14 June 2010

Getting on the Bus

"Daddy, are you going to a war yet?"

I'm getting Lena, 5, and Rain, 3, ready to go out the door to daycare. We haven't yet told the kids about my deployment to Afghanistan. Partly, that's because I didn't want them to get confused during my Annual Training. I wanted to avoid telling them that Daddy would be leaving for a long time, only to have him come back after 3 weeks. Luckily, I suppose, Lena doesn't wait to let me answer her question.

"Is it because you're not tall enough? Because, I think you're pretty big."

It's another one of those ball-peen hammer moments. I blink a couple of times, not feeling very big at all.

I want to prepare the kids, and to avoid confusing or hurting them as much as possible. I just don't know how to break it to them.

I've been asking my buddies for tips and techniques. Every story and every kid is a little different. One guy says he's been talking about the deployment to his kids for the past year: "I don't want to have any misperceptions," he says. "It's not good, it's not bad, it just is."

Another pal says that his grade-schooler helps keep her little brother rooted in reality. "It's not like he's not coming back," she tells him.

One friend tells the story of how, at his send-off ceremony to Afghanistan a few years ago, his then-3-year-old son became really angry when Daddy got on that bus. He wasn't angry that Daddy was leaving, mind you--the little guy was angry that he didn't get to ride on a bus, too!

For weeks following, his son kept asking about Daddy being on the bus. In the child's mind, Daddy finally got off the bus when the family briefly reunited at mobilization station.

A fellow TOC-rat recently said aloud that he thought he'd deployed too many times since 2001. He's been working on temporary active duty in preparation for the deployment, and only sees his family on weekends. His 4-year-old daughter resists sleep when he's home. If she falls asleep, she says, daddy might disappear.

I guess the only lessons I can take from all this is that very child is different, and every reaction will be different.

Regardless, these stories bring up some questions that Household-6 and I will need to address:
  • How, when, and what will we tell the kids?
  • Will we have the kids attend a send-off ceremony? (How does Mommy feel about having to pack the kids up after a Big Emotional Ceremony?)
  • Do we need to have ANY family attend a send-off ceremony?
  • How do we avoid a hundred little good-byes?
  • How do we avoid confusing the kids about how long Daddy's going to be gone?
  • How do we tell our kids about what's going on in the world, without scaring them?
I'm sharing a 20-bed barracks with a couple of other soldiers this week, as we wait for the rest of the unit to show up to Annual Training. One guy tells me how his 5-year-old nephew recently brought him a Diet Coke at a family picnic, and asked why he had to go to Afghanistan.

"Uncle's got to go fight bad guys," he told him.

Later, he found out that, at a pre-school graduation, the speaker announced that his nephew wanted "to grow up to be Optimus Prime, and to fight bad guys."

"I don't know what school you go to for that," his brother had said, "but I'm sure it's expensive ..."

He needn't worry. Given he little guy's attitude, I'm pretty sure the most-important lesson has already been taught by example.

1 comment:

  1. I think the answer to "how" is so individual and greatly depends on not only how the family communicates, but the age of the child. Little kids exhibit emotions far more easily. Teens have very deep feelings but don't show them as much.

    We opted for the big part prior to the hubs' deployment. We had a slide show, friends, and it was very great to have the circle tight. Next year, though, it'll be a smaller party. I think in some ways, it's great to have a celebration --as being sent off to war is a very big deal. Even for the adults attending.


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