It feels like I don’t have a daddy.
This heart-wrenching statement, during my husband’s recent deployment, stopped me in my tracks as it dawned upon me how the separation of a few weeks can seem like a
lifetime for a child. Weeks of missing her dad, the ever-present niggling fear of him not coming home and seeing her friend’s dads everywhere: parents evenings, school drop offs and pick ups, in town on a Saturday, down the park on a Sunday. Dads; everywhere, except in her arms.
For a child living off-base, whose own friends don’t live this lifestyle, this can seem a very lonely and unjust existence:
It’s not fair: he missed my birthday this year and last year… My friend’s dads come to school pick up and know who the teachers are… My friend’s dads are at their birthday parties.
My youngest child couldn’t comprehend the timescale and was constantly asking how many more sleeps. Ever-hopeful:
Two sleeps? Four sleeps mummy?
Trying not to dash hopes:
No, sweetheart just 98 to go. How many is that mummy? Not many more sweetheart, it’ll fly by.
The experiences during and after deployment are starkly different pre-children to during children. Pre-children I recall feeling lonely and bored: coming home after work to a silent house. The ennui of cooking-for-one leading to small, simple meals until the evidence shows in your increasingly-gaunt face. Watching the news obsessively to find out what is happening in a particular hotspot.
Bored and silent are two adjectives I would never use to describe deployment with children. Quite simply, there is no time to be bored. Taking on two peoples roles, the adult at home doesn’t pause from dawn until the children are tucked into bed. Exhaustion is your new adjective, as you take on every task: in the house, with the cars, with the children and keeping abreast of the school diary. As you try to fill your own diary with events and day trips; to keep little minds occupied and to stave off any looming boredom. And your own worry has to be contained to maintain a calm and strong presence for the children.
Yet children, for all their fears and insecurities, are amazingly resilient and the countdown calendar, they still won’t let me throw away, reminds me of this. Although the first few weeks looked spectacularly measly: when fewer weeks had been crossed off than they had to go, in no time at all they developed a sense of achievement as they reached halfway and the end – the homecoming – was in sight.
But could the last week or two be any longer for a child? How can such a short space of time, in comparison to what they have just done, turn into agonizingly drawn-out days?
Emotions run high: anticipation, as family roles have changed and new routines have formed; anxiety, will we all feel the same? On edge; fearful there will be a delay, dashing their little hopes.
But then the day dawns. And that beautiful moment in time is forever etched in my memory: two little children, both so vulnerable yet so very strong, in their daddy’s arms, holding on tight. Tears of joy, sheer elation, happiness, relief and comfort shared by each of them.