The Royal Air Forces Association, Storybook Wings and a Military Spouse
As I write this, I am sat outside my daughters room. I’ve been sat here for almost two hours as Little Feet B struggles to go back to sleep. I’d like to say this is an unusual occurrence but unfortunately in this season of our lives it is not. As you know The Rainbow Tree family is separated at the moment. Daddy Big Feet is currently deployed for 5 months overseas. We are coming up to 6 weeks in and disrupted sleep has not gotten any better. Little Feet B has struggled since her Daddy has left, but this struggle is mostly just at night. As a result she wakes up after a few hours and it is next to impossible to get her back to sleep unless she comes into bed in our room. I don’t really mind the co-sleeping part, it’s quite nice to have company in bed however, it has been creeping earlier and earlier and it has become a big problem, especially as I work in the evenings. This is taking it’s toil and is one of the side effects to children with deployed parents, or at least in our family it is. This isn’t a cry for help, I don’t require any advice, I am simply opening a little curtain into our lives giving you an idea of what it is like at this stage in our journey.
Deployments are tough it’s true, but we do get support and in this post I will be shedding some light on a little part of what The Royal Air Forces Association (RAFA) does to help, specifically one of their initiatives called ‘Storybook Wings’, which every family can receive in times of deployment.
What does The Royal Air Forces Association (rafa) do?
Their statement mission is the following:
The Royal Air Forces Association is committed to providing confidential, professional and fair services to members of the wider RAF family from the youngest recruit to the oldest veteran and their families. Ongoing training and support for welfare volunteers and staff ensures services are consistent and of the highest possible standard. All will be treated with dignity and respect at all times.
There are many other areas that this charity help forces and ex-forces families with. A couple of examples being we receive a deployment pack before our loved ones are deployed and either vouchers to use for days out or being taken on days out with other families throughout the deployment.
In the deployment packs are activity books for children, a count down sheet, a re-usable weekly reward sheet, a book, some leaflets on how separation of parents can affect children and how the return on parents after long separation can affect family life too.
I cannot stress enough how all these things add to keeping the morale up of people left at home. Little Feet A loves ticking her reward sheet off everyday. If she gets a certain amount of ticks by the end of the week she gets a sweet or chocolate bar and every Saturday morning we cross off another week together.
The Royal Air Forces Association runs an initiative called, Storybook Wings which has, to date supported approximately 2,300 children with parents not being at home, whether due to deployment or even just their parents working away from home during the week. Before your service dependent leaves on tour, they can sign up to record two books of their choice. These recordings are then taken away and sound effects are added on it them. They are then delivered to you so that your Little Feet can listen to their Mummy or Daddy read them a bedtime story. How wonderful is that?
Some books are better to read than others, especially ones where fun sound effects can be added. Ours turned up last week and Daddy Big Feet decided on two Julia Donaldson books, The Gruffalo and The Room On The Broom. This means that the Little Feet can curl up and have their Daddy read them a story even when he isn’t here.
You receive a digital recording as well as CDs. When receiving the CDs in the post, included are little bravery medals for each child, in fact I even got one! These recordings are so special. We sat with the books after the girls had eaten in then evening on the sofa, with the recording and also the books. Sitting there with the girls for those 10 minutes, was like a weight had been temporarily lifted, especially as Daddy Big Feet had recorded additional messages for each of the girls.
10 years of RAFA - The DOodle Box
The Royal Air Forces Association has been active for 10 years and in celebration of this they have brought out Doodle Boxes that can be coloured in by their Little Feet and/or Big Feet! Inside them there is a roll of paper to design a welcome home banner, a t-shirt that can be coloured in (with pens included), a card that can be coloured in and a wash kit bag that again, can be coloured in. About 3 or 4 weeks ago, when the Little Feet were eating their evening meal, the camp’s (where we live) Community Support Officer, a Flight Sergeant personally delivered this box to our door. We were the first family on our camp to have received one of these boxes.
Now there was no reason for the Flight Sergeant to bring that round himself, he is an incredibly busy person with a to do list longer than his arm. The act of personally coming to our house to hand it over, had such an affect to the mood in our house. I had had a particularly hard day and was really counting down the minutes until the girls went to bed. This random act of kindness lifted my spirits, I wasn’t expecting this box, I didn’t even know it was coming. We are a creative house, that’s no shock, Little Feet A has become so focused on drawing and colouring in the last month and we joke that she is very prolific in her endeavours. Some days she goes through pages and pages of colouring and drawings. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if she uses it as a source of escapism and a time to process what is happening. So to have an arty activity with arty activities delivered, for free to our door was like an angel had come a knocking.
What will we do with ours?
Our Doodle box is going to become our deployment keepsake box. In it will live all the letters we will have sent each other over every deployment past, present and future. Currently somewhere in our garage there is a plastic storage box with all the ebluey’s that Daddy Big Feet and myself sent each other when he was in Afghanistan. It felt wrong to throw them away when he got back, like we were burning a part of our history and pretending it never happened. One day our Little Feet might read them and learn things we never told them. Little Feet A especially may like to read them as I was pregnant with her at the time.
Military wife turned small business owner
Being self-employed is new to me, but in a short space of time I have come across a huge gathering of other military spouses who have gone out on a limb, believed they could and started something for themselves. When I got handed this box, I knew immediately who had designed it. I asked two separate, ‘in the know’ people if my guess was right but they didn’t know. Dying to know if I was correct, I found her on my Instagram and direct messaged her. I had started to follow her a few months back and I felt certain it was her. My suspicions were correct! The Doodle Box was designed by Amy Nolan, who runs a small business called Ginger Rainbow .
Though incredibly busy, the lovely Amy has VERY kindly taken the time to share with us how this project came about what her company does.
How the Doodle Box Project came about...
January 2017 RAF Benson, who had seen the colouring in pillowcases and cards asked if I could design a colouring in box that could be kept at home and coloured in along with putting together a small range of products such as the wash bag and banner and card. Together we decided on a theme and the products were designed.This project was completed and launched by RAF Benson last year and featured in envoy mag.
November 2017 - RAFA then approached me as they were interested in seeing If I could do a similar project , but to help celebrate 10 years of storybook wings. I then designed the theme for the products within the box as well as the outside and the Doodle box was launched in the summer this year 2018
A bit about Ginger Rainbow...
My first colouring in pillowcase was hand drawn for a customer on the base I was living at at the time as a gift for them to complete at home and then send out to their husband deployed. I then decided to get some (10)professionally screen printed to see if people would be interested in buying them. I did the supporting the unsung hero start up course and then have spent the last couple of years learning how to work for myself. I do a few different things now, but Ginger rainbow is one of the things I am most proud of, I now supply my products to a number of RAF stations who supply them in deployment packs to families with a serving person away from home. I really believe that simple creative activity can be a force for connection and positivity. I get such lovely messages from families who use my products and always love to see the amazing artwork that happens on these pillowcases as a result.
I put a lot of love into my designs and I hope that the enjoyment experienced can help a little with the challenges of deployment.
So there you have it.
From a fellow military spouse, I want to say thank you to Amy. Thank you for being brave enough to start up your own business, thank you pouring your heart into it and sharing your gifts. You have made a difference to so many families in their difficult deployment seasons. You have made a difference in our house. Creating is our fairy dust, it’s our escape, it’s our hobby, it’s our family time and you have given us something to cherish forever. I have sat with my eldest and together have coloured in that box many separate days, a few minutes here and there. Creativity is like food for our souls, it is a moment of quiet, a moment of stillness, it is a moment of adrenaline, it is a moment to listen to nothing but the beautiful white noise of felt tips on cardboard..
So thank you to the Royal Air Force Association, to Storybook Wings, to Amy Nolan and her company Ginger Rainbow and all those who tireless work for them and with them, who have to endure many emotionally charged humans during an emotionally charged time in their lives. Thank you to everyone who has donated, helped raise money for it’s cause, volunteered and in direct result helped those who need it.