Friday, August 23, 2013

Even When He's Gone...

For months before Jake left for Afghanistan, I fretted about how I was going to talk to Howie about his absence. And I still do, pretty much daily. Only now I'm afraid that one of these times we talk about how far away Daddy is, I'm going to turn into a giant blubbery mess and freak my poor baby out. Fortunately, I'm on a "held it together" hot streak right now. I just hope it lasts...

At three years old, Howie's concept of time stops at the point where he can no longer count days on his fingers. Which is not super helpful on the front end of a nine-month deployment. He understands that "Afghanistan" is far away, and he understands that "deployed" means that Daddy has an important job helping people far away, and he can't come home until his job is done. He understands, but he forgets. And sometimes, he rejects the whole premise of deployment, declaring that Daddy is going to come home in three days. Sigh.

Howie got a kitchen this past Christmas, and it has a toy phone in it. Ever since then, he has started every morning by "talking to Daddy" on his kitchen phone. Usually it's just a quick episode, like "Good morning Daddy, I'm with Mommy and we are getting ready for school. Talk to you later!"

The morning "phone calls" have continued, but these days they result in questions: Is Daddy done in Afghanistan yet? Will Daddy be home tomorrow? Will we see Daddy at dinner? It's a little heart-wrenching, and usually Howie is not satisfied with the answers anyway. Sometimes he even argues with me, because he just wants Daddy home. And, he'll again declare that Daddy is coming home in three days. Double sigh.

My brain tells me that, just like getting used to Daddy's car being here, not having Daddy home will just take time to sink in. My heart tells me that I don't want him to stop wondering when Daddy will come home. It hurts to explain it to him, but it would hurt more if Daddy's absence didn't occur to him.

Having not been through deployment with a small child before, I didn't really know what to expect, or how to plan. I read tons of posts from other "mil-mom" bloggers; trawled Amazon for books on preschoolers and deployment; I even checked out the chapters of Everyone Serves that might help out. 

In the end, the thing that is helping most isn't a "how to" or an in-depth look at the three-year-old psychology of coping. Actually, it's a lot simpler than that, and it's something that I almost threw away!

At pre-deployment briefing, families are provided with lots of information--books, pamphlets, children's books, hotline numbers, etc. It is all very useful information from which a family can pick and choose depending on their particular needs. One thing that has become standard issue for all families facing deployment, though, is the Daddy Doll.

Daddy Doll--Daddy's face, cuddly body, crazy hair!
Operation Give a Hug has the Daddy Dolls made, and volunteers hand them out along with the information packets at pre-deployment briefing (although they can also be ordered here for families that missed the opportunity).

To be honest, I thought the little doll was kind of creepy looking. And I didn't really think that Howie would like it; there's really only one stuffed animal he's ever cared about, and it's a monkey Pillow Pet. And not just any monkey Pillow Pet! I've bought replacements for his, which is falling apart at this point. He knows the difference between a monkey and his monkey.

Howie LOVES Daddy Doll!!
But I have to admit, I was totally wrong. Howie LOVES Daddy Doll.

When we travel, Daddy Doll goes. 

When Howie goes to a friend's house, Daddy Doll pays them a visit too.

When we read our Bible Stories before bed, Daddy Doll sits in Howie's lap, where he can see the pictures, too. 

In the morning, Howie makes his bed, tucks Daddy Doll in (because "he's going to take a nap, Mommy"), and gives him kisses before we leave for school.

My tough face Mommy!!
Howie went through a couple of weeks where he thought he was afraid of the dark. It was something of a shock to me because Howie had never been afraid of the dark before. And after three blissful years of Howie not wanting to sleep in our bed, I didn't want to start now.

Thankfully, sleeping with Daddy Doll made him feel tough! "I'm not scared Mommy!" he declared the first morning I woke him up from a full night of sleep in the dark (first time in weeks!). 

And sometimes, I will hear Howie over the baby monitor at night, talking to Daddy Doll like they are old friends. The same way that he talks to his Daddy when Jake is home. 

"We have to say our prayers, Daddy Doll. Don't forget to say thank you for the kitties!"

A good night's sleep at last!!
Thank you, Daddy Doll, for being the little piece of Jake that Howie needs to make him feel like his Daddy is not so very far away.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my goodness! This is so sweet. The pictures are precious. Praying for you guys! xoxox