By: Dominique S. James
When I said “I do” to my husband over ten years ago, I knew his intentions of enlisting in the military. I did not have much background knowledge about the military or what it meant to be married to someone serving. I simply knew that I was “all in.”
Three months after getting married, my husband went off to basic training. The distance between us was hard, but my teaching position and graduate school kept me busy. My life was not impacted much at all until it was time to move to our first duty station six months later. I was devastated to leave my job behind and rebuild my career in another state.
Like most milspouse educators, I was appalled when I learned I could not teach in my new state when I already had teaching experience and a graduate degree in the discipline. So tell me, why can’t I teach again? As far as I was concerned, I was slaying it! Everything I worked hard for seemed to be stripped away. After accepting my new reality, I was able to get a job as a child and youth assistant at the child development center on the installation. Talk about being underemployed! While this is a great job for many, it was not my calling. I just wasn’t here for the diaper changing or nose wiping in my personal life and certainly not on a job. I continued to pursue other opportunities to be delivered from that situation.
I became a substitute teacher and landed a few long-term sub contracts. I utilized this time to study for certification exams in my new state and was back in the classroom as a teacher the following school year.
My boat was rocked, but it didn’t sink.
Since that time, I was able to teach full-time four years before it was time to move again. During the fourth year, my husband was deployed for six months when our first born was 10 months old and I was working on another graduate degree. I had no real plan of how I would get it all done. I just knew that I would and that I had to. I communicated with my supervisor so she understood the challenges I was facing. While expectations were never lowered, she extended some grace to your girl when needed. I was able to thrive and survive during this deployment.
My family PCS’d about four months after the deployment to a new duty station three hours away in the same state. I applied for teaching jobs ahead of the move, got an interview, and job offer but there was only one problem. We were not scheduled to arrive in the area until a month after the school year began. To my surprise, the administrator was not bothered and said she would wait for me. Jesus be looking out for your girl! It is important to note that this was a specialist position, which did not require me to be assigned to a classroom. The lesson I learned here is not to engage in negative self talk. Thankfully my thoughts were not manifested. You never know what a potential employer is willing to do for you if they truly feel you will add value to their team.
I worked as a math specialist for a little over a year prior to gaining another position as a project director managing a grant supporting military-connected students in the public school setting. The job was a dream and I felt honored to do such important work supporting students and families like mine. It was a grant based position, but I did not care because I would probably be gone by the time it expired so I didn’t have anything to lose. I decided I would enjoy this awesome ride and make a lasting impact for as long as I was there. Milspouses, y’all feel me right?
During the previous year and for the next three years, my husband went TDY a lot y’all. More than we were used to. When I started this new position my youngest was 4 months old and my oldest was 2 ½ years old. Note: I had warmed up to changing diapers and wiping runny noses by this point, ha! It was not easy working full-time, rearing children without family around, commuting, and doing everything else that comes with adulting. Adulting itself isn’t for the faint at heart.
Fast forward to year 5 at this duty station my husband deployed for one year and something inside of me broke at about 6 months in. I was doing it all, you hear me? On top of everything I was doing to hold onto my career, I also realized that my company was not invested in developing a long-term sustainable commitment to the cause in which I was working. Listen, that is a whole other conversation. As a millennial woman of color, that was enough for me to disengage. That realization along with valuing my own mental health and wellness was enough for me to pack up my ‘ish and leave – in decency and order, of course. Never burn bridges!
Because I like to start what I finish, I did want to see the grant contract through until the end as project director. I approached my company about flexible work options such as teleworking which was not allowed. In the words of Maury Povich, I have determined that was a lie because COVID-19 has proved that most companies can allow their employees to telework, but I digress. It became crystal clear more than ever than if I am going to maintain my own career for the next 9 years or so as my husband closes out his military career, that I must do so on my own terms. I was tired of trying to make my unique lifestyle fit with companies that are not open to flexible working practices.
As a result, I knew I had to pivot and Dandelion Kids LLC was born. The mission of Dandelion Kids LLC is to support military kids as they bloom where planted. Because I loved the work I was doing and I am a natural born educator, it was a no brainer to combine the two into a business of my own, on my own terms. With 2-million military children around the world and the fact that I’ll always live near one or more military bases, it simply made sense. Pivoting doesn’t mean a change in mission, but a change in direction of how you arrive at your mission or passion. For me, it is continuing to educate students but doing so through virtual tutoring and creating products such as books for military children like my own. I want to encourage all military spouses out there to pivot when necessary so your dreams are not deferred but are able to grow and manifest in spite of the challenges you face regularly as a military spouse. While I’m new to entrepreneurship, I’m sure it will be a rewarding journey.
Dominique James, Ed.D., is a published children’s book author, military spouse, educator and advocate for military-connected youth. She is owner of Dandelion Kids LLC, whose mission is support military children as they bloom where planted. Visit www.dandelionkidsworldwide.com to learn more.