Is it hard to send your son to war?

September 1, 2008

We leaned against a post, in the airport, sipping hot coffee. I asked him if I could lean against him for five minutes while we finished. I just wanted to be close, to lean against his strong shoulder, knowing that the five minutes would soon be over, and another year of waiting wold begin. He turned to me slightly amused with my request and said “sure Ma, is it hard to send you son to war?”

The answer is yes.

I am so proud of the man he is. I am proud to be the mother of a soldier. He is a defender of right and freedom. Today though, he is just my boy. I held him once, not so long ago. Back then, I knew where he was and could forbid him to do dangerous things! Hard to believe now at 6’2″, but that tow headed child, still lives in my memory, and he is very hard to let go.

The man that is leaving, has little resemblance to the little boy, but a mothers love does not get that. He knows, because he is a father and has only last night said goodbye to his own little ones. He says he felt like crying but can’t. I have no such trouble. The Bible says God counts our tears and keeps them in a bottle. Well, I hope there is an alert accountant up there today ,because I seem to be able to produce plenty!

I am thinking of a word a new friend of ours used for the military family “resiliancy”. Yep. As soon as I am done crying, it will be time to move on and get things done.

My son said he was sorry that the last time he was in Iraq he scared us so badly. We had a number of hours knowing only that he was in serious condition with a head wound of some kind. I told him ,in my most authoritative parental voice that he was NOT to do that again!

So I hugged him hard,and we went our separate ways, but our hearts are still connected.

I already bought his welcome home banner. That next hug will be so sweet!

Deployment and extension, how do we tell the kids? Making deployment a time of growth for young children

August 28, 2008

In reading several posts lately, I have seen the struggle of young families that have weathered the time of deployment only to find that the time has been extended. Now their parent will not be coming home on the long awaited day. It has made me rethink, and adjust a bit, some of the things that a parent can do while preparing a child for deployment. When a parent is preparing to deploy, the child needs to hear the truth, talk, be allowed to ask questions, to cry, or be angry, but, quickly upon the heels of that needs to be

” how will we cope with this together?” and ” a military family is resilient” (we bounce back!)

Try ro resist the common psycobabble of focusing on the child’s fears and feelings. They are looking to you to see if this is going to be alright, if they will survive this new life hurdle. You, as a parent will set the tone for how the child accepts deployment. Not that you ignore the fears and feelings, just don’t dwell there and indulge the child in that place.

In an earlier post I mentioned a paper chain that can be symbolic of each week a parent is gone. I am now thinking that the chain, and the weekly note to their daddy , is still good,  I would not let them believe that the last link of the chain will bring him dancing through the door.

Be honest with children. You can say ;”we are making a chain , it is about how long daddy will be gone, but we really do not know for sure how long the  (army, navy marines,air force, ) will need him”. Teach children that there are some things that can be promises, like ” I promise to love you everyday”;,” I promise to write to you while I am gone “(not everyday, you won’t be able to do that) .” I promise that I will pray for you, will you pray for me?” These are promises you can keep, and that is how your child learns to trust you. Whatever you say “I promise” to (and there should not be very many things) you need to carry out.

When a child says, “promise you will not die”, that is not a promise any of us can keep. At war or at home we have no control over that one. You can tell a child ” well, I will be careful and do everything I can to be safe” Please  do it!

Focus on the sacrifice you all make as a military family, the honor in serving our nation, the fact that important things cannot always come to an end, until they come to an end. Focus on the purpose of being a military family and give the children meaningful work to help out. Even very young children can fold a towel, dust a table or feed the cat, tell them that it makes it easier when the other parent is gone when they do these things. Let them feel proud of a real contribution .

Talk about the word promise, and remind a child, you cannot promise what day you will return home, but you can promise to love him every day. You can promise that they will not be forgotten by you. You can be real in that , there may be days you plan to call, but things can get busy and you may have to wait. Tell them, that if they have to wait, it is not becasue they are not important, but becasue they are, and you are defending the things they enjoy in living in America. Acknowledge that it is not easy to be a military kid, but you are proud of them, and they really do serve too!

If you have already made a promise that has been broken by circumstances beyond your control, just tell them that a promise is different from a hope. It was a hope that you would be home, but now you are sorry, and need to finish this important job. If you are honest, and reassure them of your love and commitment to them, they will learn valuable lessons about what can be promised and what can not. It will begin to teach them that they can bounce back again and again!

Chaining Daddy ..from home to Iraq:Making Deployment a time of growth for Children

July 31, 2008

My oldest son is on his last day home. In a few hours he and I will drive to the airport in Denver and he will board a plane back to his Army life. He will trade squirt guns for the real thing, and we will begin our vigil of prayer and waiting. He has been to Iraq before, but it seems that the idea never gets easier for me. I am still a Mom. His children are too young to know how long he will be away, to them a year is eternity. Remember when you were a kid, the school year seemed at least five years long?!

I read a post on a blog yesterday about making the construction paper chain, but this was a twist on that old idea. You make the chain for the number of weeks your loved one will be away, then , each week after deployment, you take a link off the chain, have the children write what they did that week, and send it off to Dad.

Somewhere in Iraq, the paper chain will be getting longer, signifying the days behind your soldier. At home, the chain is getting shorter, signifying that Dad will be back that much sooner. This also keeps the absent parent up on the things the kids think are important ( which may be different than what the at home parent thinks is important ), and keeps the bond between parent and child.

I will be getting out my construction paper and scissors, very soon, and getting the thoughts of my grandchildren on links of construction paper. I think I will have to send my son one of those little mini staplers, so that the chain can grow over his bed, or wherever he has a bit of space. Maybe in a few months he can send a photo of his chain, linking him to home from Iraq.

The Homeland Security Blanket:making deployment a time of growth for young children

July 19, 2008

The Homeland Security Blanket! I love the name and the concept of our newest idea from wee the people publishing! My partner Paula, has created something so wonderful for the little heroes at home, to give comfort and provide the snuggly warmth to help remind a child’s heart of a deployed parents hug.

I wanted to show you some photos so you can see for yourself this special gift for the child of a military parent.

As of now, we are figuring out how to offer this gift at a price that is comfortable ,at $39.95 (it includes the book We Serve Too!) we are working hard to get the price down for military families. We want every military parent to be able to wrap their little ones in a homeland security blanket.

Our backpack, with it’s yellow ribbon as shoulder straps, holds the book We Serve Too!A Child’s Deployment Book in it’s front pocket. A button with a star holds the top closed. With a quick pull, and by turning the backpack inside out, you find a cozy polar fleece blanket to wrap up in while you read the story.

Softness and touch are important to people who are grieving. Often grief and loneliness which are a part of deployment for children, can be eased by a familiar toy, blanket, or any kind of snuggly. Soft clothing can be helpful too, so track down some really cuddly jammies for your little ones before a parent deploys. Another help in the grieving process is to have something that reminds the child of the parent, a shirt that belongs to Dad can become a good pajama top, spraying his cologne lightly on the sheets, and making a pillowcase with Dads photo on it. I’m sure you can think of lots of other things as well.

I remember as my father was dying that one day after the stresses had mounted I went downstairs and wrapped myself up in a down comforter, literally hiding there for a while. It helped. I believe that the Homeland Security Blanket can be just what a blanket was to Linus in the Charlie Brown Cartoons by Charles Schultz…just throw it over your head, and the world goes away for a while, and you can rest and wait for  Daddy or Mommy to come home. When you come out, you are better able to cope with facts of deployment.

I’m sure your kids will not mind that you borrowed their blanket.

I just want to get the word out about this great gift for our military kids. We know from the reaction of children who have seen it, you can’t go wrong with this one!

Making Deployment a Time of Growth for Young Children:The Homecoming Box

June 16, 2008

This is about a project I showed to some parents at Ft. Carson this past weekend. I call it the Homecoming Box. The idea is to get a good sized box, maybe a covered one, or one you create with the kids, just as long as it looks special. The one I used has red, white and blue theme on it. Over the time of deployment, say a year, you will collect tangible symbols of important events, thoughts, stories, that you would like to share with the deployed parent.

When the parent returns (thus the name homecoming box) you can take one symbol out of the box at dinnertime, and tell the stories that go with it.

The purpose of the Homecoming box is multiple. One, the deployed parent knows you are collecting memories on their behalf, they will not miss out on everything. Secondly, the spouse and children have an ongoing project that causes them to think about their loved one in every situation…”What can we put in the box to help Dad know what this day was like?” Another benefit is that when a child wants dad there, and is not consoled by words, the search for the best possible symbol for the box allows the child to actively do something to preserve the memory.

For example when the child loses a tooth, you can do the tooth fairy thing, but ask the tooth fairy to leave the tooth. The tooth goes into the Homecoming Box. Later when the tooth is brought forth, not only can the child express to the parent, that he has lost his tooth, but the parent can participate in this little milestone, by a repeat tooth fairy visit!

The box will be unique to your family, here are a few more ideas:small symbolic items like a little wooden canoe, for a trip to the lake,the bracelet from the hospital that was on your newborns wrist, the ribbon from field day, a photo of the prize winning artwork, or the paper with a good grade from school. Birthday candles from the cake, or a favor that tells the theme, the binky the 3 year old gave up while the parent was away, a note that tells a cute thing a child said, a photo of a special day, a toy that reminds the child of a story he wanted dad to read him when he got home….you get the idea…
The question to your child when he/she is missing daddy, “what can we put in the box to let him know how you feel?”, maybe its a small paper heart, a drawing of what the child is missing, a note. You will think of many things we can’t even imagine, some things become a family joke, or an “inside story”, that is what you are aiming for. Kids participate as you ask, what can we put in our homecoming box? They will have their own good ideas!

These boxes can fill some space, bring a moment back that seemed lost because of deployment. It does not have to be gone, if you choose to capture a bit of it to share.

Making Deployment a Time of Growth for Young Children:Bedtime

June 10, 2008

Deployment is a time of stress and change for the entire family, but especially so for the youngest members. Young children depend on family routines for a sense of security and safety, and much of that is hinged on the emotional solidity of the caregivers in their life. Though we often do not see it as such, times of difficulty are opportunities for growth in ourselves and our children: A time to learn coping skills, test our creative gifts, deepen our faith, delegate things to others, reach out to others, and experience the truth that even when circumstances are difficult, life can still be satisfying.

Let’s get real, deployment is a hardship. No one looks forward to having a spouse gone for long months at a time. On the other hand, you can look at the larger purpose with pride and honor. Your family defends this nation. Your family cares for the rights of human beings all over the globe. It is you who allow the rest of us to sleep soundly at night, protected under our flag. Without your sacrifices of time we would not enjoy the security of living in the greatest country in the world! Your children need to feel this pride and honor. They need to be told the stories of this country and how the military functions. If you are proud of being a military family, that sense of purpose will be a source of strength for your child.

It is important to maintain your routines and traditions and be creative in ways to include your deployed family member in those routines. If kissing Daddy goodnight is a routine, then a picture of him by the bedside along with a prayer for him, keeps him present as the last moments of the day. We Serve Too!, as a regular bedtime story can bring up questions and discussion that can help a child express loneliness and fears. Keeping routines in the military is not easy. Nothing is ever for sure and no one in the family can count on exact dates or even where one will be at any given time. This can be an exciting or frustrating part of military life. Choosing a few doable routines are one thing you can do that will pay big dividend for your kids.

A bedtime routine is an important one. Do the same things to prepare a child for bed… and he might actually go there! A fairly consistent time for bath, stories, a prayer, maybe a song, sung by a parent or a slow and gentle CD. Don’t worry about it being the same, that’s the idea, boring, or familiar, fosters sleep. Before deployment parents can pray a prayer together with the child. During deployment that can be continued…a connection over the miles. A story, a poem, a song or combinations of these can create a wonderful and solid sense of security at the end of the day.