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The Meat and Potatoes of Life

Lisa dishes up a heaping helping of hilarious stories about marriage, parenting and military life. Her syndicated humor column appears in newspapers, Military Spouse magazine, and on her blog,

Lisa Smith is a winner of Top 25 Military Moms - 2013

What's a tip for celebrating a holiday or milestone with your kids when your partner isn't able to be there?


No, seriously, I mean it!

I recall Mother’s Day 2007. My Navy husband was in the 5th month of a yearlong deployment to Djibouti, Africa. I met some other “geographically single” military moms at an indoor play center to let the kids run off some steam while we chatted. A couple hours later, the kids, sweaty and sufficiently coated in invisible ball-pit bacteria, told us they were starving to death.

The mothers begrudgingly trudged toward the exit. “Ugh,” one mom groaned, “I really don’t want to cook.” “Me neither,” another chimed in, her lips stretched downward in an exaggerated frown.

After months of parenting alone, I seriously contemplated eating my daughter’s filthy sweat-dampened socks to avoid cooking another meal. “Hey, you guys wanna go out to lunch somewhere?!”

We huddled in the parking lot to plan a lunch outing, but our excitement soon turned to disappointment when we realized that, without a reservation, we’d be lucky to get Slurpies and Slim Jims at 7-11 on Mother’s Day.

We said our good-byes again, and slogged to our respective minivans.

Just then, a 150-watt bulb blinked on in my deployment weary brain with possibly the best idea I’d had in my entire life. “I know where we can go!” I blurted. The other moms and their offspring looked to me with hope in their hungry eyes across the quivering asphalt, and I bellowed with outstretched arms like their pseudo savior, “HOOTERS!”

Much as I had predicted, we had the whole place to ourselves, and lazily munched on wings and fries late into the afternoon. The waitresses seemed more than happy to cater to feminine clientele who don’t giggle nervously and ogle at their ill-fitting shirts, so the service was excellent. While I did have to wipe drool from my 11-year-old son’s chin a time or two, all in all, it was a perfect Mother’s Day.

Funny stories aside, there is no reason whatsoever to mope around and feel sorry for yourself when your military spouse isn't able to be there for holidays and special moments. You are not alone -- there are plenty of other military spouses out there who have done it, are doing it, and will do it countless times in the future.

It's kinda silly to continue family traditions if they just won't be the same without your spouse. Instead, pick yourself up, go find other military spouses, and do something different.

It will distract you and the kids, and you might end up with a good story to tell!

What have you learned about parenting from living in different places?

My kids are total BRATS.

No, not that kind of brat. Although our kids have definitely displayed their fair share of unruly behavior, infuriating teen arrogance and near juvenile delinquency; I'm calling my kids "military brats," which has an entirely different connotation.

From the time I toddled around in droopy diapers, to the day I drove off to college in my VW Bug, I lived in one small Pennsylvania town. The kids who picked their noses next to me in Mrs. Rowley's kindergarten class were the same ones who walked across the stage with me at our high school graduation. I had one hometown, one high school, one brick house, one yellow bedroom, and one best friend who I gabbed with each night on my one candlestick rotary phone while draped across my one mock brass twin bed.

By contrast, my son just started his senior year at his third new high school. By the time he drives off to college next year, he will have grown up in eight different homes, in three different states and two foreign countries. He has said goodbye to five different best friends, five different piano teachers, and four different Boy Scout troops. He will have played on three different varsity football teams, and his academic transcript will be almost as complicated as the US Tax Code.

Essentially, my son and his two sisters have fully experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of being a dependent in a military family. But regardless of the challenges of our military life, our children don't succeed despite their military upbringing, they succeed BECAUSE of it.

And as I watch my kids go off to another new school in another new town, I'm proud to say my kids are most certainly, undeniably, complete and total BRATs.

What are your best tips for traveling with kids?

Zip Lock Bags, and lots of 'em.

You may think I am recommending Zip Lock Bags for parents to keep fruit snacks, Goldfish crackers and Crayons organized and tidy. Or, conversely, you may think I'm recommending Zip Lock Bags for those times while traveling with the kids when you just want to put a bag over your head to end the misery.

But then, you'd be wrong. The simple reason I always make sure I've got gallon-sized Zip Lock Bags with me when I travel with the kids is fairly simple -- Bodily Functions.

Yep. Each and every one of my kids have presented my husband and I with a bodily function crisis at one time or another during travel.

Our youngest is a puker, whose record for the shortest time between getting in the minivan and upchucking from car sickness is seven minutes. (This record was set only a couple weeks ago on a particularly long leg of our PCS move to Rhode Island.)

My oldest is now 18, but when he was young, he had an uncanny ability to "hold it" until we were in the most inconvenient location, before alerting us that he needed to go, NOW. A reasonable alternative to Zip Lock Bags in this instance are empty family sized Cool Whip tubs, something we learned while on a long car trip to Grammy's house.

And like other middle children, my middle child is totally unpredictable -- her bodily functions are not to be trusted. Frankly, after having three large babies, neither are mine. So take it from me, a 20-year Navy wife who has moved nine times, two times overseas: keep a few Zip Lock Bags tucked away in your purse or the glove compartment.

Oh, and a bottle of wine in the hotel room at night wouldn't hurt either.

What is the best car for a family of four? (Please share make, model, and why.)

Lisa Smith Molinari

No doubt about it, the dirty white minivan is, hands down, the best car for a family of four, five, six, seven or eight. Stick to models made at least 5 years ago with a nice aged patina, preferably missing a hubcap. Throw a few french fries and Goldfish crackers between the seats. Put sticky stuff in the bottom of every cup holder. Make sure you have a receptacle for car sickness or potty emergencies (a Cool Whip tub with a lid is ideal). And adorn the back bumper with a sticker that reads, "My child is on the honor roll at BLA-BLA Elementary School." Guaranteed, you will be the envy of all your friends. Lisa Smith Molinari, Mom and author of "The Meat and Potatoes of Life"
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What can you do to comfort a child who is missing a parent who is away?

Lisa Smith Molinari

As a military spouse, I am an expert at comforting my kids and myself when my husband is away. When my husband was in East Africa for over one year, we made periodic Skype calls, wrote e-mails, and hung a life-sized picture of my husband near our kitchen table. Before he left, my husband recorded himself reading several books to each of our three kids, and them gave them each the recordings and the books as gifts before he left. It was not easy by any means, but we made it through the year, and in the end, appreciated each other more!
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What's the funniest thing your child has ever said?

Lisa Smith Molinari

So many things to choose from! Let's see here, when my son was little, and he sneezed, he would say, "Splash You." Quite descriptive, I must say! My middle daughter used to call the fat man in the red suit "Santa Closet." We always wondered, why is he in the closet, anyway? My youngest once crawled into my husband's lap and tenderly told him, "Daddy, your breath not stinky today." The ultimate compliment!
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