel on military installations; while providing free childcare for all participants. We are also launching an online fitness program in January 2014 to reach worldwide! You’ll never regret starting today!

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round…

It’s no big secret that my daughter hasn’t exactly been the easiest baby in the world to raise. I will precursor with that I know I am extraordinarily blessed to have a healthy, happy, busy baby, and I wouldn’t trade her for anything in the world. With that being said, however, since she is almost twenty-months-old and has never slept through the night, it would be a lie if I said that I wasn’t flailing at times. I have done all the things that exhausted parents do: refrigerated items in the pantry, pantry items in the refrigerator, forgetting about laundry, messing up dates, etc. So when my daughter dropped her PM nap as well, I found myself grasping at straws.

This is another one of those areas that everyone has an opinion, and several of those opinions included: scheduling play dates, swim lessons, dance lessons, gymnastics, and most commonly among my friends out here: preschool. BC (before children, when I would judge how other parents parented their children), I never would have even thought about sending my future child/ren to preschool at such a young age. I never went to preschool, and, possibly as a result, I was so attached to my mother that my second grade teacher once yelled at her to just leave when I was screaming for her. Yup, I said second grade. Apparently apples really don’t fall far from the trees. ;)

My husband, seeing how haggard and emotionally and physically worn down I was, was all about preschool. He thought it would be the answer to any problem we might have: she would have friends, she would be so tired she would take a nap, AND maybe, just maybe she would sleep through the night! Ahhh…this idea of preschool began to spin into motion: teachers singing and dancing with the kids, Charlotte happily playing babies with her new little friends, eating cut up fruit at snack time, and then gleefully running into my arms when I went to pick her up.

When we went to the open house, Charlotte was the only one there at the time. She was thrilled to see her future teachers, play with a whole bunch of “new” toys, and smiled ear-to-ear as we ran around on the pint-sized playground outside.

That dream of preschool was shattered almost instantaneously on the first day. I walked her to her classroom, singing a song I heard on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood that goes something like, “When we do something new, let’s talk about what we’ll do…” and then I would explain to her that she would get to play and have tons of fun. I knew three of the other (six) moms and their children, so I felt pretty confident that this was going to go well.

When I went back to pick her up, one of the teachers was holding her, and her face was all (what I call) hived out. Charlotte has extremely sensitive skin, and when she cries, her face breaks out into this crazy splotch hives right away. Her puffy eyes showed me that she did not enjoy preschool, or being away from mommy, that day. I spoke with the teachers, the center director, and my friends, all of whom told me that it can take a month for them to like it, so I committed to a month.

The one thing that I knew she loved was the outside time. The last day of the month, I went to pick her up and her class was outside. All the children were playing and running happily around, except for mine. One of the teachers was holding her, and she was still screaming and crying. The teacher, understandably, had to put her down to go help another child, and Charlotte face-planted into the wood chips, crying so hard she could barely breathe. My heart shattered into a million pieces and I immediately felt like the worst mother in the world. Not only was she not at all happy, but she wasn’t interacting with the children, she wasn’t playing with the toys, she was crying and (probably) thought that I had been abandoning her for a month. I ran to get her and had a talk with her teacher. Before I had even picked her up I had already decided that this experiment was a failed one, and over. I told my husband (who was gone on a training exercise) and he seemed disappointed, but understood.

Once word got out that I had pulled her from preschool, again everyone began offering up their opinions, and I really did appreciate their thoughts, but I (would like to) believe that they would have all reacted the same way that I did. I know that pulling her out was what was right for her, and right for our family. I love the school, and the teachers, so we will try again next year, but I will do the same thing: one month and if she still hates it, she won’t go.

What are your thoughts on preschool at such a young age? I think it all depends on the child: some are ready, some can emotionally handle it, but others can not. Would you have done things differently if you were me?

9/11/01

Last night my husband I were talking about upcoming dates (To those of you that are military, do you find that this happens often? It seems like at least once a week my husband comes home with dates to talk about. Lately they’ve been good dates…something new and different for us!), when I interrupted him, “Is tomorrow September 11th?” He looked at the calendar, “Yes.” This led to a discussion on how each year the remembrance seems to weaken, the news stories are shortened, and only a few channels are showing footage from that day.

When I was teaching I would always have my students write about their memories from that day, and I would share my own. My most recent year of teaching, the freshman students wrote about how they were affected…in kindergarten and preschool (wow!). Amazingly, they did have actual memories of this day: most of them are military, and wrote about how their schools and bases went into lock down, and parents who were off-base were unable to get back onto base to reach their children. That is a fear I hope to never feel.

For those of you that do not know me, I grew up in a relatively small town outside of Chicago. It has since grown to be a rather large town, but it was small when I was there. I was a senior in high school, and was in Senora Auld’s Spanish IV class. I remember that we were sitting in groupings of four, doing quiet work, when she let out a gasp from her computer, and then an “Oh my god.” She jumped up and turned the television on, and told us to stop what we were doing. We watched the second plane hit the second tower and were equally stunned, and confused. My previous blog I mentioned that most high school students aren’t thinking “big picture” yet, and this was that way for me. I didn’t, couldn’t, comprehend the magnitude of what was happening.

After that period was over, I met my best friend in the hallway and we walked to our next class together. Along the way, we ran into one of my younger cousins, who I have always thought to be more of a brother than a cousin. He was completely distraught, in tears, and I ran to him. Through deep breaths, he told me how worried he was about our older cousin who lived in Manhattan, and about my father, who was a trader at the Chicago Board of Trade. I was worried about the same things, but he was thinking big picture. I took him down to the office to speak with our guidance counselor, and found that she wasn’t in her office. I will never forget the secretary in there, and how inconsiderate she was towards my cousin, still visibly upset, and myself. I kept telling her that he needed to talk to someone, and she could not have been more insensitive, saying that if I didn’t change my tone of voice she wasn’t going to give us a pass back to class. I couldn’t believe it; had she not seen what just happened? She didn’t know anything about us; what if we would have known someone directly affected? I think maybe that woman helped me to be as compassionate as I am now, because the sadness that fills my stomach as I type this is tangible.

I was a bit of a rebel in high school, so I had a booklet of passes in my locker. I wrote us each a pass back to class, signed it illegibly, and walked my cousin to his room. We later learned that our cousin was safe, my father was safe (after a pretty serious lock-down as well), and that our lives were seemingly not directly affected. But that isn’t the truth is it? Everyone’s lives were directly affected that day, but just on different levels. We didn’t feel the pain of losing a loved one, but we wept along with the rest of the country for those who did.

I know that September 11th will always be a day spoken of in history, like how our parents and grandparents speak of the JFK assassination. We will always remember where we were when we first saw, when we first heard. I hope that we can honor those who lost their lives that day by ensuring that the story is told to our children, to our grandchildren. It must never be forgotten…

Who is Responsible for Raising our Children?

If you’re on Facebook, no doubt you’ve seen the viral link to the blog addressing young women. I wasn’t going to comment on this, but after reading so many of my friends’ posts thanking God for parents like this woman, and only one pointing out the double-standard, I felt like it was something I wanted to address. Now that I am a parent, I think of everything in terms of how I would feel if that was my child. In this case, it becomes, “How would I feel if this was written about my daughter?” And the answer is simple: horrified. The woman, who seems to be a very attentive mother, states several times that these young girls, who are posting inappropriate pictures of themselves on social media sites, are, essentially, to blame for how they are being viewed/treated. I disagree.

For my entire adult life, including student teaching in college, I have been in the thick of classrooms, watching this evolution of our children first-hand. I fully believe that society, and the parents, are responsible for determining who these teenagers become.

I was a teacher’s assistant my first year out of college at a middle-school in the North shore of Chicago. If you know anything about this area, then you can guess what kind of students I had. Most were of very wealthy households, whose families would send limousines to pick them up at the start of winter and spring breaks, before whisking them off to some fantastic destination. The fathers were generally older, the mothers were generally stunning, and the children were a direct reflection of this. While working with one day, a seventh grade boy pointed to my watch and asked if it was a Rolex or a Patek Philippe. It was neither. I didn’t know what a Rolex was until I was a senior in high school, and I had to google “Patek Philippe” after he introduced that brand to me. The young girls that I worked with were always in the best fashions, which, at that time (2006) consisted of leggings and Ugg boots in the winter. Their shirts were usually equally as snug-fitting, and I remember thinking that they looked like they were wearing long underwear, as through they just came off the slopes of Aspen. I also remember thinking that these girls were too young to drive, too young to work, so someone else was responsible for paying for these items. I only ever shopped with my mom, so I figured that their mothers were fine with it.

What about the twerk heard ’round the world? The night that the VMAs aired, I got the baby down, and took my basket of laundry upstairs to watch the rumored ‘N Sync reunion. I pressed play, but was only half-watching while folding laundry. My husband, also only half-watching, was out-raged by the twerking and, within maybe two minutes, had spouted off that “this” was what was wrong with society, and our daughter would “never watch MTV.” :) I laughed and asked him what he thought her parents were making of all this. A moment later, they panned to her parents giving a standing ovation, and once again, I figured they were fine with it.

Of course I understand that at some point, we all become our own person. For me, that didn’t happen until I was in college. Up until then, I was always pretty aware of how my actions could/would affect my family. I remember one time, after a night of under-aged drinking, I sat there thinking about how mortified my parents, or grandparents would be, if my name was in the small-town paper for breaking the law. It may not have stopped me from ever having a drink again during that time, but it definitely controlled how much I drank, or how I behaved. I wonder if that is still something that these teens think about today? In the world of Facebook, I do put a lot of responsibility onto the shoulders of the parents. These teens aren’t thinking “big picture” yet; they’re not worried about how their pictures could affect how relatives, potential employers, schools, etc view them.

I have many years until my daughter is of the Facebooking age, and I’m sure many things will change by then, but I plan on being a very active “friend” on her page. My parents aren’t on Facebook, but my grandmother is, and I have refrained from posting a few things in fear of how she would interpret them. In life, one of the amazing things that we, as humans do, is code-switch. Code-switching is basically adapting to your surroundings; you speak differently to your boss than you do your spouse, and probably your children. In school, students code-switch between friends, teachers, administrators, parents, coaches, and so forth. There is the ability for little code-switching on Facebook (since most things are public), so why not encourage them to be their best self there? Instead of sending out blasts on how others are posting, I think parents should worry about their own children, and make sure that they are raised to be the young adults they wish for them to be. The mother that wrote this (probably) well-meaning blog, takes it a little to far, by saying something about praying for the women her sons will love, and then advises the young girls out there to become that type of woman. While, I think it’s great that she’s providing morals to live by, I want my daughter to be the best she can be for herself, not for a potential future boyfriend. That should be the added bonus for her achieving everything else that she will work so hard for.

I also think it’s unfair to judge these young girls that she knows nothing about. I am Facebook friends with many of my former students, and of course I cringe when I see a posting in a towel, or doing a hand-stand in a bikini, or references to alcohol/drug use, but only in knowing these students am I able to understand where they’re coming from.

Every first day of the new semester, I would tell my students that they have my word not to judge them on what I’ve heard about them, and that the way they behave in my classroom will shape my opinions of them. I’ve been able to hold myself to that, and have been pleasantly surprised along the way. I have been accused of caring too much for my students, but I can promise you that my students worked so hard for me because they knew how much I cared about them.

I have always used journals when teaching and each M/F they would write for the first ten minutes of class instead of doing a grammar or literature warm-up. They have rules of what can/can’t be written about, and they also know that I will be going through to check for completion. We do a post-it note system: if your post-it note is placed on the inside cover of your journal I will check for completion, but not read your entry unless I feel like I need to for safety reasons; if your post-it is placed on the first page of writing, you don’t mind if I read your entry or not; if your post-it note is flagged (partially exposed on the page of most-recent entry), I will read your entry and respond. I can’t tell you how well this helps me get to know my students.

One of my previous students was a sophomore when he probably should have been a senior. He was one of “those” kids that, when other teachers saw your class roster, said “Bless your heart!” and knew you were screwed. This student tried to prove those other teachers correct, but I worked hard to dig deeper. During our mythology unit, the first week of class, he called a female student a minotaur and didn’t even flinch when she threw a desk and tried to attack him. (Oddly, none of the other students did either!) He never turned in work, would sleep during tests, and offered only sarcastic responses when called upon. When I refused to give him the negative attention he sought, he eventually started writing in his journal, then moved his post-it for me to read his writing, then flagged his writing for responses. This troubled student had so much going on: his father was not in the picture, his mother couldn’t handle him, so she drove from up north and dropped him off with his grandparents a few years prior. He was a great skateboarder, but wasn’t allowed to do it anywhere. He was brilliant, but felt completely unchallenged in classes so he didn’t participate. Once I knew all of this, I was able to help put things into perspective and he passed my class with a rather high marking, all things considered.

One of my other students was a new student. He came from Louisiana, and held several state track records there. He was very good looking, and very well liked by his female counter-parts. He quickly developed the reputation of a player, when he moved from girl to girl, and seemed to have some extreme mood swings between happiness and total sadness. Although his code-switching when he was with his peers was rather shocking and extreme, he wrote the most beautiful poetry in his journal, and, after a few months of writing, told his story: his mother had passed away right after the previous school year had ended, and his father was in jail. He was forced to move to the area to live with his aunt and uncle, while his younger sister remained back in LA, living with their grandparents. He was constantly so torn between so many emotions and sometimes felt unable to deal with it all. All he wanted was to reverse the clock, and be back at home with his mom and sister, but you would never know that from surface conversations, or from his Facebook page.

My point is to hold judgment. Maybe these young girls are posting inappropriate pictures to get the attention of their parents that are inattentive at home. Maybe they see the celebrities on MTV and think that is how they should act to be popular, to be well-liked. Instead of pointing the finger, I think we should try to figure out what’s beneath the surface and help. It’s not okay for anyone to be exposed to offensive material on Facebook, but everything in life can be turned into a positive lesson. Let’s work on our parenting skills and teaching our children right from wrong before we judge.

If you disagree with me, and don’t think society influences our children, I invite you to go to your local Target store and peruse the clothing options available in the girls section. I think you would be surprised by the clothing choices available: short shorts, questionable slogans, animal print leggings, the list goes on and on…

It Takes a Village

I had the most refreshing conversation the other day with a fellow military spouse and businesswoman, and it was something I immediately knew I wanted to write about.

Almost two years ago, when I decided I wanted to start this Daddy’s Deployed world, my brother, an incredible entrepreneur, sent me a book about being a mom and starting a company. Most of the examples in the book were about blogging and, with my English Ed background, I thought that would be something I would want to incorporate. This book is great, and one of the sections said that you should blog at least twice a week. That was my goal…one that was doomed before I even began. Twice a week? With a baby? That turned into twice a month…which turned into twice every few months, and as the business grew, and my baby grew, my time to blog shrank (yes, I just looked up to make sure that ‘shrank’ was the correct version of ’shrink’ to use here). I am going to try to do it once every other week, so please hold me to it!

About six months or so after my husband and I were married, he approached me with the idea of having children. He has always said that his first priority would be to provide for me, and our children. I knew he (thought he) was ready for kids, but I was not. I had just finished my first two years of teaching, and I was hungry for more. I wanted to get my Masters of Ed, I wanted more experience. I remember saying, “I just went to college for four (ok, ok, five) years and what was the purpose of that if I’m not going to work?” He accepted it, but it wasn’t until a fellow aviator (call sign Rev) told him that it wasn’t right until I was totally ready, and that I would tell him when I was. Eventually I was, four years later. Note: to those that don’t have children yet, wait a year after you “know” you’re ready. I was sure I was…but I was wrong!

My darling daughter is just 18-months-old (going on sixteen). She is the apple of my eye, my world, my everything, insert any poetic metaphor here. She also has never slept through the night, has no real nap schedule, and stomps around the house like she owns the place. I know I don’t need to say how exhausting it is, so I won’t. I tiredly stumble around the house, park, office, etc., and hope to shower at some point during the day. Until recently we were co-sleepers, which was wonderful…until it wasn’t. The great thing about co-sleeping is that it takes away most of the worry about the safety of your child (unless you’re a violent sleeper, then I don’t recommend it), but it’s impossible to get up early to work out, ahem–blog, shower, etc. Now that she’s in her own room, I am able to do that, and the time I have to myself is nothing short of spectacular.

This child who refuses a schedule (we have tried everything: Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby, The Baby Whisperer, The Happiest Baby on the Block, The Happiest Toddler on the Block), paired with severe separation anxiety, is sometimes too much for me to handle. I feel like I have researched everything (to death), and I was flailing. More than a few authors oh so kindly reminded me that “it takes a village to raise a child,” so to rely heavily on family and friends. Well, as military families, most of our family and friends live a thousand miles away, right? I felt insulted every time I read that. Of course we have our military family/friends near by, but with everyone being on differing deploying schedules, and from different parts of the country, it seems like we are all in the same place for maybe four months of the year. What about the other eight?

Perhaps the most difficult thing for me is being away from my family. I’ve always been extremely close with my parents and brother, and I know how great it would be to live near them. A few weeks ago, when things were really hard, my husband had a hard time understanding that I felt “alone” even though he was home. Well he was home, as in not on a detachment/deployment/et al., but he was working thirteen hour days, so he wasn’t actually home all too often. Tearfully, I said, “I would love to be able to call my mom and have her come over when the baby wets the bed so I can wash the sheets without her dumping the dog’s food into her water bowl.” (A few weeks later she dumped the food into the water bowl, and then the water bowl onto the floor during his watch, and he understood.) The point is, it’s hard to be a parent when YOU are the entire village. I know I’m not alone here. Right?

On top of that, I am not one of those amazing stay-at-home moms. You know who I’m talking about: the moms that have projects planned every day, day trips, activities, and amazing meals somehow magically prepared. How do they do it? How do they have the energy? It’s not that I don’t try to be like that, or that I don’t want to be like that, I do. We play all day, every day, but it doesn’t come naturally to me, I guess. My mom is one of those moms. I remember being young and people asking me what my parents did. I remember answering that my mom “didn’t work” because she stayed home with my brother and me. I now realize that couldn’t be further from the truth. She worked twenty-four hours a day (unfortunately I had a bed-wetting problem when I was young, so even when she thought she could rest, she usually couldn’t), and never complained. She made our meals, did our laundry, played with us, wiped away tears, healed us when we were injured or ill, and somehow maintained this amazingly positive outlook on life. She always thought of little things to make our days special, and still does. When we were in grade school, we would have picnic days once a semester when our parents would bring blankets and a lunch, and we would eat on the gym floor together. My mom would always bring the best lunches, and little surprises, like ants from one of our board games (because there are always ants at picnics!). I worry that I will never be as amazing a mother as she was/is.

One of the reasons I feel like that is because (and I can’t even believe I’m going to say this), I miss working. My mind goes a million miles a minute and I can’t shut it off. When I first came up with the idea for Daddy’s Deployed, I literally didn’t sleep. I would lay down, and have to get up and write down everything I was thinking. I couldn’t stop. Not only do I feel like a part of me is incomplete because I’m not actually going, I feel like I’m not contributing to our family as much as my husband, since every penny I make goes into continuing to build our company. He, of course, does not feel this way, since, as I previously stated, he has only ever wanted to take care of me/us. I know it’s me, but it’s a hard thing to shake. The only “good” thing is that in North Carolina, where we live, the cost to send our daughter to a daycare I would approve of would be greater than my salary as a teacher here (in one of, if not the, lowest paying states in the country), so it’s never been a real option. Plus, the idea of being away from my daughter that long makes me weak in the knees…in a bad way. I know that I’m extremely fortunate to be able to stay home with her, and that so many moms wish they could stay home with their babies. That being said, I said I would always be honest in my writing and I miss teaching on an (almost) daily basis. I miss the kids, the material, everything except the politics.

I find that our society doesn’t help this dilemma much. If you are working, people judge you for not being home with your children. If you are home with your children, people judge you for not working. This seems to be especially true in the military community. As my dad would say: “why can’t we all just get along?” I think the point of this post is that you have to just be true to yourself.

I respect you all and thank you for being a part of the Daddy’s Deployed family. Please post comments below! Do you have any fun activities that you do with your kids? Please post them below as well! How about fun outdoor activities? We do lots of bubbles, water tables, ball time, and visit the pool in our neighborhood, but I’m always looking for new, exciting things!

Band of Brothers

My husband recently had some time off, and we were able to travel home to the Midwest to see our families. My grandfather was in the hospital, so one of our first stops was to visit him. We had a nice visit, and as we were getting ready to leave, my husband, Craig, took an air medal out of his pocket, and presented it to my grandfather. My grandpa flew on the PB4Y-2 during World War II and, at the end of his time in the service, all of his military belongings were stolen. My grandpa was very touched by Craig’s actions, and there was not a dry eye in the room. I think the thing that affected me most was that Craig had decided back home he was going to do this, bought an air medal for him, and brought it back with us. Craig’s grandparents are all gone, and have been since he was young, so this was a gesture not only of love, but that he felt that my grandpa was his as well. I’m not sure if he didn’t tell me because he wanted it to be a surprise, or because he didn’t want me to start crying (as tough as I am a military spouse my family, especially my grandparents, is my weak spot), but it was one of the most touching things he could have done, and it meant so much to the family. As I tear up while typing this, there was no greater moment than we were getting ready to end the visit. Craig said, “We will see you again before we leave,” to which my grandpa, a stubborn Irishman who is usually not heart-broken when his guests leave, shook Craig’s hand and quietly said, “I hope so.” The military bond is strong.

My dad had told us earlier that Frank Perconte, one of the few surviving members of the real Band of Brothers (I’m sure you’ve heard of the HBO series?), was in the hospital as well, recovering from a fall. He asked us if we wanted to meet him, and of course we said we did. Frank is 96-years-old, and is in remarkable shape. Craig was very excited to talk to him, as he’s read the book and seen the television series. He quickly started asking him questions about the other men in his group, and Frank was thrilled to share his amazing stories, sharp and witty as ever. As I stood there, I couldn’t help but hope that when Craig is Frank’s age, someone will respect him as much as he does Frank, and everyone else that has served before him. All of Frank’s stories were awesomely entertaining, but the story of how he joined was the one that made me smile. He and one of his friends were at a movie (he called it a “motion picture show”) and, beforehand, there was an Army recruiter who came out and told the audience members that if any of the men were interested in signing up to be a paratrooper, they would make an extra $50 a month. Frank and his friend watched the movie, and then went to sign up the next day. Just like that. When he saw my surprised face, he said, “Well we were going to be drafted the next week anyway! I wanted that $50!” I could respect that. In order to get that extra $50, they were required to pass five jumps. FIVE! (As someone who is afraid of heights, I figured something more practical, like 100 jumps, would be needed before I could trust myself to jump out of a plane in the middle of a foreign country). After that, they were deployed. I stood there, and found it hard to imagine a time like it was back then. A time when you were forced to go to war, at such a young age, and how many of our service-members wouldn’t have returned. Mr. Perconte is one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met, and I hope that he lives for 96 more years. This was an experience that I wish I could have shared with all of my former troubled students, as it gave me such respect for a man I had previously never met, and someone who had done so much for our country.

I hope you all have a great weekend.

“Meeting” Daddy

About a month ago, my husband returned from another seven-month deployment. The previous deployments/detachments brought many of the same feelings as this one: excitement, anxiousness, etc. Adding to those was the feeling of terror of how my daughter would react to her father, at just a little over a year old. I try not to keep track of how many days my husband is gone, I think I would be quite depressed(!), but I do know my husband missed something like nine months of the first year of our daughter’s life. This is one of those areas that it seems like everyone has a comment on: “Little girls always know who their daddies are,” “Well you’ve been able to Skype right? She’ll do fine,” “She will recognize his voice,” and so on. It reminded me of being super pregnant and people saying, “You’ve definitely dropped! You’ll go soon,” “It doesn’t look like the baby has any more room in there!” They mean well, but when you’re forty-one weeks pregnant, few things are comforting. I appreciated that everyone was trying to make us all feel better, but it didn’t calm my nerves.

Those who know me well know that I do baby sign language with our daughter. If you don’t know or have Baby Signing Time, I absolutely recommend it. Our daughter says the “regular” amount of words for her age, but she signs about fifty more. For example, this morning I asked her if she wanted to go outside, then that she needed her shoes and hat before we could. She signed “outside,” “shoes,” and “hat,” then stood by the door. The first dvd, which we started while my husband was away on a three-month detachment, introduces all the basics, as well as family members. My parents were in town, so she started comprehend mom, grandma, and grandpa almost immediately. Dad was one she didn’t understand, and one that she didn’t understand the entire time he was gone, no matter how many times I did the sign over Skype, FaceTime, or through pictures and phone calls.

Of course, no one knows a child better than his/her parent(s), so I started to explain to my husband that she may not remember him. The time he was gone was the time where she started understanding who people were, and without him tangibly around…I didn’t want him to be disappointed. We talked about it often, and he seemed to understand. This paired with the fact that I don’t allow anyone to hold my daughter unless she reaches for them (some crazy CNN article I read when I was pregnant said that this is a helpful protectant against sexual predators, the child doesn’t feel like he/she has to go to any adult, stranger or otherwise), I wanted to be as honest as possible with my husband.

On the night my husband returned, she looked at him like “I feel like I should know you, but you’re definitely a stranger.” I saw his disappointment through the fake laugh when she cried as he tried to hold her for the first time…and the second time…and the hundredth time. My husband is a great dad; he isn’t afraid to change diapers, or do bath time, he plays on the ground with her, takes her for walks in her “car,” and so on, but it wasn’t an easy adjustment for her, or for him. It has taken time, and I know it will take more before they are 100% sure of each other. ;)

The point of this blog is to  reassure all the mommies, or daddies if mommy is deployed, that it’s ok if your child takes a little longer to readjust. I know my husband has seen his friends’ children at homecomings sprinting towards their waiting arms, and I’m sure he was hoping for that, too. Now that she’s well on her way to becoming a daddy’s girl, I have a feeling that will be reality for the next homecoming!

(Oh, and she certainly understands the sign for “dad” now. ;) )

Do you have a story about your family reuniting? Please share below!

bottom-pic