My name is Jackie and I am an Army wife. My husband has served for five years and has been fortunate enough (in my eyes, not so much his), to be assigned to non-deploying units. Everything changed the day he informed me that he had to deploy. I invite you to join us as I chronicle our journey.
The Waiting Game
We were given six months’ notice that my husband had to deploy. For various reasons, we did not tell our children right away.
They are ages 4 and 6, and we understood that providing such a generous lead time would be disastrous. Their concept of time is a bit iffy, and as we’ve learned from holidays, birthdays and vacations, we knew they would continually ask, “Is today the day?” Even with the visual aid of a calendar, my children get filled with anticipation, excitement and questions.
Deployment, on the other hand, isn’t necessarily something to look forward to. We understood that once they learned about dad leaving, it would loom over their little heads. There was no need to prematurely cause anxiety, confusion, sadness and worry.
My husband and I decided that our children only needed to know about the deployment just before it happened. We happily made it through summer, fall, and the holidays before we broke the news.
My friend, a Navy wife, had a lot less notification of her husband’s deployment. Coincidentally, her son is friends with my son, and both dads are going to be at the same base at the same time. She provided some excellent recommendations for us:
- Books: “My Dad’s Deployment”; “I Miss You!”; and “Miss You to Pieces.” We have personally enjoyed “The Brave Badria,” which I wrote about here.
- Activities: Decorating boxes for care packages; making paper chains for each day dad is gone; and daddy kisses (filling up a bowl of Hershey’s Kisses, one per day, so when the bowl is empty, it’s homecoming)!
- Merchandise: Daddy Dolls.
I utilized her husband’s deployment to introduce the concept to my son. I asked, “How would you feel if your dad had to go?” and “What would you do to feel better about it?”
Dad Is Leaving?
The night finally arrived. We were seated at the table enjoying delivered pizza (because I was too stressed to cook). After a few minutes, I signaled my husband with a look. “Boys,” he started, “I have to go away for a while.” My six-year-old who had just finished his first slice, panicked and asked, “What? You’re leaving? Does this mean you can’t get me more pizza?” The resulting laugh helped break the tension. My husband grabbed more pizza and further explained his deployment. Our children shrugged it off, and we dropped the discussion and enjoyed dinner.
The following day, the boys had some questions:
- “Dad, I know you have to go far away, but what if your car runs out of gas?”
- “You said you’ll be in the desert, are you going to the Old West? Will there be cowboys?”
- “What will you eat? I KNOW you will want coffee.”
- “If you go too far, you’ll hit Japan — watch out for the samurai!”
- “Are there lizards in the desert? Can you bring one back? Can we make it our pet?”
As usual, our children were incredibly resilient (as much as they could understand the situation), and we realized that we were more stressed than we needed to be. It was yet another life lesson on how we, as adults, tend to over-complicate things, and just how incredible military children are.
Stay tuned for upcoming installments of my Diary of a Deployment Series.
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