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My job at FOCUS has enabled me to interact with many different types of military families, from all branches of service, and from many different locations. Whether there are multiple kids in the family or no children at all, separation is challenging to all types of relationships. Having listened to many family narratives, I’ve heard repeatedly that deployment is especially hard during the holiday season. Holidays involve so much: preparing, shopping, cooking, planning, dining, playing, connecting, celebrating, laughing, singing, and then … after the cleaning … reflecting back on all of it. That’s the best part, isn’t it? Holidays are for building memories. To quote a popular television show from the nineties, The Wonder Years, “Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.” So how do we go about making holiday memories if we aren’t with our loved ones?

This is a question I’ve been pondering a lot lately, as one of my loved ones is about to deploy to Afghanistan. As we approach the final countdown, there are many things at play: the “emotional cycles”; the need for a communication plan; the pride about the mission; and the awareness that the holidays will be spent separately.

This deployment starts at the end of October and ends in April. So, during this time period, we’ll miss the following holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s, St. Patty’s, and the start of Spring. While I am looking forward to the wonderful summer holidays we will be able to spend together, like Memorial Day and 4th of July, it will be difficult to be apart during the seasons in between.

So, I’ve decided to conduct a little experiment. I'm going to find a way to celebrate all of these holidays with my loved one before departure.

  • Thanksgiving: Cooking a feast on Thursday is a great idea. Does it have it have to be in November? Why not make a turkey dinner on some other Thursday … like in August! Be sure to take a picture!
  • Christmas / Hanukkah / Kwanzaa: Maybe Dad can dress up in a Santa outfit early. Decorate the house with bright cloth or a mini Christmas tree. Play the dreidel game. Make cookies, latkes, or another favorite holiday food. Create traditional handcrafts together and give them as gifts to friends and neighbors. Take time to go to a senior center to celebrate the importance of ancestors.
  • New Year’s Eve: Something bubbly is always delicious! Don’t fret about watching the ball drop. You can still stay up until midnight … just go on YouTube and watch a video of a previous New Year’s in Times Square. (The wonders of modern media!)
  • Valentine’s Day: That’s an easy one! Who doesn’t love chocolate any time of year? You can also make a home-made valentine (those are the best) that expresses your love.
  • St. Patty’s: Wear some green! Have a scavenger hunt in search for a pot of gold! The scavenger hunt can involve finding sentimental items along the way. And don’t forget to put some green food coloring in something!

Be sure to document these holiday experiences along the way … with a photo album or scrapbooking or even on Facebook. The important idea is that you’re creating a memory for the future. So, when you are alone on Thanksgiving, you might smile when you think about that delicious stuffing. Or on New Year’s your heart might feel warmer when you reflect back on that midnight memory. So, instead of thinking of all the days of separation, think of the memories and moments. And when it’s all over, you’ll have the fond memory of how you made it through!

For more tips to help your family connect this holiday season make sure to check out the first article in our series on activities that build family closeness: FOCUS on…Family Crests. If you are gearing up for a reintegration make sure to check out the tips in our Homecoming article, and for anyone that wants to build a stronger family in the new year, make sure to check out our article: Strong Family Resolutions.

Happy Holidays!

Devin Price
Site Director, Naval Base San Diego


Homecoming and Reintegration
Attending a military homecoming event is both an honor and a privilege. Being part of such a memorable day is truly an unparalleled experience. Upon arrival at the pier you are greeted with a burst of commotion. There are crowds of people, brightly decorated welcome home signs, and a sizable supply of coffee and doughnuts. You can feel the energy. Kids are running around with miniature flags and families are gathered around their homemade banners and sparkly signs. Nearly everyone in attendance is dressed in spirited red, white, and blue clothing. Shamu and Arthur C. Turtle (local costumed characters from SeaWorld) stop to take pictures with children of all ages.
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Strong Family Resolutions
The start of 2012 is just around the corner and if you are like most people you are pondering what kind of changes you might like to see in yourself and in your family in the new year. If building a stronger, more resilient family is one of the goals on your list, then FOCUS has a way to help you. We have compiled resources from FOCUS World, our online education platform, and past issues of FOCUS Quarterly and shaped them into a 30 day calendar you can use to teach your family new skills and strengthen the ones you have.
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FOCUS on...
Family Closeness: Family Crests

As a child, I always loved the holidays because it was a time for family members to participate in time-honored traditions and create new ones too. I love that feeling of gathering together to share stories or participate in a fun family activity. The Family Crest described below is one of my favorite activities to share with the families I work with here at FOCUS. If your family is looking for something fun and creative to help bring you closer together during this holiday season, or any time, then this is the perfect project for you!
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November is Military Family MonthMay is National Military Appreciation Month Photo of American Flag

FOCUS would like to offer our heartfelt thanks to all Service Members and their families for the incredible sacrifices you make each and every day.

For information and resources on how your installation or community can celebrate Military Family Month check out Military Homefront, www.militaryhomefront.dod.mil, or the Armed Services YMCA Military Family Month site, www.asymca.org.

For Those in the Know

Military Child Education Coalition
The Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) is a world-wide non-profit organization. The goal of the MCEC is to make sure all military children have quality educational opportunities regardless of the challenges posed by frequent moves, family separation, and transition. The MCEC does this by performing research, creating and publishing resources to teach a variety of audiences about the educational needs of military children, and by putting on conferences to spread helpful findings throughout the military community.

Whether you are a member of a military family or someone who works with or lives next door to one, you are sure to find helpful information on their website. So go check it out at www.militarychild.org.

Operation Give a Hug
Ogah.org

Operation Give a Hug is a wonderful organization that strives to provide comfort to children who are missing a parent, help get families connected to helpful resources, and give back to our military community. They do this by providing special dolls to military kids that they can use to help them stay connected to a deployed parent.  Operation Give a Hug also uses its online presence to connect families to resources and raise support for military communities.

Operation Give a Hug was founded in 2004. Since it started, Operation Give a Hug has given out more than 380,000 dolls to children who have parents serving our nation -- Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard -- through family readiness groups, family liaison officers, family programs coordinators, casualty assistance officers, and TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors). The dolls are also being used by pediatric psychologists and school counselors to help children cope with deployment.


BUMED
In 2008, the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED) contracted with the UCLA Semel Institute to implement the FOCUS Project for United States Navy and Marine Corps at 9 USN and USMC installations. In 2009, FOCUS Project was expanded to include 14 sites, including the USMC Wounded Warrior Regiment. In September 2009, FOCUS Project was made available to Army and Air Force families at designated installations through support from the Department of Defense Office of Family Policy.


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