Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Military Child

Our youngest son, Q, absolutely adores his Daddy. They look alike, talk alike, act alike, and share the same ornery smile. People often say that Q is my husband’s clone, which is a pretty accurate description. When they’re together, they both light up, and you can easily see that there’s nowhere else they’d rather be. But, unfortunately, in Q’s six short years, Daddy has spent more time in Iraq than in the U.S.. Daddy has missed most of Q’s birthdays and many important holidays. And, now that we’ve PCSed 18 hours away, Daddy and Q only get to be together on holidays and during the summer. (Q and his brother are my step sons--although we don't use that term--and live most of the year with their Mom).

Because he doesn’t get to see his Dad often, Q loves to see anyone who is dressed like Daddy. And, since the boys live with their Mom, they aren’t around a lot of military folks. So, when Q does see someone in uniform, he always yells, “a soldier, a soldier!” If my husband is with us, Q will ask, “Daddy, do you know them?” To which my husband will quip, “Yeah, they look familiar.” And Q will sit back content, proud of himself for once again reuniting Daddy with a long lost friend. Q likes playing with his Army men (GI Joes, of course) and loves anything in camo. Basically, he just loves anything that reminds him of Daddy, especially when he’s far away.

During my husband’s last deployment, my daughter and I would make the drive to visit the boys as often as we could. They missed us and would always ask us to visit. But, to be honest, I selfishly just needed to be with them—to have as much of our family together as we possibly could. We would rent a family room at the nearby Air Force Base, which was right outside the playground. (Our children coined this the “park hotel.”) The playground is complete with all the staples: slides, swings, merry-go-round, jungle gym. But, it also has a large globe, where children can play and learn about the world. During our last visit, Q went to the globe and asked, “Where is Daddy?” I sat beside him and pointed to Iraq. And then, I held his hand and traced the path from Iraq to our home. “That doesn’t look so far,” Q said. “But, it takes a long time to get there, huh?” “Yes,” I said. “But, hugs and kisses get there really fast.”

After staring at the globe for a while, and tracing the path from Iraq to home back and forth several times, Q looked up to see an older boy looming around. “My Daddy’s in Iraq,” Q said, pointing at the spot on the globe. “Yeah,” the boy responded, “mine’s been there, too. But, he’s home now.” Q’s eyes lit up. “Your Dad’s been there, too?!” “Yeah,” the kid said, as if everyone he knows has been there, so why would it be a big deal? “He’s right over there,” the boy said, pointing at a tall man pushing a baby girl on the swings. Q immediately sprung to his feet and ran to meet this man who had also been to Iraq. Somewhat unsure of what he was about to do (and thinking that it could be anything from introducing himself to asking for a ride to pick up Daddy), I of course ran after him.

Q tugged on the man’s leg and excitedly asked, “Did you see my Dad in Iraq?” The Airman at first looked confused, but then just smiled. He had a tender look in his eyes—the look of a Dad who has had to leave his babies far too many times. “Wait, what’s your name?” he asked. Q responded. “Oh, yes! I did meet your Dad! He’s very strong, right?” “Yep,” Q said, proudly. “Yes, he’s a good guy. And he misses you very, very much. He can’t wait to get home.” Q’s face lit up with a huge smile. Then, somewhat hesitantly, Q asked, “Is he ok?” The Airman dropped down to look Q in the eyes. “Yes, he’s ok. He’s safe. He said he has lots of love from his family to protect him.” “Yeah,” Q said, “we sent him lots of that.” “Well,” assured the Airman, “keep doing it. It’s working. And I’m sure he’ll be home soon.”

As Q skipped off to tell his big brother and sister the good news, I stood there with tears rolling down my face, and whispered “thank you” to the kind man. He just nodded and smiled, with that look that says I understand.

After the kids were done playing, we went inside and talked to Daddy on Skype. Q gleefully retold the story of meeting Daddy’s friend at the park. My husband looked confused for a moment, until I leaned over Q’s shoulder and winked, indicating that he should just play along. “Ooooh yeah, I’m glad he found you. Did he tell you that I miss you a lot?” “Yep,” Q said. “Well, I do, you know. And I can’t wait to give you a big squeeze.” “Me too, Daddy.” Q then trotted off to play (or torment) his older siblings, happy and content.

We would have many conversations after that about where Daddy was, when he was coming home, whether he was safe, and why he needed to be there. But, the reassurance he received from that kind Airman would keep him going for the rest of that tour. And if one of our other children asked why Daddy always had to be gone, Q would respond, “because he’s a good soldier, and they need him there.” Although Q was often the saddest without Daddy home, he is also the most proud. He loves to tell people that his Daddy is a soldier and that he sometimes has to go far, far away to protect people.

Q still doesn’t completely understand what a deployment means. Anytime I tell him that Daddy’s at work, Q assumes he’s in Iraq again, and will sigh with understanding. When I tell him that Daddy’s just at his office, which is just a few minutes away, he always seems confused, but happy. And when he does get to finally be with Daddy, he relishes every moment, and every hug and kiss that he finally gets to have in person.

This is a military child. A child who has said way too many goodbyes. A child who sees his Dad more on webcam than in person. But, a child who understands the true meaning of gratitude—gratitude for our soldier, gratitude for the kindness of a stranger, and gratitude for every moment we do have together. A child, just like so many other military children, whose heart is big enough to span the ocean. And a child whom we all could learn so much from, if we just take the time to listen.

April is the Month of the Military Child. Take the time to listen to a child, and give a few extra hugs, today.


  1. words inspired from my son, age 30 months at departure and now 38 months, and his a very mature,much to "adult" relationship with his Daddy. This is his comfort mantra "See you soon..."

    See you soon.

    I love you.

    If you were here

    You would be near,

    But you are there;

    And that is the way

    Away we live.


    Walking together

    We carry each other

    Along our separate roads.

    Time gets filled with the passage of distances

    Becomes a quickly recalled memory

    From a slowly passing moments’

    Achievements held forever

    By each in the other


    We live away

    In this way strong:

    Looking on to then

    When you will be near,

    You will be here;

    I love you.
    authored by Liz Thomas while stationed at Ft Hood , Texas 2010-2011

  2. That's beautiful, Liz. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Oh my gosh Pam! I now have tears streaming down my face. What an amazing child! our son is 4 and his dad has been around for only about one full year of his life.(some due to a separation on our parts) but possibly managed to be here for 1 or 2 birthdays. it's heartbreaking for me to know that my son doesn't really know his dad. and his dad doesn't really know him and his awesome personality. i thank you for sharing this and your post on her war her voice - that's how i ended up here. thanks again.