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Making The Right Move | Tales of Resiliency and Military Relocation

Iva 0:47

Welcome to the Mom Bosses Abroad Podcast. Today we are here with children's author Athens Pellegrino. And we are going to dive deep into the topic of resiliency in families and children within the scope of military relocation- welcome Athens to our podcast!


Athens 1:03

Hi, thank you so much for having me today!


Desiree 1:12

Yeah, it's such a pleasure. So, Athens she grew up in Ocean City, New Jersey, and she attended St. Joseph's University and obtained a Bachelor of Business Administration, and she met her husband, Christopher, while she was actually while they were in University, and they got married in 2009. 


Afterwards, she went on to study at Troy University and received a Master of Public Administration. Then she served in the United States Air Force as a Budget Analyst and is now a military spouse. She has a love for traveling, cooking, dogs and fitness. She has two kids as well. Atticus, who is now three and a daughter, Calista, that was 17 months. The family already experienced seven permanent change of station assignments. The latest was actually just after giving birth to Calista is that right, Athens? 


Athens 2:14

Yeah, so seven days after 


Desiree 2:16

Seven days after oh my God! talk about it all coming at the right time, right. Yeah, so Athens is super intrigued by the strength and resilience of military families, which really led her to create the Military Child Chronicles series, and her first book is titled mission, my first PCS and we can't wait to hear all about that. So, welcome once again. 


Iva 2:46

I love how you really highlight the resiliency aspect within the mission of your, of your book of what you're trying to convey and to help with. And I love that because, you know, for the most part, we definitely want to raise happy children- that's usually what we default to- but I do believe like you and correct me if I’m wrong, that resiliency is a far better tool to have down the line. Because life is, is everything right? We don't know what it has in store for us. So it gives us, I guess, or at least me personally, a lot of peace of mind to know that if I am working towards helping my children really strengthen that resiliency within themselves that they are going to be alright no matter what because happiness is not a permanent state, like it's very, very difficult, if not impossible to always be happy. But you can always be resilient, and you can always be facing things head on. So talk to us a little bit about that aspect of resiliency, especially for you as a military household and seeing what is being experienced on that side of the fence.


Athens 4:14

Yeah, so just from my childhood and growing up, I feel like my parents did a really great job and instilling confidence in me and everything and they pretty much taught me that like there's gonna be obstacles in life. And it's what you learn, like you might have a failure, but that's temporary. Try to provide a solution and learn from it and just keep moving forward. So, I always took that into whatever situation I was going through in life. It was a hard time if I was on, I worked two jobs as well as attending undergraduate and just like time management, everything that I was having difficulty with, but like, again, they've told me like, ‘focus on your goal. Your goal is to graduate and to obtain the internship and then essentially the entry level jobs. So just keep pushing’. 


And at the time, I was building the resilience and I didn't realize I just thought it was just obstacle after obstacle in life. And then once I became a military spouse, I moved from the Philadelphia area down to the Panhandle part of Florida, at 23. When I initially got there, my husband, Chris, wasn’t there for months. So, it was my first time living far away from home and I didn't know one single person down there. So, I didn't know one single person, I wasn't working super young, I'm still seeing my friends from college- they're all still together. My friends from high school, they're still with their families and everything. So I went through periods where I was homesick trying to obtain a job with the DOD, especially in an area like Florida, a lot of people tend to retire down there. So just the competition is really fierce to get into government position down here, especially with the DOD. So it took me like, nearly two years before I was able to actually get picked up with the Air Force as a civilian. And again, like through all those applications and interviews and everything I had to remain resilient, positive, and not give up because I could have easily retreated and moved back home and waited for my husband to get down to Florida, but like my parents, I was lucky like I was able to talk to my parents anytime that I was having a difficult situation while I was there, and they just like told me like ‘focus on the end goal. Your end goal is obviously to be with your husband’ and you know, to create a life down there to make friends and like this is where you're going to be living now. So, coming home is a temporary solution, but it's not gonna, it's not going to solve anything like you know, get some grit and keep pressing forward. So that's what I did and pretty much on like my husband's deployed over 10 times. So, at this point, like I feel like I'm pretty used to being able to handle like situations on my own living overseas, living stateside, moving to locations where I don't know anyone… at this point, I consider myself pretty seasoned. 


Iva 7:11

I saw recently. I don't know where, but I saw a post that that said that: “Military life is having a plan, then a new plan. Then another plan. Then the first plan, then a brand new plan only to go back to the second plan.” [Laughter] So I wanted to ask you because as you mentioned, you know, your husband is being deployed. He's constantly, you know, on active duty, as I understand, and so you have to create a new schedule without each other, but then also to readjust when he comes back and it's that ebb and flow of the dynamic. Can you share with us a little bit how that has been for you and how have you learned that resiliency and also with kids now that are in in the picture with you know, this this adjustments that you have to keep doing?


Athens 8:14

Yeah, for me, it's definitely a balancing act. I've learned and that I'm not gonna be able to do anything like my complete 100%. Especially as a military spouse working full time. That in our community is actually pretty rare because you're moving so frequently. It's hard to establish a career and a network and the longevity and being able to get additional training and everything to progress in your career. So, there's been a lot of situations to where we've had to geographically be separated because he would get an assignment and with my position, I wasn't able to move right away, or I was up for promotions and I didn't want to sacrifice that to go initially, to move until I had that set in stone. So definitely a balancing act and just understanding communication is key for us. We don't hold back on any kind of like we're very straight up with like, this is how I feel about this. This is how do you feel we take each other's thoughts in consideration.


Desiree 9:15

That's good. Yeah, it’s important.


Athens 9:22

Yeah. Since we are married with little kids we have like our common goals of how we want them raised and things that we want to do with them and we just constantly are talking, communicating making sure that we're on the same page.


Desiree 9:39

Yeah, that's super. I mean, I find that quite fascinating because I'm in a, like, we're not a military family, but we're a hotel family. So, meaning, like hoteliers we move around so much and for us it’s usually, I don't know how often you usually move, but for us, it's probably around every two years. Yeah. Some yeah, sometimes it can be a little bit less even. But so we also started off with two people  in the career both in the hotel having that complete understanding in each other's industry. I think that's really key then for the whole communication part and understanding but and then yeah, like me as well, I could only follow let's say, three or six months after, because I was finishing my own work or we were in the middle of an opening or something. 


But we came to a point where we said ‘this is too hard. You know, this is really, really difficult just to be separated all the time.’ So we came to that classic, in a way, decision like one person has to, in a way, give up the career, but like so that was me but I said no, I'd love to, because then I want to be there for my kids. We want to start a family and everything but then there comes this decision. So it’s fascinating and I’m full of respect for you that you said ‘no, I'm keeping my career. We're gonna make this work.’ And I think that's fantastic. So how do you deal with everything with now having two little ones as well? Yeah, and all this.


Athens 11:16

S,o my lifestyle is very chaotic. Definitely is not the most organized and that's how before like I just like referenced that I can't give anything like my complete 100.  Because I've read like self-help books like getting to 50-50 like you can have the marriage the career the kids have it all and for me I just consider that BS like I'm not going to be able to split everything easily and clearly. I mean, I just do the best that I can. My number one priority, obviously, like being a good wife, being a good mom and then career wise that is secondary. But a lot of my balancing act is just doing like offset hours, like once the kids are in bed, I'll review stuff that I have going on for work and then my full time job. And then after that if I get a little bit of downtime, then I work on promoting the book, or my next book that's launching next month. And it's just constantly a balancing act. So…


Desiree 12:14

Totally! And that totally comes back to what Iva and I are always talking about: ‘there is no such thing as balance- it’s just so like last decade’, right? We always talk about having harmony in your life and whatever that looks like for you, you know, our day could be completely crazy. Completely not what we imagined it to be in the morning. And by the time we reach night-time, we're like okay, but we feel happy because it was in harmony. We didn't get to do this, but we had more of that unexpectedly and life is in harmony and that's what matters. Forget the balance your life will never be in balance


Athens 12:57

exactly it’s never going to be [inaudible]


Iva 13:01

And to Des’ point, is also knowing what season you're in in life, right? If you have really small children, their needs are very, very different than if you have teenagers or if you have children that are school age and a little bit more independence and we just need to be able to adjust ourselves and our expectations of what that looks like in that moment. So you know, two little ones tugging at your legs 24/7 is what it looks like the first years you know? That there's no bypassing that. But at the same time, that time goes by so quickly. And then they don't want to be with you anymore, right? They just want to start doing their own thing, have their own play dates, their own social life. And so, if we are more aware of that, then I guess we can go with the flow and as long as we stay in harmony with that with that moment in life. 


Desiree 14:59

We definitely love, love your mission really, to help children like boost these resiliency skills within such a dynamic lifestyle. But do you also feel there's kind of a mental health component that might impact children from these kinds of ages as well in the type of life that you live?


Athens 15:23

Oh, for sure. Definitely. military children are pretty well known for being resilient but I think especially when you're young and you might not have the capacity to be able to voice your concerns or issues that you're having, a lot of children go into almost like a shutdown kind of mode. And for me, like my kids are still really young. But I'm starting to notice now like Atticus, he is in preschool and his class is ages three to five. So this is going to be the classroom that he's in pretty much up until we leave MacDill, Fl where we're at now. And I'm seeing more that he's getting attached to friends. He's getting attached his teachers, attached to school so I'm sure when we leave it will be like ripping a band aid off. He's not gonna like this- it is the first house that he remembers. 


So the next house will be different for him. It's gonna be a lot of change. So initially, before I actually started writing the book, I was just like, brainstorming and thinking about like how these kids go through that and like, as a spouse, I know how hard it is just starting all over every two to three years is a lot. Then when you add kids, it's just like a whole other dynamic because you're trying to be strong for them and like you're still trying to be there for your spouse, you're putting yourself on the backburner, so there's just a lot of things and I think a lot of children they might not necessarily know how to ask for help. So that's why I want to provide a tool for families be able to communicate with their kids on like, what's going on in the situation of moving. And throughout the book. I have like the parenting tips which are different little activities and exercises that you can do as the family, to just like spark up conversation and get emotions out there and everything like that and to build excitement for when you have to relocate instead of dreading it.


Desiree 17:15

That's amazing. Can you give us some examples of these kinds of activities?


Athens 17:21

Yeah, so before we had kids, like we always kind of like made a joke that once movers came like we were essentially camping in our house until we left like, we would have beach chairs, a blow-up mattress, and that would be it. So, one of the activities is camp out in your backyard to make it fun. So like set up your tents, use your projector iPad, do that make smores, cuz little kids they're excited to do stuff like that. And you know, for parents, it takes the edge off, so like you're not stuck in the house and looking at all the chaos and all the things that you have to do, it just it kind of separates you from stressful situation and it's the memory that you're going to have forever. 


Desiree 18:05

Awesome! So they associate it with something positive as well right.


Athens 18:15

Yeah, and especially, as a parent, you're planning a move, you're just constantly running a continuous to-do list in your head that a lot of times like you're not stopping and pausing and thinking about like, oh, what can I do to create fun for the family- that's the least of your concerns. And this forces you to focus in on that that, like, this is an experience that everyone should be having fun with and looking forward to and you're all in it together. 


Iva 18:45

And also, you know, with your husband being active duty, you know, they do work long hours and when they are off you know, there's still a basically a little bit on call. So, you know, there's this element of things falling on your plate a lot more than they do on his when it comes to, as you say, taking care of all the logistics, the to-do lists and to top it all off, to try and create this resilience atmosphere for your children to associate fun with the move, with the change, to seeing their toys and their stuff just being picked up like literally the truck is driving off and their minds cannot wrap around the fact that it's going on a plane or it's being shipped out or it's going to be there when we arrive-  all these concepts are very hard for them to grasp because they're so abstract, right? Yeah. I love the fact that you are creating this collection because it is a collection, right? You're planning to write other ones? 


Athens 20:04

Yep. The next book is launching next month actually. 


Desiree 20:08

Oh, that's super exciting and I can't wait till your collection grows as well because I'm sure you'll take everyone through the different ages as well as your kids are getting older from like now little it's still quite easy to pick them up and go and Atticus is now starting to be in that stage, right? He's making friends, he's starting to remember things and building these attachments. Whereas, Callista is going to be easier right but like ages three and up. Yeah, I can relate a little bit to my family was an expat family as well. So, the first time I moved, I was 11 and so that was hard for me. ‘I don't want to go I don't want to leave.’ But then we got to the new place and I loved it. And then two years later, my dad's like, ‘Okay, we're leaving’, and I was like ‘no, I don't want to leave now’. So I'm telling you also a little bit from experience: it's fine. There's got to be a lot of pushbacks and a lot of complaining but then kids are so used to it like now it's my life. I don't actually know what it's like to be rooted anymore. The thought of moving somewhere and settling scares me because I don’t know what it's gonna be like to be in a place. Like permanently- I don't even know that word. Right. Like, what is that?


Iva 21:41

Like a very big commitment. 


Desiree 21:46

Exactly! Definitely. So, it's going to be an exciting journey for sure. But the kids are so blessed to be able to go through that- to be able to experience different places, cities, countries, cultures, languages, and it's just I think it's yeah, it's really beneficial for them, for the future. 


Iva 22:16

I'm sorry, I was just gonna say the range of experiences and contact with so many different people, you know, with so many different stories and backgrounds and life situations. It's so enriching at the end of the day. Like, I mean, it comes with its pros and its cons, obviously. Like if you grew up with your same friends from the block, and you can have that long friendship where you do barbecues on the weekend, and get-togethers and you sort of are part of each other's lives. But at the same time, it's also great to be a citizen of the world, just having a whole more breadth of experiences under your belt and you also become not only resilient but also more flexible and what I dare say understanding and empathetic to other people and their differences.


Athens 23:09

I was actually speaking to a woman today and I was surprised because she just knew so much about military families that I asked her if she came from a military family and she said no, but she just had like a deep respect because a couple of her friends growing up were military families. So she saw the obstacles that they went through and she obviously had empathy towards families. I mean, her position is actually a school liaison officer. So, in the public school, she's like their military liaison. The families will contact her to help get their kids integrated and everything like that. So just having positions like that out there helps so much with just getting like the rest of local communities to be able to know how to kind of respond that like, especially for kids, if you have the same group of friends and everything like you might not necessarily be open to being nice to the new kid and taking them under the wing and everything but if they're aware of what another kid has gone through moving and everything like that, they may be more open minded and make more of an effort and that's huge, especially for little kids.


Desiree 24:17

Exactly, yeah. And your threshold of like, you know, that how do you say that the threshold of like, obstacles, how you categorize obstacles also become so different. And I mean, you said the first time you moved Callista was seven days old. Like, how do I get my child home from the hospital? You know, what's it what's it going to be like? And you're like, ‘Yeah, I'm thinking about a move here- moving the family with a newborn’. Literally. So yeah, it's so it's so interesting. It makes you so much stronger, doesn't it? As a person.


Athens 24:59

It's one of those things that like I don't even realize how crazy the situation was at the time until afterward I was able to process it and tell other people about it. Through those seven days I was in three in the hospital so once I got home it was four days until game time, right? Yeah, I'm kind of like, I was a little crazy on my part, but I mean, it got done. And one of the reasons why I pushed for so much was just at the height of the pandemic, a lot of people were getting their movers rescheduled so they didn't know when they were going to be able to get their homes packed up and everything and my husband had his Report V and I knew that I was going to be working as soon as I came down off of maternity leave and everything. I just didn't want to create delays or anything like that for the family and yeah, I just pushed with it. 


Iva 25:46

I want to ask you what it's like to work for the Air Force as a civilian while your husband is active duty. 


Athens 25:58

Actually really cool. 


Iva 26:00

Tell us! Tell us- we love to hear


Athens 26:03

We went to undergrad together and also grad school together. And initially I worked for private industry, in business for marketing and everything like that. And when we moved down to that panhandle part of Florida, that's when it clicked for me that we're going to be moving constantly. I need to have a career that can be available at every location that we're moving to. That's why I started going after the DOD because I'm like, ‘Yeah, I could work for the company’, (I worked for Aramark), so they have locations all over but at the same time, too, we can get some very remote ones that I thought it would behove me more just work for Department of Defense. So yeah, so I luckily, I ended up getting picked up and started my career with the Air Force and we've even worked in the same units and everything which is so weird.


Desiree 26:55

That's interesting. What was that like?


Athens 26:57

That was definitely a different dynamic. We always initially worked at separate locations. Like for example, like we were in England, I worked at Lakenheath, the fighter base and he worked at Milton Hall, the Special Operations so  we're always kind of separated and then when we got to New Mexico, then it was all of the sudden we're in the same unit, like same building it was a weird dynamics. It's like I just saw you at home now you're walking through the hallway or you’re gonna ask me for something…


Iva 27:29

You know everything about my day, [inaudible]


Athens 27:35

Yeah, we carpool their carpool on the way home so like it was a weird dynamic, but at the same time, it was so great because we spent so much time separated because of deployments and TD wise and trips and trainings and everything that like this was finally like our time together. And it was cool too because I was able to see like what he is like your professional environment because a lot of times like Aubrey, like his performance reports, I'm just like, amazed that what he did but at the same time, like I see him do stuff around the house and I'm like how he conducts themselves at work. Like it made me like really proud and I get I also gained a whole new appreciation for active duty military members and everything too, as I get to know my co-workers more and more and see what they go through and getting to know their family. So, I love working for the Air Force.


Desiree 28:24

That's great. And are they quite cooperative then with the moves? If you have to move they know that you're a couple, you're in this together and they will help you then with getting that the placement and the next location?


Athens 28:42

Yeah, so it really depends on where you're going. For me since I've worked with the Air Force for 11 years on permanent party, so that does help to give me an advantage that like when we get notification of where we're moving depending on where it is, if we're I'm currently working at, if they have connections at the next base, sometimes they'll do like reach out or let them know like, ‘okay, she's coming if there’s an opening coming up, keep her mind’ and everything like that. Which is really nice. And I've had for even locations like my position was set up before I even arrived there. So I knew that I was going into it and that took a lot of stress away from the move because I have my start date and everything that I knew when I arrived to get the house settled so that was really nice. But like I said, it depends because like we ended up like in the middle of nowhere where there's like no vacancies, there's not really much they can do for you at that point. But yeah,


Desiree 29:39

That's good. That's really exciting. So tell us and tell everyone that's listening as well as where can we get your books, like how do we get our hands on them? 


Athens 29:50

Amazon, I would say is probably the best option because they keep stock growing constantly and it's also available for Prime in the paperback as well as the hardback. But also at Target online, Books A Million,  Barnes & Noble. There's just a lot, so if you go to our official website too, there's a listing, even places where I tried to run promotions where you can get the e book for free during certain periods as well. So and all these major retailers and everything they're going to be also launching the next book next month. So


Desiree 30:33

Perfect. So it's called the Military Child Chronicles. We'll definitely put a link to all of those in the show notes and for all the international listeners because we've got people all over the world including us, right, we'll make sure we have those international kind of platforms as well that we can easily order from so I think it's gonna be an amazing tool and like a manual for parents. Right. 


Athens 31:04

Thank you- I hope so. 


Desiree 31:06

Yeah,I can't wait to dive into those activities as who knows when our next move is coming right Iva? 


Iva 31:18

Athens you're also working on other projects. I believe there's a book that you're doing a book collaboration as well.


Athens 31:28

Yeah, so that's going to start in January and I'm actually writing a chapter on resiliency for it. So that's an obviously be geared toward adults.


Iva 31:37

Because also, you know, as an adult, if you don't have that resiliency, it's very hard to, you know, to, to show it to your kids what that looks like. You can’t yet emulate it so that's fantastic. And yes, so stay tuned for that. We can’t wait and we will be definitely following you, so if you want to stay in touch with Athens, you can follow her on Instagram, @themilitarychildchronicles. And also we have the links to her Facebook page. And you can find all of the links in our show notes. 


So we want to thank you, Athens, for being here with us today. It was such a pleasure. And on our part, I you know, we salute you. We salute you know, what all the military families and military personnel are doing. And it's certainly not easy and it's a group effort, it's a community effort, is an everybody's effort, right? It's a big village. So, it's great to know that that you are part of those beacons that are shining the light to make those transitions and those moves much easier and smoother for everybody involved, especially the children. 


Athens 33:01

Thank you. Thank you guys for having me. Well,


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Athens Pellegrino

Athens E. Pellegrino grew up in Ocean City, New Jersey. She attended St. Joseph’s University and obtained a Bachelor of Business Administration degree. Athens serves in the United States Air Force as a Budget Analyst and military spouse. She has a love for travelling, cooking, dogs, and fitness.  Athens children are 2 and 1. The family has experienced 7 Permanent Change of Station (PCS) assignments. The latest was 7 days after giving birth to her daughter. Athens is intrigued by the strength and resiliency of military families, which led to her creation of the Military Child Chronicles series. The first book is, Mission: My First PCS.


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