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Household 6 Diva Finds a Sense of Family Away from Home

Morgan Kelly Burke
Nov. 5, 2011

An experienced military spouse talks about deployment and the holidays as part of the Care.com Interview Series

For Ann Marie Detavernier, deployment during the holidays is nothing new. Six years ago, she was eight months pregnant, kissing her husband Seth goodbye for his second deployment to Iraq -- just a few weeks away from Thanksgiving. Three children and two deployments later they are stationed in Germany while her husband is serving in Afghanistan. Needless to say this refreshingly honest blog author of Household 6 Diva has learned a thing or two about how to make the most of the highs and lows of military life, including holidays spent apart. Here are her tips.

1. Stay connected. While a phone call with her soldier on Christmas is not always a guarantee, Detavernier believes in the power of a visual connection. "Capture moments as they happen at home with photos and videos so they can be part of unwrapping presents on Christmas morning or toasting fireworks on New Year's Eve," she says.

2.  Get your spouse involved. Detavernier believes that holidays are still meant to be a time for celebrating with everyone, even if your spouse is away. So, don't be afraid to get creative. "If your spouse is away training for a month, celebrate a little early or a little late," she says. Or, during a deployment, Detavernier suggests sending care packages with decorations to inspire the holiday spirit, asking your spouse to shop online for gifts, and taking lots of photos or video so they can feel a part of those memories.

3.  Make sure he gets presents too. During deployments, it is always wise to consider that packages sent to Iraq or Afghanistan can take up to 3 or 4 weeks to arrive. Ann Marie says that she tries to get her care packages ready 6 weeks in advance. "This way, they arrive in time to be shared with the rest of the soldiers during the time leading up to the actual holiday," she adds.

4. Have a potluck! Remember, you are not alone. Despite being stationed thousands of miles away from her extended family, Detavernier lessens the burden of holiday feasts by hosting Thanksgiving and Christmas potlucks with other military families and single soldiers nearby. "It is always a lot of fun because it is often different people each year, which means new stories to share and pass on," she says. "Not to mention, the amazing feast of food and passing on of secret family recipes!"

5. Don't strive for perfection. The holidays are stressful for anyone. Add a deployed spouse and three kids to that mix, and you've got quite the season ahead of you. Detavernier believes in setting reasonable goals and deciding what's most important for your family. "Deployments for military families mean keeping your family connected while living apart for a long period of time -- and holidays are [the same]," she says. "Keep your family connected. Do the best you can. And keep marking off the days until your beloved returns home again!" 

Read more of Ann Marie's amazing story in our full interview below. You can also find Ann Marie on Twitter and Facebook.

Ann Marie Detavernier
Please tell us a little about your family.

My husband and I met at a Civil War reenactment; I was wearing a big purple dress with ruffles and a hoop skirt.  You might say I left a memorable impression.  After a year of writing letters during his first deployment to Iraq with the United States Army, we were engaged and married within 6 months of his homecoming.  In the past 7 years we have moved 4 times and had three beautiful children.  It's been a wild ride, but I wouldn't have it any other way!

How does your family celebrate the holidays? What are some of your favorite traditions?

Because we live so far from our extended family, we usually spend the Thanksgiving holiday with our extended military family.  Two or three families share the work of preparing a feast by bringing their family traditional recipes and we invite a bunch of single soldiers to join us. 

One of my favorite Christmas traditions happens a few days before the 25th when we decorate our family Christmas tree.  My husband's family started a tradition of giving ornaments each year as gifts and storing them in large popcorn tins.  Each year we bring the tins into the living room and unwrap the tissue paper around each piece.  From hand blown glass balls to popsicle-stick angels, they are each carefully labeled with the name and year of the family member.  It is fun to remember the stories behind each one and tell our children these stories so they will remember them when they are grown with their own families.

Do you know if your spouse will be home for the holidays this year? How do your holiday plans differ, if at all, if your spouse is home vs. deployed?

Seth will still be deployed for the holiday season this year, which means I will be thinking about them much earlier than usual!  When sending care packages to Iraq or Afghanistan, it is important to realize that it can take 3 or 4 weeks to arrive.  So I usually try to purchase and mail holiday-themed decorations 6 weeks before the actual holiday.  This way, they arrive in time to be shared with the rest of the soldiers during the time leading up to the actual holiday. 

For our family here at home, the holiday celebrations will be much the same.  I will plan a potluck Thanksgiving feast with 3 or 4 families.  The Christmas tree will be decorated with our family's collection of ornaments.  And on New Year's Eve, I will have a glass of wine and dedicate a toast to my beloved at midnight.  We hope to have the opportunity to talk to him on the phone, but that is never a guarantee.

If you had to write the book on getting through deployments during the holidays, what would be the top tips you would include?

1. Set reasonable goals. The Griswold Family Christmas light display is not always essential.
2. Make it a team effort.  You do not have to cook a turkey, 5 sides, and 12 pies all by yourself.
3. Take lots of pictures. Although your spouse longs to be with you, they will enjoy seeing pictures of your family continuing on with the freedoms of daily life - after all, isn't that why they are serving our country?

What are some ways that you stay connected with your loved one while he/she is deployed?

During deployments, my husband and I primarily write handwritten letters and talk on the phone every 7-10 days for a half an hour or so.  Our phone calls are primarily for our children to talk directly to Daddy and to communicate about household business like paying bills, car repair or bank account management.  Our letters are where we share more of what is going on in our daily lives.  Trials and triumphs along with goals and dreams are common fodder for our letters, which have strengthened our marriage considerably.  When my husband is not deployed, it is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day life of caring for our children, paying the bills, and living our lives.  During deployments, we talk about our long-term plans for owning a home, helping our children through college, and encouraging one another with words of affirmation.  Being apart makes one realize all over again the things that you appreciate the most about your spouse, and it's always a good idea to validate those things!

If your spouse will be home for the holidays this year, what are you looking forward to most? Do you have any tips for other spouses who might be stressed or feel the pressure of making it the "perfect" holiday?

A holiday is more than just a specific day on the calendar.  It is a season of traditions and memories that is meant to be shared with family and friends.  So whether it is a birthday, an anniversary or a national holiday, always do what is best for your family.  If your spouse is away training for a month, celebrate a little early or a little late.  If your spouse is away for a long period of time, find creative ways to include them.  Send care packages full of decorations that they can share with others.  Ask them to shop online for gifts for family and friends.  Capture moments as they happen at home with photos and videos so they can be part of unwrapping presents on Christmas morning or toasting fireworks on New Year's Eve. 

What is the hardest thing about having a deployed spouse during the holidays?

The most difficult part of this time in our lives had very little to do with the winter holidays celebrated around the world.  It was difficult because the needs of our country were greater than the needs of our family.  Being part of a military family means accepting that the call to serve can come at any time. 

On November 9th 2005, my husband deployed the second time for 12 months to Iraq.  When I kissed him goodbye that night, I was 33 weeks pregnant with our first child.  On December 13th my husband celebrated his 22nd birthday.  He also coached me through labor that day via cell phone for our first son Jacob.  Eight hours would pass before someone was able to show him pictures of his newborn son.  Two weeks later on December 31, my husband and I celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary. 

I am proud of my husband's sense of honor, integrity, and his choice to serve our country.  As for the hardest moments of our separations and deployments - they happen without regard for the calendar on the wall.  The holidays seem to remind our culture of spending time together as a family -as a military family, we spend that time whenever we are together and work toward preserving it whenever we are apart.

Ann Marie Detavernier is a Military Spouse stationed in Baumholder, Germany. With her husband currently serving in Afghanistan (his 4th deployment since 2003), she is a full time volunteer in her community, an award-winning photographer, and a trailblazer for military families living overseas. She writes with humor and refreshing honesty about daily life as an Army Wife and Busy Mom of three small children on her blog Household 6 Diva.

>>For more tips, read the rest of our Care.com Interview Series: Holiday Boot Camp for the Military Spouse

Photos used with permission by Ann Marie Detavernier.

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