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Boots and Booties

It was 4am and he had been traveling for weeks to get home.  When we met, he was in a wrinkled uniform with a three day old beard.  Our kid was in her footie pajamas and I was in jeans.  He tilted his head down to kiss me.  As I held our 15-month daughter close to my heart, I stood on tiptoes reaching for the man I vowed to spend the rest of my life with.  After over a year of being apart, our trinity was finally complete.

Then our daughter put her hand up over his face and pushed him away.  She claimed me.  I was hers and no one was allowed to touch me but her.  Who was this man, trying to kiss mama?

I was speechless.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the reality of homecoming.  It is teary-eyed, full of emotion, anticipation and waiting.  It was not some picturesque family portrayal that has a storybook ending of your hero remaining in your arms forever.

I thought I was prepared.  I knew there was going to be an adjustment period.  I tried to prevent it.  I never allowed our daughter to sleep in the bed with me.  I knew it would be an impossible tradition to maintain once my husband came home.  Such erratic schedules and fitful sleeping made a threesome in the bed sound thoroughly cramped and uncomfortable.  Besides, I was fearful that my daughter would feel rejected if she wasn’t allowed in the bed when he came home, so I avoided it completely.

The rift happened despite my greatest efforts.  It had been just the two of us for so long, that we had a schedule, and there was just a way we did things, that was unknown to my husband.  So for the first couple of weeks, he just sat back and watched.  Observed how we did things, took it all in, and eventually eased his way back in.

Of course, once we all got acclimated it was time for him to deploy again.  Except this last time, our daughter was old enough to comprehend he wasn’t coming home and she was angry.  I struggled to make her world right once more.

I tried to help her cope.  I read books.  I tried to understand the psychology of it.  Trying to relate, and coming from a divided home myself, I came to the conclusion that deployment had the same effect on a child as a divorce.

To the child, there is no difference.  Regardless of what the reasons are, there is an involuntary rift in the family and the parents separate.  Unlike divorce however, it’s temporary, and little ones have a hard time understanding that.  Their reality is the here and now.  Homecoming is too far away and not the reality of the situation right now.

I managed to help ease the pain, but it never really was right until he came home and our family became complete again.

How do you really explain politics to a three year old?  About how Daddy didn’t want to leave, had no choice, and was so far away that he physically couldn’t come home every night?  I took a hint from Dora and drew a map.

From there, I evolved.  Seeing how effective it was, it became my mission to find coping mechanisms.  Some, I learned about just in time.  Some came a little too late and after the fact.  Regardless of their timeline, they all helped.

I put gathered every photo I ever had of just my husband and daughter and made a photo collage on her wall.  We wrote letters and sent them in the mail.  We read books.

I learned about Operation Kid Comfort, an organization that provides free photo quilts and pillows to the families of deployed Soldiers.

Sometimes, I think about the future of the next deployment and how it will affect her.  As upsetting as it is to accept, I find that being proactive is the best therapy.  Coping with deployments is ongoing and unique, in that everyone has their own way of getting through it.  One day at a time.

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