Faith helps mom of seven cope

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 9, 2004

Special to the News-Herald

Margaret Sisco knows busy.

The Suffolk mother of seven takes life day by day while her Navy husband, Eric, is on his second long deployment as part of a unit attached to the U. S. S. Wasp. Lt. j.g Eric Sisco, who shipped out in February, isn’t scheduled to come home before August.

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Although she and the children keep in touch with him by email, it’s still tough being the only parent at home for such long periods of time. While he’s tied up in he &uot;thick of things,&uot; Sisco’s faith keeps her strong.

Keeping up with Edward, 11; Amanda, 10; Phillip, 8; Geoffrey, 7; Samuel, 5; Peter, 3, and Benjamin, 1, doesn’t leave her much time to do anything else. Through it all, Margaret says she is grateful for the challenges which have strengthened her.

Margaret is no stranger to the challenges of taking care of home while her husband is away. Eric began his military career as a musician in the Army band, and he was assigned to Bosnia for four months. At that time, Margaret found herself on her own with four young children.

After eight years in the Army, Eric realized that there was not much room for musicians to advance. With a growing family to support, he enlisted in the Navy.

This created a new challenge for the family, Sisco said.

&uot;The move from the Army to the Navy was a big shock. I had to rebuild support networks, and then we moved to Suffolk in July 2001,&uot; Sisco said. &uot;We were not only new to the Navy but new to Suffolk as well.&uot;

The couple, both New Jersey natives, met while at Trenton State College. Eric, a trombonist, needed an accompanist and Margaret, a pianist, got the job.

Music is still an important part of her life, Sisco said. She believes that staying connected to what fulfills a person is an important coping strategy.

&uot;I stay connected to music, and I try to take moments when I can. I play viola, piano and sing,&uot; she said. &uot;I have even started to write my own music.

&uot;I find it therapeutic, and I work with the children on music. Edward, the oldest, has begun playing the cello, too.&uot;

There are still everyday obstacles to overcome, she said. The South Broad Street resident jokes that she tries to maintain what the kids attempt to destroy and that she suffers from the CHAOS (can’t have anyone over) syndrome.

&uot;I can’t be a perfectionist, and I try to prioritize what is important. What is most important is that I spend time with the kids and support my spouse. I think people tend to forget how hard deployments are on the kids. All of the kids need their dad, especially my six boys.&uot;

All but the two youngest attend Suffolk Public Schools, and she has found the schools to be an adjustment as well for the family.

&uot;Since not as many military kids attend the schools here, I find that teachers sometimes don’t understand their special needs or realize that they may have only one parent at home right now,&uot; Sisco said. &uot;I try very hard to encourage the kids to maintain a positive outlook.

&uot;When I have a parent-teacher conference, I usually have to take everyone with me. That makes for an interesting visit.&uot;

One of Margaret’s biggest challenges came when her son, Peter, then 2, was accidentally shot with a BB gun by another child and lost an eye.

&uot;I didn’t have relatives here to turn to, and I found some people very judgmental about what happened,&uot; she recalled. &uot;I found others, however, to be very accepting and supportive.

&uot;The whole family had to recover from the trauma of the accident,&uot; Sisco said. &uot;I was forced to step out of my comfort zone, and I had to learn to reach out for help.&uot;

&uot;It really made me realize that we are not here to go through things alone, and that the people who help you benefit as well. Other people don’t know what your needs are until you ask.&uot;

Even when Benjamin, her youngest, was born, she had to go it alone. Eric was out to sea, and her father came to help.

&uot;My father stayed with the children while I went to the hospital. It was the doctor, nurses, and me when he was born.&uot;

LeeAnne Senechal, a neighbor, tries to help when she can but can’t imagine how Margaret deals with just the routine of everyday life.

&uot;I try to help her some in the house. I don’t know how she even manages to bathe, much less buy groceries or run errands I wish there was more help available to people in Margaret’s situation, that more people could volunteer to give these families some help.&uot;

Through it all, Margaret has had the support of her church family, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints in Northern Suffolk.

&uot;When Benjamin was born, people brought meals. Even now, they save seats for us in church so we can sit together if we are running late.&uot;

She says her strong connection to her faith is an important lesson she has learned, and she has found Suffolk to be a very faith-centered community. She recalls attending the Agape Feast at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church last year, and she says it was one of the highlights of the year.

&uot;People were so helpful, even though they knew we were committed to another church.&uot;

She also serves as a leader of the Tiger Cubs, a program of the cub scouts, at Main Street Methodist, and notes that the people are wonderful there as well. Margaret also credits the Suffolk YMCA as a very positive place for her family. &uot;They have some great programs for the children, and it is a really supportive family environment.&uot;

She encourages military families to take advantage of all the military has to offer.

&uot;Participate as much as possible in military support activities. If it is only through e-mail, that’s okay. Know who your ombudsman is, and know who to contact in an emergency. Attend the Compass program offered by the Navy. It’s a good orientation, whether you are new to the Navy or not.&uot;

For others in her situation, she advises, &uot;Stay in touch with who you are, and with you and your spouse as a couple. Open yourself up to help from others. Life is more difficult if you keep to yourself.&uot;