June 25th, 2012 by Beth

The life of a military child

I grew up as a military brat.  My dad was in the Air Force, and during Desert Storm he was gone quite a bit.  After that, he frequently TDY’d for long periods of time.  He was in the EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal), you know - the guys who get rid of bombs.  I was used to him being in and out of our house and knowing there were two types of normal - one when my dad was home, and one when he was gone.

When my husband enlisted, I was originally opposed to it.  I didn’t want to have to kiss him goodbye, and I didn’t want my kids to grow up while he came in and out of our lives.  We both knew this was the best road for our family, though.  We wanted a large family, we were young, we were already pregnant with Anthony, and we needed stability.  The military doesn’t provide home stability, but it does provide job security, a community, and benefits that make it easier to breathe at times. So he enlisted.  He left when Anthony was 3 months, and we reunited when Anthony was 8 months old.  He deployed off and on, or TDY’d off and on for the next year or so, but it was okay.  I had one child, I had a great group of friends, I was young and in shape, and I was determined to be a strong military wife.  After our daughter was born, he left for 6 out of her first 8 months.  I had severe PPD, I had a falling out with a friend, and my daughter was very high needs. Still, I conquered those deployments, and when my husband came home he transferred to the school house so he could further his career and stay home with us.  It was supposed to be a 2 year assignment, but it turned into 4 years.

During that time, we had 3 more kids, my health began to fade as my EDS became more painful and apparent, and my friends PCSed or separated from the military.  I was no longer a young nor new military spouse, and I found it harder to find people who were in the same stage of life as I was.

Now Chris is deployed again.  The longest deployment we’ve had yet - 6 months.  This isn’t like the other deployments, for me or my kids.  My kids were young last time and didn’t really understand that daddy was gone.  I now have 5 kids to care for, and two of them are school age, which requires a lot more “get out of the house” time.  There is no more napping for me, or sleeping in.  I can’t just leave the house at a moment’s notice, and most of my friends now have careers, which means little time to hang out.

My kids are now aware that daddy is gone and are dealing with it in their own ways.  Anthony has a very hard time even talking to Chris on Skype.  His room is littered with pieces of paper with pictures he drew of daddy and sayings like “WANTED - My daddy to come back home. We need him,” and “Daddy, no one is as missed as you are, come home please.”  It breaks my heart, but he won’t talk about it much.

Anastasia has gone from my happy go lucky child to being melancholy and withdrawn.  She doesn’t want to play anymore. She has reverted back to being very clingy, even to the point of not wanting to leave me to go to school.  She’d rather run errands with me than spend time playing with other kids.

David is angry.  He says things like, “I’m not going to behave until Daddy comes home!” or “I hope Daddy never comes home because I’m mad at him,” and “Did Daddy leave because he doesn’t like me anymore?”  When I try to talk to him about Chris, his chin begins to wobble and he refuses to speak.  I tell him that daddy didn’t want to go, that he had to, and that he loves him and can’t wait to come home.  I think there may be a long adjustment period on David’s part when Chris returns.

Charlie goes from anger to sadness.  He was the closest to Chris out of all the kids.  He was Chris’s little shadow, spending every second that Chris was home attached to him and sleeping curled up on him at night.  Some nights he dances when he hears the Skype music, other nights he gets grumpy and hides behind me, refusing to talk to Chris.  Still, 2-3 times a week he wakes up in the middle of the night sobbing for him.  He is too young to understand why Chris left, and it’s quite clear he feels abandoned.  I’ve had to be very sensitive about even putting a shut door between Charlie and me, because it can send him into a fit.

Alan doesn’t even know.  I think that’s the saddest of it all.  In Alan’s world, he only has one parent.  He doesn’t know about Daddy and how awesome he is.  He doesn’t know the way he smells, or the joy of being tossed in the air by him.  I try to let the two play when Chris Skypes, but Alan is still too young to even do that much.  He’s very attached to me and lights up when he sees me.  Out of all 5 kids, he is the most joyful and playful, and it breaks my heart that Chris is missing this.

Being a military SPOUSE is much different than being a military BRAT.  I thought I understood what deployments were like, having dealt with them as a child, but I had no idea what it’s like to be separated from your companion, your best friend, and having to live life like a single parent but not being a single parent.

I used to face deployments as, “I have to be super strong, can’t show I’m upset, because I’m a military wife and we don’t do that!” and I was dumb.  It’s normal to be upset and to have bad days.  I’m still “handling” this deployment.  I’m still getting up every day and doing what I have to do, and what Chris used to do. I’m dealing with my kids’ emotional needs as THEY’RE dealing with the deployment.  I’m just not doing it and pretending that I’m okay all the time.  Especially to my kids.  I WANT them to see that I miss their father, that his absence may be necessary but it’s not wanted, but that as a family we get through it.

There is a very real possibility that at least some of my children will go from military brat to military spouse or service member.  While these deployments are hard for them on so many levels, when they become adults they’ll be difficult in other ways.  Every deployment is different, because life is never quite the same for each deployment.  Perhaps our next deployment will be easier than this one has been.  We’ll be more seasoned, it will most likely be a lot shorter, and my kids will understand a little better.

I’ve said it, and I’ve heard it often, not every spouse is cut out for this lifestyle.  It’s why we see so many military marriages end in divorce.  I think we forget that not every child is cut out for this lifestyle as well, except they don’t have a choice to end it. All we can do it try our hardest to be as emotionally supportive of our kids as possible.  We can’t make it easy for them, there is nothing easy about being separated from your only father or mother, but we can help them deal with it and understand that it’s OKAY to be upset about it. It’s expected, and it’s healthy.

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