Heartache comes in all sizes

March 2010

June is an exciting time for kids. It marks the end of the school year, making summer plans, and organized activities like soccer and Girl Scouts slow down. But for many military kids, it’s a painful reminder of what they’re missing.

Or more specifically, WHO they’re missing.

Father’s Day is a bittersweet holiday in our house. After all, every day is Father’s Day. There isn’t a day that goes by where they don’t talk about Daddy, ask about Daddy, and wonder when Daddy’s coming home. Our kids are dedicated artists, making picture after picture “just for Daddy, not you, Mommy”. They remember he loves science fiction and Stephen King, asking if Daddy’s read a recent bestseller whose cover is adorned with dungeons and/or dragons or aliens.

Despite their efforts to look for the silver lining, to look forward to the date Daddy will finally be home, they cannot hide the expressions on their faces when they realize DADDY IS NOT HOME FOR FATHER’S DAY.

Though our oldest son M is nine years old, he’s only spent half of his Father’s Days with his father. He’s a tough cookie, just like his father, but even he cannot hide the sadness that overwhelms his face when he sees other kids with their dads. He probably feels guilty for wanting to trade places with other kids or wishing their dads were away too. He probably can’t explain the envy deep down inside, wanting his father to be there to beam down on him with pride and love that he sees other kids get every day. I see the look on his face when he sees a family and it slowly registers that he sees the dad lovingly engage his kids in conversation. Hugging. Smiling. Asking “What did you do in school today?”, knowing that the answer will always be, “Oh nothing.” That look would crush your heart and make your stomach feel like it’s imploding, all at the same time.

Every year M’s school’s PTA sponsors a Donuts for Dads event held the Friday just before Father’s Day weekend. Every year M’s eyebrows furrow and M complains why can’t his own Daddy be there with the other dads. Every year my husband is not around, it’s the same. He realizes this sad truth and goes into a depression, lasting about a week. Not even I, as crazy and silly as I am, can distract him from thinking about it and after a few thousand tries, I realize there’s nothing I can do but wait it out. Extra hugs. Not extra kisses because he just wipes them away, that stinker. (He does keep one or two now though!)

Now our middle child A is finishing kindergarten and loves telling Daddy about what sea animal she’s making in class, how much she enjoys painting, and how she can’t wait to be in first grade. She’s always been a firecracker (I have no idea where she gets it) and has had a boyfriend ever since she laid eyes on our next door neighbor and fellow kindergartener, F, to the dismay of Daddy. She’s always been the most independent. We could always tell when she was feeling sick when she’d come and ask us to hold her; otherwise, she’s always on the go and wanting to do her own thing. Daddy has been deployed or in long out-of-state trainings most of her life so she loved having him around when he came home to continue his recovery.

She did not, however, love that he moved back to Virginia. It didn’t hit her until we dropped him off at the airport and I remember exactly how it happened. We pulled up to the airport duh what else is new we’ve only been doing this all of our marriage and I saw her look out the window. My husband pushed the red button to unbuckle his seat belt and she gasped.

I’m surprised you didn’t hear it from wherever you live.

“NO, DADDY! DON’T GO! DON’T LEAVE ME!” over and over. Which of course made my husband and I look at each other with pink teary eyes. Which of course made our son start bawling. Our youngest L is three and she didn’t understand what was going on at the time.

I overheard my husband tell a nurse when he was at the VA Palo Alto that the best part of his accident was getting to spend so much time with the daughters he’s hardly seen since they were born.

L turns four next month and looks forward to hanging out with Daddy again. She is perhaps the one that has gotten the most baby time with Daddy. While the kids went to school and I got my nails done got a massage went to Starbucks ran errands, he got a few hours alone with her everyday until A came home from school midday. There are no words to describe how much it meant to each of them to have those precious hours. And I knew L missed him with all her heart but didn’t know just how much until yesterday.

The first thing I do on the weekends is call my husband. I was talking to him, still in bed when L wandered in.

“GOOD MORNING MOMMY!” she said with a huge smile on her face, the same smile she has on her face every morning.

“Hey L,” I said. “Wanna talk to Daddy?”

She grabbed my phone like she’s had her own cell phone all her life and asked, “Daddy? Are you on a plane to come home right now?”

Then there was that heart-crushing-stomach-imploding moment that I knew I was sharing with my husband across the country.

All of our children now fully understood our family life, our Navy life, our life shared by thousands of other military families. We aren’t looking for special treatment, free tickets to the now defunct Oprah show, or anything out of the ordinary. Just understanding and a smidge of sensitivity when it comes to all things military. A shoulder to cry on here and there. Recognition and asking us to thank our servicemember is not necessary but always appreciated.

When it comes to discussing war and politics, no matter what your views are, just remember the pair of little ears that might be listening and that his or her loved one is over there RIGHT NOW. Heartache comes in all sizes.

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