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We Got Drafted, But We Still Have to Play: Marine Parent Survival Skills

I don't know why, but lately I've been thinking about what it takes to survive as a Marine parent.  Maybe it's because my son's second deployment is coming up, and I can feel that low-grade anxiety starting up again, like a music turned down low...I don't notice it most of the time, but it's there, and likely to get louder.  Or maybe it's because I've had my first exposure to the Recruit Parent forums -- I didn't discover MarineParents until after my son graduated, which spared all the moderators from dealing with an EXTREME case of CNMM (Crazy New Marine Mom).  But I'm reminded of those days when I pass by the Recruit groups on this new site, and sometimes poke my nose into their business.  Hope they don't mind.


In no particular order, here are some of the skills I've tried to develop in order to survive this journey:


Live in the Moment:  Whenever I dwell on the past, or think about the future, I miss Now.  I'm learning to treasure every Now, when I talk to my son on the phone, or spend those rare moments with him on leave.  I put everything else aside, and just enjoy him.  When I write him notes, I tell him family stories, rather than give him advice or dwell on my worries.  I listen when he talks.  I learned how much joy and peace there is in this, I think, when my father was dying.  When I first raced to the hospital, I was so frozen and anxious I couldn't think.  I went outside, walked up and down the sidewalk, and quieted my mind.  I went back in, held his hand, said, "Hi, Dad."  We talked for hours, and he told me stories, and I just listened and we laughed a lot.  It's one of my most treasured memories.  We were just  . . . together.


Assume Innocence:  This is a time of great stress.  It is easy to be hurt or insulted by something someone says, writes or does.  We are hurt and insulted when we believe there is unkind or malicious intent.  We are amused, sympathetic or unaffected when we believe the person didn't know, didn't understand, or meant well but didn't think before speaking.  I've decided I'm too old to get angry or insulted -- it takes too much out of me, and generally doesn't affect the other person at all.  As much as possible, I choose to assume innocence of motive or intent.  I try to remember that I am not the center of other people's universe, so it is usually unlikely that they were intentionally out to "get" me.  Best case, they were well-meaning but misguided.   Worst case, they're an idiot, and I can shake my head and pity them. Somewhere on this site, we've started a strangely hilarious thread about carrying around short rolls of duct tape to paste over the mouths of fools who say stupid things about our Marines, their careers, their deployments.  The late-night laughter was very soothing.


Do Something:  It's easy to crawl into your hole -- whether it's staying in bed, late-night ice cream splurges, obsessive hours at the computer, and even, dare I say it, hours at MFN.  Start a boot camp or deployment project instead:  I saw some Recruit folks starting exercise campaigns, we "Walked" to Afghanistan during our last deployment, trying to collectively accumulate enough miles to reach from our Marines' PDS to Afghanistan.  Some re-model the basement, make a quilt, plant a "victory garden" -- I completely re-did my front yard with the help of one kid.  Kept me busy, and tired enough to sleep at night.


Give Yourself a Break:  You don't have to be Super Parent.  Some days you can reach your limit, and you get to.  Take a day off, lie in bed and read, get a massage, go to a funny movie, whatever is your idea of a lazy day in heaven.  No matter how together you think you are, that music is always playing in the background, and some days it will just be too loud.  In the middle of the last deployment, I just suddenly shut down while out running errands.  I couldn't go another step.  I didn't even have the energy to drive home.  So, I just sat in my car for awhile, then picked up my cell phone and called a nearby spa where I'd gotten a massge before.  They didn't have an opening for a couple of hours. I took it.  I bought a taco at the Taco Bell where I was parked, bought a trashy novel at the used book store next door, and sat in my car for two hours, eating Taco Bell and reading a book.  Then I drove to the spa and had my hour massage.  The smartest thing I could have done.  I drove home feeling very relaxed and myself again.


Let It Go:  For me, a control freak, an uber-organizer-planner, this Semper Gumby life can be a killer.  I want to know, and I hardly ever do.  This is my son's career, not mine.  I can't control it, I don't know the details of what happens every day, I can't intervene to make it better/easier/kinder.  I think I'm proudest of the fact that I've (somewhat) mastered the art of letting go.  There's not a damn thing I can do about most things Marine, so I make plans (I am never giving up making plans, sorry) for all possible eventualities, then let it go until I find out which one I get to use.


Exercise Your Creativity:  And don't say you aren't creative.  You are.  Some of us have obvious talents -- music, poetry, photography, drawing, quilting, sewing, cooking.  Some of us don't recognize our special creativity -- we're passionate speakers or writers, story tellers, flower arrangers, party givers.  Exercise your right brain/creative side -- if you're not sure, take a class in something non-analytical you've always been interested in (pottery, welding, mosaics, tap dancing, scrapbooking, jewelry making, movie making, book binding, furniture making).  You'll be amazed at how clear-headed you are after spending a few hours not being busy-minded but, rather, allowing your brain to run free.


This is all pretty la-la-land, I'm guessing, and not "practical" in any way.  There is lots of good info on practical matters here at MFN.  Every once in awhile I just like to think deep thoughts out loud.  This is one of those times . . . and one of the ways I guess I tune out the deployment music playing in my head.


Semper Fi.



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Comment by 1~17smom (Julie) on January 7, 2016 at 7:21pm

alex2toes:  Hmmmm.  You know I have a hard time resisting a challenge.  I think "Assume Innocence" would have to stay on the list, though.  Those parents dealing with newly transitioned civilian Marines have to practice Assuming Innocence really, really hard or they end up wanting to strangle the stubborn, sort-of stranger/sort-of-my child person who is living in their house, loudly declaiming their independence while walking around all the duffel bags they dropped in your living room two weeks ago, on the way to the kitchen to look in the refrigerator and ask when dinner is.

I will think on this topic, Dianne.  I've been feeling like I owe a blog to MFN, but couldn't really figure out what I have to offer.  Stay tuned . . .

Comment by alex2toes on January 7, 2016 at 4:59pm

Julie, this is such an awesome piece for Active Duty Marine Parents. I wonder what you could come up with for those transitioning to the other side or the IRR? Dare I make it a challenge? hahaha

Comment by sunflower17 on January 7, 2016 at 9:17am

thank you

Comment by raisedhimright on July 31, 2013 at 8:47pm

  Hi Julie,


   I think this is something I read earlier.  Having one of those nights:)  Getting itchy to get to PI and hug the stuffing out of our boyo:)  Coming up on 1/2 way there and I cannot believe it, so I read some more blogs and if I neglected to mention to you that this was great, sorry.  It was the thing I needed tonight.  God Bless.



Comment by Dee on July 19, 2013 at 2:42pm

What a great piece Julie.  My son is deploying soon and the "deployment music" is playing loudly today.  Your well written piece is grounding me.  Thanks.

Comment by prayinmarinemom on June 4, 2013 at 12:04pm

Another year later than the last post, and this is still an effective piece.  Thank you--this is me today.  Time to do something that will help a Marine...

Comment by BirdManOfCT on August 26, 2012 at 7:46pm

Julie, wow. Just wow. Thank you for such a great piece of writing!

Comment by paraqac (Margie) on August 5, 2011 at 10:52pm

Robyn (firemanswife) enjoyed your note.  You will find Julie, Double Dad and few others share so much information.  I just hope that when their sons are no longer in active duty that they don't disappear from these boards.  It is a form of shelter and inspiration and friendship.  Enjoy.

Oh..and Brian is an 0311 rifleman..well at this moment in time that is his MOS.  He was originally an 0311, then a machinegunner, then a radio man c** Humvee driver..then Semper Gumby said "Just foolin with ya!" you are a rifleman again.  As long as he gets the training to sustain himself and those around him we are happy campers.


Comment by firemanswife on August 5, 2011 at 7:26pm
All wonderfully wise.  Thank you so much for sharing.  I could not become consumed with my eldest son's 1st deployment (USAF).  Too much still going on at the home front.  Now I am empty nester....  Eldest is leaving for 3rd deployment at an unnamed future date. My Marines PDS is still unknown and deployment is something I just don't dwell on in regards to him.  One day at a time.  Interestingly enough it was one of my other son's who taught me to embrace every moment and not squander it on worry.  We almost lost him to a construction accident.  I met the woman who is now his wife and mother to my grandchildren in the trauma unit.  Life is sweet.
Comment by 17smom on August 1, 2011 at 9:46pm

3milemom:  Yeah, living in the moment is my biggest challenge.  I'm big on planning, which puts me greatly at risk of not paying attention to what's going on right this minute.  A Gold Star parent reminded me that THIS is the moment we have and we ought to live in THIS moment.  I try to remember that whenever I talk to my son, and try not to pepper him with mom questions, just listen to what he wants to say.





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