Besides “How are you?” and “How is your husband?,” the question I've been asked most during this deployment has been, “How are the kids?”
Truthfully? Deployment has affected our kids in ways we hadn't expected. Of course, they just plain miss their dad. He is their best buddy. But his absence has brought deeper issues to the surface, and it's heartbreaking for me to see.
Before Matt left, we talked with a military-family life consultant as a group. We discussed the boys’ fears and worries about the deployment. Their collective, number-one fear? That Matt would be injured — or, worse, that he would die. That remains their biggest concern, and I think it’s an expected and understandable one.
Their other fears were more surprising: A robber will break into the house and Daddy won't be here to protect us. Mommy won’t know how to take care of broken things. We won’t have enough money while he is away. I was astonished at how deeply they had thought things through.
Now, as the months have gone on, the worries have taken a shift. Broken things have been fixed, there is enough money and no robbers have come to pay us a visit. The fears of injury and death are still there; I don’t think they’ll leave any of our hearts until he’s home safe. But now we're dealing with the emotional distance between them and their dad.
“I don’t even feel like he’s my dad anymore.”
That statement from my youngest son tore my heart in two. I knew exactly what he meant. I could feel the pain in those words. No matter how hard we try to stay connected, the reality is that he is so very far away. The kids feel it just as deeply as I do. And there is nothing we can do about it.
We are seeing a counselor weekly to work through the difficulties that cloud our days. The boys are doing great in school — they are behaved and on top of their work and altogether fantastic. Their time at home, however, is an absolute train wreck. The “I don’t want to be in this family anymore!” comments pierce my soul, but I know they don’t mean it. They only say that because it would mean not going through this pain. My reassuring words sound wise in my head, but don’t go over very well with 8- and 9-year-old boys.
We have good days and bad days. On the bad days, the boys take their anger and frustration out on each other, or on me. I find myself explaining, “You’re not mad at your brother right now. You’re mad that Dad isn’t here to help you with that level of the video game.” “You’re not mad at me. You’re frustrated that Dad isn’t here to help you with your homework.” Again, wise words fall on little ears that refuse to hear logic.
We’re working through these things, one day at a time. The kids are OK. They’re not great. Kids are resilient, this much is true. But right now, they just want their dad home.
Tasha Lehman is a mother of three boys living in Vermont. Her husband, Matt, is a first lieutenant in the Vermont Air National Guard who recently headed overseas for his first deployment. The “Home Front: Diaries of a Vermont military family” series chronicles their journey. Read more about their story in February’s “Use Your Words” essay.
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