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Experience Can be the Best Teacher by Heather Issvoran

You have no idea what or who influences your children throughout the day. One day, my always curious and somewhat mischievous then 12- year- old daughter, Lauren, looked up at me and said, “Mom, did you know Cheeto’s can be used as a match in an emergency?” I asked, “Where did you learn that from?” Lauren replied, “Wendy taught us that in case of emergency, we should make sure we have Cheetos at all times!” My daughter whipped out a Cheeto and proceeded to light it from the gas burner on the stove. To my surprise, it lit up like a torch and stayed lit with a flame before burning out. I have never looked at a Cheeto the same way again. Thanks, Wendy! Wendy Walsh, a prominent homeland security educator, watched my kids for one hour and influenced them for the rest of their lives with a survival tool I hope they never have to use. My daughter is now 25 years old and has referred to that and many other lessons she learned from my first responder friends over the years.
In another instance, my son, Alex, and I were home together when the dryer caught on fire. Seriously, there were visible flames! At ten years old, he fetched the fire extinguisher from under the kitchen sink and discharged it throughout the house until he got to the dryer and then, in a big finish, dumped the rest of it to put out the fire. OK, he learned that one from watching television. The foam was everywhere, dripping down the walls in the hallway and pooling on the floors. It sure was a giant mess, but Alex was the hero of the day! After the adrenaline subsided a bit, we both hugged and laughed about it. It was a tragedy for the burned-out dryer but it was an irreplaceable bonding experience for us.
As a parent, I always wanted to be the one to teach my children the incredible lessons they needed to learn to excel in life. The reality is that I raised three kids while working in a warp-speed environment and often was too busy to be the great teacher I had hoped to be. I traveled frequently and missed out on the occasional birthdays, open houses, and some Oscar-worthy school performances. I know that parents teach by example, through words, and deeds, as well as work ethic. I know many women colleagues who work full-time while raising children often feel the same personal tension of failing to be present in their children’s life all the time.

I also know that resilience and adaptability are natural to our children, and while I missed out on being a homeroom mother, my children remember the adventure of having truly memorable babysitters like Wendy. The lesson here is that children are naturally resilient and will gravitate to new experiences and learning even if parents worry about how the changes will impact them. There is no “right” way to do it; just try to give them as many interesting and creative experiences as possible, without providing all the answers.

Parenting is not for the weak of heart or of mind. Everyone is just doing the best that they can. Today’s complex world is sometimes scary for all of us, especially our children. A friend who has to make life and death choices in his job once told me, “Seeing challenges as opportunities give me a much better perspective on life and keep me off blood pressure medicine.” I try to remember AND practice that every day.

So let’s take advantage of those opportunities to practice, to teach, and to influence. Let’s call it living the preparedness lifestyle. One activity that was fun for us at Christmas time was to go to the dollar store as a family and assemble car preparedness kits as gifts for neighbors and friends. My kids absolutely loved the idea of building gifts and we had so many interesting conversations about flashlights, emergency flares, and bandaids that I find myself smiling every single time I recall the memory.

For more ideas, check out FEMA’s Ready.GOV website for activities to make it fun and easy. CLICK HERE ◙

ABOUT Heather Issvoran

For two decades, Heather Issvoran has been the bridge between federal, state, local, and tribal homeland security practitioners and officials with global thought leaders on resilience, homeland security, and emergency management. As the Director, Strategic Communications, Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School, Ms. Issvoran scours the country, ensuring the Center enrolls the very best candidates for its executive and graduate programs. Her responsibilities include contract support for strategic communications, agency outreach, student and alumni relations, recruitment, and public affairs. She supervises and coordinates Center communications on the national level for print, broadcast, and web-based media, working closely with both the Naval Postgraduate School and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security leadership on these endeavors.
Ms. Issvoran leads a strategic communications operation and department that shares, shapes, and demonstrates the impact and success stories of CHDS students, faculty, staff, and alumni and reaches out to a national audience of academics and practitioners. In her previous position in contract support for the Center as the Director of Program Operations, Ms. Issvoran enhanced and streamlined program operations while working with government partners to accommodate additional programmatic goals. Ms. Issvoran provided logistical planning, coordination, and execution of the Center’s master’s degree programs, executive leaders programs, conferences, and workshops. Ms. Issvoran has a background in the fields of education and marketing, in addition to her operations experience. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. Specialties: Marketing, operations, public relations, advertising, human resources, public speaking, business development, team-building, service training, alumni relations, strategic communications, executive recruitment (public and private sectors), and event planning.

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