Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be a military spouse? Have you thought about trying to explain the lifestyle to others? How do you describe a life that is so far outside the experience of most others? Which part of this unique lifestyle warrants a mention? Some of us delivered a baby, raised our children, and continued on our lives while our sponsor (our active-duty spouse) was overseas. Others made the move to a new duty station on our own so we could begin life there and make the transition back home easier for our spouse. Nearly all of us have spent many months on our own, keeping our lives, and by extension, our spouses’ lives running.
Because we are so often on our own, in a new place, we tend to bond with those in similar situations. There is beauty in the “sisterhood” that develops from sharing common experiences related to a marriage to a service member. We understand the stresses and strains that go along with receiving official orders to move across the country or the world.
A Permanent Change of Station (PCS), – or move, for those of you not military-affiliated – begins months in advance, when the Active Duty Service Member gets a list of available positions, which they must rank in order of preference. That preference is not simply about where you would like to live. Discussions revolve around not only that, but also entail which positions would be advantageous for your spouse’s career, what schools and communities are like in the area, and, for those of us with children with special needs, where the nearest medical facility is that can handle our child’s needs. After much discussion, the sponsor turns in his list to his branch manager or detailer, who actually places the service member into the assignments, based on the needs of that particular service branch. Then you wait… often for months, to discover where you are headed. Sometimes you get one of your top three choices. Other times… you do not. Sometimes, you get an assignment, only to have it changed weeks before the actual PCS. Once the orders are actually cut, you are *usually* good, but you will never be sure until you are physically there. Once you receive those final orders though, it is time to Google, research, reach into that rolodex and start making calls.
Now the fun begins – the actual moving process. People say, “Oh, but you have packers who come and move everything for you. That’s great!” Actually, while it is helpful in the grand scheme of regular moves, take a minute to think about how you would like three total strangers coming into your house and packing everything you own. So… the day before the movers arrive, you hide everything you don’t want them to pack in a bathroom. This includes any trash, your IDs, clothes for the duration of your move, etc. You tape a sign over the door that says “Do not pack” and then spend the next day following the movers around to ensure that everything is packed and labeled properly, and nothing that should not be packed accidentally winds up in a box. All of this is happening while juggling babies and fielding phone calls.
The movers arrive, and 24 hours later, everything you own is boxed up and on their way to your new location. Your vehicles are stuffed with everything you need in the meantime. You attempt to carve out room amongst the pillows, clothes, paper plates and assorted “keep the kids happy” toys to actually seat all the members of your family. Little Susie surely will not mind holding that roll of paper towels for the duration of your 15-hour trip. Because only the items you specifically remembered to pull out of your house prior to the pack out are with you, you will make at least one trip to the store to buy a spatula or coffee pot (!!) that you forgot to snag before all of your household goods were packed. As you can imagine, PCSing is a very stressful time for families. Now, let’s talk about how this applies to the family of child with hearing loss.
Remember when you first found out that your child had hearing loss? How you embarked on a journey that meant adding many new people to your life: Audiologists, ENTs, SLPs, D/HH Specialists. That is just the hearing portion of it. If your child has other challenges, you worked your way through referrals and insurance, all while waiting for initial appointments for those specialists, as well. For older children, you may have worked with your school district on an IEP team to determine what services your child needs to help them have access to all of their studies, as well as support during them. Each new meeting is a little nerve-wracking as you work your way through understanding your child’s diagnosis and learning to relate to each member of his/her medical and educational teams, individually, in a way that (hopefully) is productive.
Once services started, each service provider had to build rapport with your child. This means that it may have taken anywhere from weeks to months for your child to trust and respond appropriately to providers, especially if the child is very young or has other challenges. Now, imagine that you get to repeat this scenario (minus the huge learning curve regarding diagnosis), every 2-3 years. Obviously, the combination of moving coupled with ensuring care and services for your D/HH child can be incredibly daunting.
What if military families had a head start? For as long as there has been an American military, families who relocate alongside their active duty member have become experts at finding “the best” in each new area. These families are amazing at networking, for their own sake, certainly, but most notably for helping fellow dependents out. The era of social media made this process even faster and easier. The first thing most spouses do when their sponsor gets a new assignment is send a message off to anyone they know in the new area and/or those who lived there before. For those dealing with special needs, the search is on for the best services in the area, the best school district, etc. Usually, this involves friends introducing families to others in similar situations in the area.
What if we could cut out the middle step, and provide parents a forum to share current information about the area? This information could carry over to families moving there in the future. What a difference that would make for these parents, and by extension, their children in need of services? This is the aim of Hands & Voices: Military Family Support. Our goal is not to take the place of local Hands and Voice Chapters, but rather to offer support specific to those living the military lifestyle with their D/HH children.
Jenny Swan and Chelsea Hull, moderators of Hands & Voices Military Family Support
Jenny Swan holds a MAEd in Elementary Education, which she is currently using to homeschool her 5 children (4 hearing and 1 HH). She enjoys reading, hiking with her family and gallivanting around the country in her “tiny home” on wheels. Life is an adventure and she’s so thankful for the opportunity to live it!
Chelsea Hull currently operates her own business as a freelance interpreter. She first learned American Sign Language (ASL) from her mother, who was hard of hearing/deaf.
She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Deaf Education from Fresno State University and a Master of Arts Degree in Deaf Education from San Diego State University. She has over 15 years experience providing classroom instruction, working with families of children with hearing loss and communication delays, and teaching developmental playgroups and baby sign language classes.
Chelsea specializes in teaching parents to utilize ASL signs and principles to improve their child’s speech, vocabulary and language usage, reduce problematic behaviors, and strengthen the parent/child bond.
Chelsea’s two children, both began signing at 6 months, and are now 4 and 2 years old.