What our family has learned from a loved one’s deployment. (2004)


As I was preparing lunch one day, just weeks after daddy’s homecoming, I heard my daughter from the other room.  She had been watching Franklin on CBC Kids, and I hadn’t noticed it was over.  The news was on when I heard her saying “My daddy was in Haiti!”  I walked in the room to see her intently staring at the TV where the entire city of Gonaive was mud.  I asked her if she knew why Haiti was on TV, and told her that the people there have now lost their homes.

I was amazed that our three-year-old made the connection between our family and what she’s seeing on TV happening across the world.  When her daddy came home, after I told him about her reaction, he asked her if she saw Haiti on TV.  She went on to regurgitate the story of how “the people lived in the houses and then the water came, and then their houses blowed down into the water…”  She said that he should go there and make them new homes, and that while he was back in Haiti she would have jellybeans.

Now you may be asking yourself – Jellybeans?  How does a three-year-old’s connection to such worldly things lead to jellybeans?  After my husband had left on tour six months earlier, I was still unsure of how to help her ‘get’ the concept of time, and how long daddy would be gone.  I didn’t want to use paper chain links, and tear one off each day, because the original deployment was for 90 days, and I felt certain it would be extended as long as a six month tour.  How would I suddenly add double the chain links, if she wasn’t getting the whole time thing?  It was suggested to me that I use a jar of jellybeans, one per day.  I thought it might be easier to sneak extras in if necessary.  So daddy in Haiti equals a jar of jellybeans…

How many preschoolers have enough world knowledge to understand or even consider what is happening so far away?  My daughter has not only gained knowledge she likely wouldn’t have had about the world, but one day I hope it will extend to a humanitarian concern for things globally.  I have realized that my daughter still doesn’t grasp all of what is happening in this world today, she still needs concrete connections.  Five months after the disastrous tropical storm struck a country our soldiers had just left, after months of trying to assist an already ravaged nation back on its feet, my daughter still talks about when daddy goes back to Haiti to build those people new homes…  She doesn’t understand that there are other places in this world that other children’s mommies and daddies are assisting while their families at home are missing them.  Perhaps one day it will hit home with her, when daddy leaves for another lengthy absence on another tour to some place else in the world.  Or perhaps his absence won’t occur again until she’s already figured it out by grasping more abstract concepts.

I could write about many things that others cannot truly comprehend the depth of, without experiencing them. But I hope that most, whether connected to the military or not, at least consider the sacrifices being made everyday by children who did not choose to see their parents go off to war-torn countries and play their small part in making peace in this world.  It is obvious that a parent’s absence for large blocks of time have huge consequences on a child’s life.  We will never now how our daughters’ development in their formative years would have been different had daddy been here for every day of it.  Daddy will never get back those missed first steps that the infant he said goodbye to just months earlier took, only for him to return to a toddler racing after her sister to greet him.

What I do know, is how their lives have been impacted, and what opportunities for learning this  has brought them.  At a time when separation anxiety could rear its ugly head, our youngest daughter learned that even when she has difficulty remembering, daddy does come back – and her attachment to him only grew stronger upon his return.

I have always believed that “what doesn’t break us, makes us stronger”, and I have born witness to it in my own life.  We could have let this time apart come between us, but we’ve learned from our mistakes, and not only did “absence make the heart grow fonder”, but my husband and I also found a way to grow closer to one another each day that passed.  We are so fortunate to be a part of today’s’ Canadian military.  Gone are the days of years at a time, away at war, with little to no contact.  I cannot imagine how families coped with letting one another back into their lives after so much time and so many events had taken place separate from one another.  Canada is not at war, but the risks of making peace in war-torn parts of this world are still great.  I am thankful for the lines of communication and support made available to military members and their families today.  And I am proud that my children can grow up with a unique understanding of how the rest of this world needs us, Canadians.

About Trish

family legacy curator, social justice advocate, blogger, amateur photographer, reader, cyclist, runner & swimmer, mom of two

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