Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.
Behold, children are a gift of the LORD. . . — Psalm 127:3
Two homes, two totally different families. One is an Air Force family residing in England, with two boys. The other is an Army family living in Germany boasting of two girls. Even though these two families are completely different, they have one major thing in common— the Dads are deployed. This story, however, is not about the Dads who are protecting our country nor the Moms who are protecting the home front. Instead, this is a “bird’s eye view” from the children. I wanted to glean from them how they are coping with a parent gone and what they could suggest to other children facing the same situation. These two families are veterans of deployments as evidenced by the children’s stoic responses to my questions. After sitting down and interviewing them I came away with an even greater appreciation and admiration for these “young heroes.”
Meet Madison, ten-years old, and sister to eight-year old Gabi. Her dad, an Army Captain, has been gone four months of his fifteen-month deployment. Her Mom is very active in the community, supporting others who have family members deployed.
Madison has a serious countenance for someone so young and speaks with adult authority. I wonder, as I look at her twist her sister’s long black hair between her fingers, if she is feeling the responsibility of being the oldest child in the family. Her deep, green eyes hold her emotions close but periodically she lets her adult persona down and allows me to see a glimmer of a ten-year old. Maddy, as her parent’s call her, is typical of most girls her age. She loves swimming, horses, and reading Heartland. Her favorite subject in school is Art and her favorite pastime is horseback riding. Bedtime comes, so Mom heads upstairs with sister Gabi, while Maddy and I whisper in the living room below. I’m waiting for her to begin opening up to me. As a mother of a grown son and daughter, I know children soon warm up if they feel someone is interested in what they have to say. Madison stares at me as if she is anticipating my questions. “Maddy,” I begin “If you could tell another child in a military family how it feels to have their Daddy gone, what would you say to them? What would you tell them if this was the first time they had to say goodbye?”
She sits a little straighter in her chair and once again her adult persona comes through. With a soft answer she replies, “I would tell them it’s okay if you’re sad. You can have a picture of him in your room. And you can make him pictures and mail them to him.” Her honesty is refreshing, if still a bit guarded. “Since he is so far away how do you show him you love him?” I ask. Her matter-of-fact answer to this question demonstrates how often she’s told her father, from a distance, of her love. Hugging him goodnight, kissing him on the cheek, or holding his hand are not options. “We have a web-cam, make phone calls, and put boxes together with letters in them.”
It’s soon time for Madison to go to bed since she has to get up early in the morning for school. With a mischievous little grin, as if she and I have somehow shared a secret, she says goodnight as she heads up the stairs
Next, meet Jonathan, thirteen, and his brother Caleb, ten. These two boys are in an Air Force family whose Dad has been gone for half of his deployment. Their Mother home-schools them with a gentle demeanor.
Much to his Mother’s surprise, Jonathan invites me into his “inner sanctum”—his bedroom. Perhaps he feels more comfortable talking with me in his male domain and I feel honored he would allow me into his space. Jonathan loves to read as evidenced by the many books lining his bookshelf. He also enjoys “audiotape books, listening to rain, and playing Nintendo.” Meanwhile Caleb likes, “legos, and wii.”
Jonathan is quick to point out, on a map above his headboard, where his Father is currently stationed. Then, quite comfortably he jumps on the bed, while I grab a chair. Meanwhile Caleb plays with an airplane tacked to the ceiling. With full-wavy hair and a nervous smile playing across his face, Jonathan peers at me through his glasses, waiting for my questions. Typical of most boys he initially answers with one-word responses, while his brother interjects sporadically. Jonathan shakes his shoulders with “I dunno” when I ask him what it’s like having his Dad gone. He then replies, “Not fun, but better than before because I’m older now.” Caleb jumps in with, “The good times are when he is gone for a few days. The bad times are when he is gone longer, like now.” Jonathan contemplates several seconds after I ask, “What would you tell other children whose parents are leaving for the first time?” With a maturity that belies his years he responds, “I would say, your Dad is going to come back and after it’s over you’ll look back and see it wasn’t that long after all.” Our interview is soon over as the boys head out the door with a family friend who is taking them out for a planned activity of mud-pit riding.
These children took my questions with open, honest spirits, and replied with simple, yet profound answers. So, if you know of a family whose parent is leaving for an extended time, whether military, businessman, or salesman, perhaps you can encourage them with these words from Madison, Jonathan and Caleb. What better way to get a perspective for children except from children? After all who better to ask what it’s like to say goodbye to a parent, how to love a Daddy from a distance, or wait for a parent to return, except the “experts” in their field?
Questions to Share:
1. Have you known children who coped well during their parent’s deployment? What helped them to develop a good attitude?
2. How can you encourage and thank a child who is serving their country on the home front?