My older two are often put in a difficult situation when Ian is deployed. People who mean well say things that can be hurtful. I can't count the number of times that PJ has been told, "Now that your Daddy is gone, it's your job to be the man of the family." Can you imagine? Or Katie has been told, "You have to be strong for your Mommy." I used to just cringe when people said things like that until I realized how much the kids would take it to heart. So, I'll correct people right in front of my children. The kids' "job" is to keep Daddy in their thoughts and to get through their days the best they can. That's what I expect of them when Ian is deployed. More than that is hard for me why would I expect more of my own children?
Most of the time, you'd be amazed at how tough my kids are, in terms of managing my husband's deployments. But then, something will happen like a teacher who starts a discourse about how useless our involvement in the war is, or a child who tells one of my kids that if their Daddy loved them he'd be home with them" and, well, it can just be incredibly rough. And, of course, birthdays, special occasions, milestones those are all so hard when Ian's away. We actually reference time in our family based on where Daddy was at the time and it sometimes feels like he's been away forever.
I don't see it as an issue of strength. You do what you have to do. This is my job as a military wife to keep things together here so that he can do his job secure in the knowledge that we're okay. Things are usually so busy that I don't have much time to think about anything other than what needs to be done. During deployments, Ian goes above and beyond in terms of finding ways to remain in touch. I know that if I haven't heard from him, it's not for lack of trying. His parents and his sister, Bridget, (one of my dearest friends on the planet) are always quick to offer support.
I have a hard time asking for help I tend to be an "I can do it myself" person. But they make sure I'm not always entirely on my own. I try and make it a habit to not be alone with my thoughts for too long when Ian is deployed. That's my defense mechanism, I guess. But, I know too many military wives who have been virtually paralyzed with fear. That's not a good place for anyone to be, let alone someone with four children counting on her to keep things as normal as humanly possible.
Ian and I write letters to each other occasionally; he's better about that than I am when he's deployed. I tease him that I'd have time for letter writing without four children breathing down my neck all the time. Then, he mentions the enemy and I joke that the enemy doesn't follow him into the bathroom. I do mail him packages, though his favorite goodies, copies of the kids' report cards, the little ones' best artwork. Depending on where he's been, we've also communicated via micro-cassettes that we'll send back and forth. We email and IM each other if/when there's computer access available and he calls when he's able. There are some people who argue that the increased access to communication is a mixed bag for military families and I think that you can argue either side persuasively. But, nothing beats feeling like he's there beside me, even if it's just for a few, short moments.
Keeping him "there" for the kids is also, as you suggest, incredibly important. When Connor and Sara were little(r) and Ian was deployed, I'd make a point of showing them Daddy's picture all the time or playing a recording of his voice. I wanted them to "know" him when he returned. We have a shower curtain of the world in our bathroom and wherever Daddy is gets marked on it. I make a point of bringing him up in our everyday conversations and at each meal, when saying thanks, we include a "please keep Daddy safe" request. Even now with Ian home, we ask for protection for soldiers in harms' way and their families before we eat. As for what we do for Daddy pictures, love notes, goodie bags - whatever we can think of. Home Front Hearts is also a big part of keeping each other in our thoughts; it became a tangible means of showing our support.
I'm curious. What goes into those goodie bags? What does Ian hanker for when he's deployed (that'll fit in a small package)? It must be hard for him, too, especially because, as an officer, he has to be an example for his troops.
Handrolled cigars, a scarf I taught myself to crochet in camo colors (definitely not one of my strong suits), shortbread cookies with blackberry jam, licorice, magazines, anything I pass and think, "Oh, Ian would love that." I also like to do holiday-themed packages for him. One year, I found a mini, desktop Christmas tree with miniature ornaments and he didn't have to go without a Christmas tree. The kids and I have sent Halloween decorations, homemade candy, the greeting cards with sound chips that let the children record their voices for Daddy. We also like to send extras because he'll always share with his guys. And, of course, I try and honor any special requests for items he makes.
I'm glad I asked; I don't think I would ever have guessed a crocheted, camouflage muffler! When Ian's deployed, how long do you go without seeing him? And how much of the leave does it take for him to integrate himself into family life?
The length of a deployment depends on the nature of the mission. He was away a year for Cuba and a year for Afghanistan. He was in New Orleans for three months after Hurricane Katrina. He's home now and working full-time for the New Jersey National Guard. He'll be here until he's needed somewhere else and when/where that is, we won't know until the time comes. As for reintegrating into family life, that's a constant process. Time doesn't stop when he's away. The dynamics of how the family unit works change; for any family, they have to. So when our soldiers return, we renegotiate how things work the best we can. It requires our whole family to be flexible and patient.
It sounds like a sort of family dance - with all of you constantly readjusting to reflect each new reality. You sound remarkably sane, Randi. Is there anything that Ian would like our readers to know?
Here was Ian's response to that question:
If I could let the public know one thing about being a military soldier would be to understand how National Guard soldiers have different obstacles in their lives then active duty soldiers. The community support for active duty soldiers on post is geared to making their lives easier so they can focus on their mission. Even the surrounding towns are supportive because a majority of their business comes from soldiers living on post and those who live close off post.
No-one knows National Guard soldiers are in the military unless they tell someone or decal their vehicle. The townships for over 95% of the National Guardsmen in New Jersey have very limited resources for the soldier. While there are discounts at limited places to support the military, it is not enough to help while the soldier is deployed.
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