When my father, Odysseus, and his men sailed off to the Trojan War, they were confident their gods favored a quick victory. Instead, the siege of Troy lasted ten years. After Troy fell, the survivors made their way home to Sparta, Mycenae, Pylos, and elsewhere in the ancient Peloponnese. Neither my father nor any of his troops arrived home with the rest. We waited for years as the news grew worse. Odysseus was dead, we were told,or imprisoned, or, worst yet, he had married another woman and abandoned my mother Penelope, my brother Telemachus, and me.

If he is alive somewhere, his thoughts may wander to Penelope and Telemachus, but he won’t be thinking of me. I am the daughter he doesn’t know exists. Odysseus went off to the Trojan War when his son, Telemachus, was barely old enough to walk. His wife, Penelope, was a teenage bride, and is now a young wife, mother, and queen who has to try to rule Ithaca without him.

I was born seven months after he left. I am a hero’s daughter and a princess of his realm, but I have lived my entire life without a father. I’m nineteen now, and still waiting.

All over the world, and throughout history children grow up as I have. This website will focus on the children of those men and women who have gone off to fight America's wars, and provide information and resources for all who care about military families and want to help.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

What I've Learned

This will be my last post to Xanthe’s World for the foreseeable future.  I want to summarize the most important insights and information I have garnered in my nearly five months of daily blogging.
  • Military families are under an enormous amount of stress, beyond what normally goes with the territory.  This is caused in large part by the extraordinarily long and frequent deployments of servicemembers to war zones.  This takes a toll on the psychological wellbeing and physical health of families, and makes reintegration of returning servicemembers more difficult.  As a result, the divorce rate is rising and a greater percentage of children than in the general population need help with mental health issues. Aggravating this are rising numbers of servicemembers with PTSD, which has a carryover effect onto spouses and children.
  • Superficial and easy forms of support for service families are abundant (think “support our troops” bumper stickers), but due to the all-volunteer military, most Americans have little contact with or knowledge of military families.  Only 2% of the population serves our country.  This creates a situation where caring becomes very abstract, rather arbitrary and not very deep. If we are going to ask such a small number of our fellow Americans to serve for us, we must find better ways to serve them in return.
  • Keeping our armed services all-volunteer has placed a huge burden on National Guard members, many of whom made the commitment to service based on the expectation that it would take them away from home only a predictable and minimal amount of time each month.  They have jobs and professions that are disrupted by being called up for lengthy service, and they often live far away from military bases, making their families unable to access services meant to help them.  Reserves face many of the same problems.  
  • Children suffer academically from frequent moves and are often unable to stay on track for graduation and eligibility for college.  Children with special needs are particularly vulnerable, especially in situations where limited availability of service makes them have to start over on waiting lists in every new community they move to.  Efforts are underway to address this on a nationwide basis.
  • The impact of military service on women, especially those deployed to combat zones, is not well understood. Many women seem to come back from deployment with feelings of futility and inadequacy about settling back into the role of nurturing parent.  A suicide rate three times the national average for women in the same age group is a cause for alarm.  
  • There are many, many programs and services in the private sector as well as those offered by the military and governmental agencies.  A large number of these are self-help offered by veterans or spouses, and in some cases military children, to others going through the same things. It is really heartening to see how much effort is going into making sure veterans, active duty, and reserve servicemembers and their families get the help they need and the advocacy they deserve. Still, many of these programs are run on a shoestring and even the better-funded ones have seen their funding cut, and in some cases eliminated due to the downturn in the economy.  Private foundations have cut back their support of all kinds of programs, and military families must compete with many other worthy causes for a dwindling pot of money. Their needs are growing at the same time resources are shrinking.
  • Military families are known for their resilience, their strength, and their teamwork. They need our support to keep the challenges from becoming too great, and they need us to show our pride in them and the service their military members provide.  Kids serve too.  Spouses serve too.  They are doing an amazing job, and we need not only to notice, but to tell them so.  

Friday, December 31, 2010


Though the two meaningful markers of a new year for me are in the fall--the start of school and the High Holy Days--I can’t help but get swept up in all the reflection and resolution making going on around me this time of year. I have spent some time in the last week or so thinking about the future of Xanthe’s World, and I have decided that I can’t continue to make it the same level of priority it has been since late summer, when I began blogging daily. This is my142nd blog post, and I am feeling at this point that I have uncovered and presented the major things that need to be said, sometimes more than once.
I have thought about going to once a week rather than daily, but I have so many other things I must pay attention to professionally in 2011 (a return to full-time teaching after a sabbatical, a third novel coming out in April while I am still busy promoting Penelope’s Daughter, a fourth novel to sell and bring along to publication, and a fifth to write). I am not sure how much decreased frequency would help, since the blog would still have to be on my mind all the time, or even whether new entries would add that much to what is already there.
As a result, I have decided to put Xanthe’s World on hiatus. I will pick it back up if there appears to be a need, but you will have to tell me that via your comments here.
One of the things that made me decide the time is right is the appearance yesterday of a cover story in the New York Times summarizing many of the issues I have been blogging about. My goal was always to bring these issues to people’s attention, but clearly with the NYT weighing in, my concerns will get an airing well beyond what I can give them. I figure if I leave this link as my second-to-the-top blog entry, the story will continue to have an audience from anyone coming to my blog.
My last entry, at least for now, will be tomorrow, New Year’s Day 2011. In it, I will summarize what I have learned and what I am concerned about as I relinquish my voice in this blog. I will continue to blog from time to time for The Huffington Post when new issues affecting military children arise. For now, I’ll just say here that I am grateful that the dedication of Penelope’s Daughter to “all the children left behind when fathers and mothers go off to war” took me on such a meaningful and eye-opening journey, and I hope you feel more knowledgeable as well.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hidden Costs

NPR’s Alix Spiegel aired a story earlier this month about female veterans and the alarming rate of suicide among those returning from deployments. The journal Psychiatric Services recently published a study by Portland State University researcher Mark Kaplan, looking at female deaths by suicide in 16 states. He compared the rate of suicide among female veterans to that among female civilians, and found that female vets age 34 and younger are 3 times as likely to commit suicide than their civilian peers. About 20 percent of the suicides in the US each year are veterans, but because women make up a small percentage of veterans, their special situation is often overlooked.
Spiegel cites a story told by Dr. Jan Kemp, head of the Department of Veterans Affairs' National Suicide Prevention Hotline, about a female vet recently returned from deployment who collected up a large number of pills, drove her car to a remote area and called the hotline to relay a message to her husband. "She had had a recent argument with her husband and had come to the conclusion that he and her two young children would be better off without her," Kemp said. She had PTSD as well as a history of MST (military sexual trauma), which is apparently a significant part of the profile in many female veteran suicides. This story had a better ending than most, for the call was traceable by GPS, and she was found unconscious but still alive.
Women who call the hotline, Kemp says, talk much more about their children than men tend to. "They worry that because they sometimes get angry and don't deal with things well that they won't be appropriate with their kids," she said. "And I think that is one of the things that it most poignant on the hotline is when young mothers call and they're concerned about their ability to take care of their children because of their problems."
As more women find themselves on the front lines of the war on terror, it’s easy to predict this problem will grow. Though they will remain a small subset of a subset of overall suicides, we owe consideration of this problem to these women and the families they will leave behind if strong programs and strategies are not forthcoming.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

On the Move

An estimated 1 in 88 military children has an autism-spectrum disorder, higher than the national average. Military life is already tough on these children, who need order and stability. Intensive Behavioral Interventions, a well documented successful strategy to help these chidlren, is so helpful that 23 states define this treatment as “medically necessary” and require private insurers to cover it. The Navy surgeon general, the Army surgeon general and the chief medical officer of the Coast Guard all recommend that the Pentagon fund these services via the military health care system. 
Sounds great, but the Pentagon covers only a part of the cost, which can run to more than $65,000 annually. Military families end up applying for help through state Medicaid programs, which means that ever time they move to another state, they must reapply and often spend years on state waiting lists.
Kate Sylvester is vice president of military families for the America’s Promise Alliance and First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization, points out in a recent Politico article,  that “providing recommended levels of care for special-needs children can be expensive. But it’s also expensive when service members 
accumulate so much debt that they lose their security clearances. Or when highly trained service members, such as combat helicopter pilots or air traffic controllers, leave the service prematurely because their children cannot get proper treatment.”  It seems there are no easy choices in today’s military when it comes to balancing service with family.
In 2009, the Defense Department offered a program called My Career Advancement Account, providing military spouses $6,000 stipends to pay for training in what are sometimes called “portable professions.” Blue Star Families, a military-family support group, reports that of the 61 percent of spouses who don’t work outside the home, 48 percent want to work but can’t do so because of their highly mobile lifestyle. Presumably that number is even higher in this economic downturn.
The program became a victim of its own popularity. My CAA now pays $4,000 tuition only for associate-degree programs, professional licenses, and vocational certificates, and is now available only to spouses of junior service members. The point of the program was to encourage retention, but now spouses of servicemembers promoted above a certain level will find themselves ineligible--a great reward for high quality service!  Likewise, if a spouse waits to start training until after the children start school, it may be too late, and if a four-year degree is desired (such as an RN), the Pentagon won’t help.
Cuts are needed, and everyone screams when what happens affects him or her personally, but surely military families deserve more thoughtful consideration to their needs. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Not Alone

Not Alone  is a website providing “programs, resources and services to warriors and families impacted by combat stress and PTSD through a confidential and anonymous community.”  It contains articles, blogs, profiles and stories of individuals, links to resources and other helpful means to ensure that suffering servicemembers know that are not alone.  It’s worth a look.  Among the symptoms of PTSD are the following:

Feelings of extreme loneliness and alienation
• Feelings of being unlike other people
• Feeling disconnected from other people
• Loss of sense of security in relationships and in the world in general
• Alternating between trying harder and giving up
• Stress on significant relationships(marriage, etc)
• Helplessness, hopelessness, and anger, often leading to rage

It's not just returning servicemembers who experience this, but family members who have never had direct experiences with trauma, as well as many who have non-combat experiences of similar intensity.  There's strength in awareness, so check it out.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Weight of the War

 Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 787,000 Guard members and reservists have been called to active duty, the most since World War II. A half-million have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan – and 200,000 have served multiple tours. Think for a moment. National Guard and Reserves. 
Joining the National Guard in the past has been a different kind of commitment that joining the regular military.  It’s a just-in-case kind of operation, which demands some time each month but allows for a normal life at home otherwise. Reserves are just that--ones that aren’t called upon except in emergencies because they have already served.  Whatever one thinks of the war--why we went and whether we should stay--it is a very serious matter that our country has used, and used, and used a human resource it normally shouldn’t have called on at all.
Why is this a problem? Being in the Guard or reserves isn’t a job.  These are people with other jobs, living wherever they want around our country. Many of these servicemembers are older, with more responsibilities to family. Their families do not have, because normally they would not need, many of the support services that full-time active duty service members on or near military installations take advantage of. 
Outside the military community, few seem to understand how so much of the weight of the war has fallen on the shoulders of such servicemembers.  This is the price a few of us are paying for an all-volunteer military.  Just as we are being told that solving our economic crisis will cut us all deeply and painfully, perhaps it is time to say that if we want to take the fight to the terrorists, we will have to be prepared for similar changed in our way of life and similar nationwide sacrifice for our mutual defense. 

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Here's a beautiful story about a five-year-old girl from Dixon, California, Kaylee Hubbard, who collected new toys from her kindergarten class and others to donate them to injured servicemembers hospitalized at Travis Air Force Base and in the Bay Area.  That way, when their children visited them at Christmastime, the hospitalized parent would have presents to give them.   Click here to see a heartwarming video from KCRA News.