I feel like since it is July 4th, I should express my thoughts and feelings on a topic that I try to make peace with and accept on a daily basis. What is (unfortunately) a major part of my family’s everyday reality. My partner’s deployment.
We saw it coming for a year before the day actually came. Our family endured Nick leaving for months at a time for deployment work-ups, and he would be home usually for a week or two in between for the majority of that year. It made our lives very chaotic and uneasy, especially since that was during my entire pregnancy with Kohana, and the first months of his life.
But we managed. After a while, you really develop a routine for when the service member leaves. Tearful goodbyes and feeling like your world is crumbling before a month long underway soon change to tight embraces and firm, meaningful “I love you’s.” You adapt. You learn. You live it to the best of your ability.
But then comes deployment.
I looked at deployment optimistically until the final weeks before Nick left. When people would ask me “Oh, he’s deploying for X months? You must be devastated!” I wouldn’t take their words to heart. I’d smile and say “I’m not too broken over it. Its not as if we can change it, right?”
Up until those final weeks before he left, it felt like deployment was years away. Like it wouldn’t happen. Or at least that’s how my mind perceived it. (Yeah, I despise my mind for that)
I’ll never forget those last seven days before I was to drop Nick off at the airport. The shock of deployment happening so soon had finally hit, and it was hard on all of us. We were moving from our house in Virginia back to a new house in our home state to be a little bit closer to my family for the duration of the deployment, and it was at that time that reality hit us.
The walls of our new home would only welcome Nick for seven days before he would be gone for almost a year. And let me tell you, he was my rock for that week. The kids, Nick, and I did everything together that entire week for the exception of one date night. Everything. We tried to soak up every moment and cherish every second. We tried to create the most beautiful memories.(and we did!) But it was so difficult to live each day while trying to push the intrusive thought of a fast approaching deployment out of our minds. It was a major struggle for Nick and I.
But this post is to talk about our children’s struggles.
We did our best to prepare them. (Its not easy with a four year old and a two year old!) Nick read them books explaining why he was going away for a while. We went to Build-A-Bear and made them their own special “Daddy” bears with a recording of Nick’s voice inside. He spent as much time with them as much as he could. I hung pictures of Nick everywhere in the house. Nick recorded story books for them to listen to. I made fun countdown activities for the kids. And despite our efforts, it still didn’t prepare them for the heartache that was to come.
Soon the day came when we had to leave for the airport to drop him off. And man, did it come way too quickly.
Nick and I woke up sometime around three or four in the morning to his alarm. We had to leave really soon to make it to the airport in the middle of a snow storm. But we refused to let go of each other, or Kohana, who slept soundly in Nick’s arms most of the night. He hit snooze on his alarm several more times until we were really pushing it. But we felt like procrastinating was acceptable on that morning.
When we got up, got dressed, and woke the girls, they were really confused as to why we were leaving so early. We told them again that Daddy had to go to work for a long time, and that we had to get him to the airport so he could ride on a plane. They seemed to accept that answer. They figured it was just another underway. They didn’t (and still don’t) have a good concept of time.
We arrived at the airport and we put the car in park outside in the heavy snow. Nick and I got out and immediately embraced and naturally, we both started crying despite how hard we were trying not to. We didn’t want the kids to see or feel our pain, but in that moment with three beautiful children in the back seat (one of which Nick had only been around for maybe a month total since he was born) it was too much to bare. How were we going to do this? More importantly, how was I going to do this?
He walked around to hug and kiss each of the kids, and the girls seemed very confused as to why he was so emotional. We all said “I love you” and he grabbed his seabag and walked into the airport as I tried to keep myself together enough to drive home in the blizzard that was in full force. An excellent addition to the day, right?
When we returned home, the kids were playing like nothing had happened, and I was SO relieved that they seemed unaffected. Maybe this will all be okay! I thought. It was a nice thought.
As the days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into months, I began to notice a pattern in their behavior. They were becoming increasingly aware that Nick wasn’t returning home anytime soon like he had done previously, and it really began to take a toll on their tiny little bodies and behavior. Lily would refuse to eat meals especially after talking to Nick on the phone, and both her and Delilah’s tantrums and fits would rise after they would communicate with Nick.
Lily and Delilah would tend to gravitate towards the books Nick recorded and their “Daddy” bears whenever they were really missing him. And during those times when they were down, I’d often hear them whispering to their bears as if they were talking to Nick. Sometimes they still do that now.
Deployment has taught me exactly how fragile children’s emotions really are. It has shown me that they really do feel in an incredible way. Their feelings run deep into their souls and are pure. They aren’t just skin deep like so many adults believe. They don’t always forget or move on like many say they can.
I’ve never seen my children so heartbroken as when I’ve had to sit down and explain exactly how long it will be until their Daddy returns to them. I’ve had to wake Delilah from a nightmare where she was screaming “I want Daddy back!” in her sleep. I’ve had to comfort Lily in the middle of the night when she had woken up in tears because she only wanted Nick home with her. I’ve driven all the way back to my parent’s house because after a sleepover with grandma and grandpa, Delilah had forgotten her “Daddy” bear and couldn’t go to sleep without it.
I have seen a whole new side to my children. An incredibly raw side. Yet when people ask about how the deployment is going, they never ask about how the children are coping with it.
It seems as though children’s emotions are just tossed about when it comes to deployments. They are not given the credit that spouses are, only disregarded. They don’t run the household while the service member is deployed. They don’t care for the children by themselves. They don’t spend every day missing their spouse. It seems that all of the credit goes to the spouse. People always tend to overlook what the children endure.
Children of service members live every single day wondering if their mother or father will ever return to them without understanding why they left in the first place.
And that is so much worse.
My children live every day watching me type emails to Nick and not understanding why he isn’t here to hold them, despite how many hundreds of times I have explained it. They’re so young. So innocent. And it will be years before they can truly grasp why he left. They ask about him daily and wonder if he’s doing well. (Lily has such a kind soul)
Lily asks me occasionally if she has done something wrong to make him leave. She asks if she were to make something special, would it make Nick happy enough to come home. Her words hurt my heart in so many ways. Because as her mother, I should be able to take her pain away. I should be able to comfort her in times such as these. But these days, in the midst of a deployment, it seems like I am unable. I’m ill-equipped regardless of my efforts. Regardless of my many Pinterest-inspired crafts we make to take her mind off of his absence. Regardless of our many trips to parks and zoos. Nothing can ease the emptiness.
So on this day (and every other day) when you’re thanking service members and their spouses, please don’t forget the ones that are also hurting very deeply. The ones who spend every single day longing for their mother or father’s return. The tiny, young souls that wait what feels like years for a single phone call or Skype session. The little beings that have no true concept of time and wait because they have no choice. The ones that miss their service member more than anyone.
Their beautiful, strong children.
With that being said,
Have a very happy fourth and stay safe!