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I'm not sure if my kids know about my bedtime ritual. No matter how late it is, I always stop and peek in their rooms before I close the house up for the night. Last night, I watched my son sleep in the glow of the red train signal light that stands in the corner of his room. Next to him on the bed were the last six months worth of Popular Science. His floor was strewn with Legos. I had heard him working on his latest project for at least an hour past his bedtime.
Next, I checked on my daughter. Like my son, she was sound asleep. Her book had fallen to the floor. Our dog was snoozing at the foot of the bed. He shot me a look that said, "Do you mind?" and closed his eyes again. My daughter's desk was barely identifiable under the piles of paper and art supplies. Sure enough, one of her stuffed animals was now sporting a new outfit fashioned out of ponytail holders and tissues.
There is nothing that worries my husband and me more about these seemingly unending wars than the impact they are having on our kids. He volunteered to serve and I knowingly married a solder. But the kids didn't ask for this. It's a burden on both of us. I'm think it weighs even heavier on my husband.
My kids have never known any other life. To them, it's completely normal to have a dad that only lives in the house a few months of the year. Let me put this in perspective: my husband deployed when my son was in kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade, and we already know sixth grade will be impacted too.
Yet so far they both seem to be handling things pretty well. They are bright, well-behaved kids. They are doing beautifully in school. I'm immensely grateful for all the wonderful teachers in their lives. On the surface, it looks good.
I think that is what scares me. Does it look too good? Am I overlooking problems I should be dealing with? How can I tell the difference between normal tween behavior and the stuff that is cause for concern? Where is the line between sadness and depression? Between shyness and anxiety? I don't know.
I'm doing my best to keep the lines of communication open. My son is more of a talker than my daughter. He's very analytical and wants to know why. He has questions about why we're in Afghanistan. He wants to know when troops are coming home from Iraq. He's at the age where he wants and needs the information. I give it to him, in carefully measured doses. How can an 11-year-old boy grasp the complexities of Afghanistan and the Middle East when most adults can't either? My son will often come to me when something is bothering him. Lately, he's been missing his dad a lot. I tell him it's mutual. His dad misses him a lot, too.
My daughter, on the other hand, is not much for conversation. She's my artist. She's always happiest when she's up to her elbows in an art project. And lately, she's my writer. She's been spending hours curled up on the couch with her spiral notebooks writing stories. She lets me read them when she's done. So far, all her characters have been happy, successful girls. I'm hoping she's modeling them after herself.
She's a daddy's girl. When she was in kindergarten and my husband was deployed, she refused to talk to him on the phone. Instead, she would growl. Or meow. Or bark. Or oink. My husband would have to guess the animal of the day. At the time, we were both concerned. It was the only time she would make the animal noises. We decided not to make a big deal out of it. Soon, Make Daddy Guess the Animal was the hottest game in the house. After he came home from that deployment, the game ended as abruptly as it had started. She accepted him home with open arms and a standing invitation to a tea party.
I often hear that military moms have to play the role of both mother and father. Well, I'm a pretty lousy dad. I feel guilty for not tossing around the football enough. Or for not insisting he try it when my son said he wasn't interested in Little League. I worry I don't do enough "guy things" with them. We do like to play basketball together, but if you saw me play, you might say I'm not doing them any favors in that area either. My kids do play sports; they fence and play tennis most nights of the week.
My son will start middle school next year. My daughter will follow right behind him. I've told my husband that I did the baby years mostly by myself and I've done elementary school mostly by myself, but I'd really like -- and quite frankly could use -- a little backup as we enter the teenage years. After all, my kids DO have a father. It would be nice for them and their dad to at least spend the remaining years of their childhood together.