Guide book aimed at military spouses

Oak Harbor resident Lissa McGrath and her new book, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Life as a Military Wife.” - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor resident Lissa McGrath and her new book, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Life as a Military Wife.”
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times


Staff Reporter

During her husband’s sixth deployment to the Middle East, author Lissa McGrath of Oak Harbor began to piecemeal bits of her next self-help chapter, titled, “What if he doesn’t come back?”

“Researching this was very emotionally difficult for me and I don’t know if it would’ve been easier if he was home,” McGrath said. “But I thought, it must be so much harder for someone reading this who is actually going through it.”

McGrath’s book, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Life of a Military Spouse” is no memoir, even though she’s been “married to the military” for seven years.

It’s filled with no-nonsense advice and an overview of resources available to military spouses, and how to make the most of them.

“It took me six months to research this book,” McGrath said. “Most spouses don’t have six months to research something, especially if they’re PCS’d [permanent change of station move] overseas.”

McGrath challenges readers to be proactive, such as navigating the military’s child-care system and saving during deployments.

On the back of the book is the familiar neon-orange box, a staple of “Idiot’s Guides” everywhere, that reads: “Be prepared for anything military life throws your way.”

A Navy spouse at 21, McGrath said she was green to military life and was also struck with culture shock. She came to the U.S. from England.

“I wish I’d had this book as a new spouse,” she said.

Two weeks after touching U.S. soil, her husband was deployed, just prior to 9/11. She lived with in-laws in a military community.

“I had to adjust to a new culture, in subtle ways. There was no new language but there was military terminology and phrases unique to England, such as pathway and sidewalk or draft and excluder,” she said.

The book is spotted with useful anecdotes from other military wives, who McGrath has met in travels and in spouse support forums. She stressed that the writing in “Idiot’s Guide” isn’t branch specific and it follows an easy-to-find format.

“People won’t need to read the full book if all they need is information on allowances overseas. I wanted to make it logical.”

Several sections of the book are family-centric, which as a mother of a 2-year-old named Rowan, is a personal subject. McGrath said her greatest deployment tool for her daughter is the “Daddy Doll.” It’s a plush doll with a photograph of dad printed on it, also shown in “Idiot’s Guide.”

McGrath surprised her daughter one day, by placing it on the couch.

“She screamed ‘Daddy!’ and ran at it. Rowan would take her dad with her everywhere,” she said. “And she can still make a distinction between real Dad and doll Dad.”

Their family was separated during two Christmases, but McGrath improvised with Webcams and celebrated a conjoined Thanksgiving/Christmas.

“There is no point in having a poor me attitude. This book is about being adaptable,” McGrath said.

McGrath has authored two other “Idiot’s Guide” books, including “The Idiot’s Guide to eBay” and “The Pocket Idiot’s Guide to eBay Motors.” She expects to take a break from writing, but has given thought to another military guidebook.

“In my life, I’ve had support and people who have coached me to deal with challenges and see the positive,” McGrath said. “To be that to someone else is important to me.”

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