Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

Not too long ago I was talking with a friend and fellow military wife about the idea that the distance military life places between us and our relatives causes us to be insensitive about the important things that are going on in their lives or to simply forget about them altogether. It is true, probably for everyone, that we tend to place emphasis on whatever is happening right under our noses than on what is happening several hundred or thousands of miles away. But does this mean that we don’t care about what we can’t see, even if it deals with close family?    

It is quite the contrary. What might sometimes seem like carelessness on the part of a military spouse is actually more care and love and desire to help than anyone knows.

During my years as a military wife, my grandmother and grandfather passed away, my dad had major back surgery, my nieces and nephews were born, my mother-in-law broke her wrist, twice, and my uncle had a major heart attack, leaving my Aunt in a state of uncertainty as to whether or not her husband would survive for several weeks. Throughout the difficulties and heartbreak that my family was bearing, I was unavailable to help. The best I could do was offer my support over the phone. I attended funerals, but could not stay to help my family with the grief. I wanted so badly to be able to help, to sit around and reminisce over fond memories of my grandparents, to stop by the houses of my sisters-in-law and help with the new babies, to take a load off for my mother-in-law so she could rest her wrist, and to let my Aunt cry on my shoulder as the worst-case scenario haunted her thoughts. But these things simply weren’t feasible.

 So instead, I continued on with my life as I had to. I pushed my feelings of wanting to help aside because if I didn’t I would be useless not only to distant family, but also to my immediate family. I had to hold it together for something.

Going back to the talk I had with my friend, I think this is the reason some might think that we who move away, we who are part of the military lifestyle, are insensitive. We are forced to push forward no matter what is going on with those we love. We cannot stop time and we cannot change our circumstances. We cannot just pop over to the homes of our family members to check in. Yes, we can pick up the phone and call, but in my experience sometimes talking on the phone is yet another reminder that I cannot physically be there.

We do care, deeply. Out of sight is not out of mind, but rather is a constant hope that our families will be safe and healthy. It is faith that they will be there the next time we visit. It is confidence that the doctors will be able to heal them when they need treatment. And it is trust that our family members know how much we worry about their wellbeing even when we can’t be there.

Sometimes we forget to say what should be said. But even though our bodies are distant, our hearts are centered around the ones we love.  

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Are You a Bucket Filler?

While waiting to begin the parent-teacher conference with my daughter’s teacher the other day, there was a basket full of books in the hallway next to the classroom and a note inviting parents to read some of the students’ favorite books. Right on top was a book titled Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids, by Carol McCloud. I remember my daughter having mentioned something about a bucket earlier in the year and, wanting to know more about it, I picked up the book. As I read through the pages I quickly realized that the message the story portrays isn’t just for kids. The lesson it communicates is something we desire to teach our children, but all too often we as adults forget to do the same thing.  

The book begins by explaining that everyone carries around an imaginary bucket. When the bucket is full we feel content and happy, but when the bucket is low or empty we feel sad. Buckets become full when people show us love and kindness, but they become empty when people are mean or hateful or simply ignore us.

The story goes on to explain (to kids) that they can choose to be bucket fillers by doing or saying things that make others feel special. Furthermore, when they fill other people’s buckets, they feel good about themselves and in turn fill their own buckets. Similarly, when they are mean to others they not only take away from the other person’s bucket, but from their own as well.

The kicker, for me, was the part of the book that explains that many times people who have empty buckets will often try to “steal” from other people’s buckets to fill up their own. I don’t think I need to say how this turns out, but I will: two empty buckets. How many times has someone said or done something mean to you and you wonder how he/she could feel good about doing such a thing? Chances are they were trying to fill their own bucket.

During this time of year when we focus on being thankful for all we have, I’d like to challenge you not only to be thankful, but to be a bucket filler. Go out of your way to compliment others, show kindness, help out a friend or even a stranger, and simply tell those around you how much you appreciate them. As you fill their buckets, watch as your own bucket fills.

Be the role model you want to be for your kids by showing them how to continuously be bucket fillers. Emphasize the value of showing kindness, love, and caring towards others and help them to understand how it makes others feel when they are mean or hateful. Ask them to see just how many times they can help fill a bucket each day and see how happy they are when they report back to you.  

Everyone carries an invisible bucket. Remember this always. It might just change the way you communicate with others, and it might just lead you to finally finding happiness!

McCloud, C. (2006). Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids. Michigan: Ferne Press.