She's getting older now, my daughter. When he comes home from work, she hears the door unlocking and she stops what she is doing to watch him walk through. Then she runs to him, and with a joy that only a toddler can have, she hugs his legs and lifts her arms to be picked up by him. He says, "Can Papa have loves?" and pressing her lips together, she sticks them out while going "mmmmmm." I can hear his heart melt when she does this. The love and the joy that they both feel in that moment, it's so tangible I can almost touch it.
It makes me so happy, even though I feign envy to him. I complain that I get the joy of the tantrums and the tears, and he gets the kisses and the hugs. But, if I am being honest, I am secretly happy about that. Because as beautiful as it is that she sees him and knows him to be her Papa, I know she will soon understand what it means when he is gone.
It's already starting, I catch glimpses of it every now and then. When he is not traveling, sometimes I take her to the playground outside of our building just before he comes home from work, so that when he parks I can call to him that we are there, and he can come over and push her on the swing or help her down the slide. She runs up to the fence when she sees him walking up, and then she follows him through the fence line, her little feet running, until he makes it to the entrance of the playground. When he is traveling, I catch her staring at that fence and I just know in my heart she is looking... waiting for him to walk up. She runs around, she plays, but then she lingers by the fence. Knowing there is something familiar about it.
She gets excited when she hears the familiar ringing of a Skype call. She comes alive and the biggest smile in Italy lives on her face as she gazes back at her Papa. They make silly faces at each other, she bounces up and down doing her happy dance. He doesn't see it, but every time our call is over, she cries. My heart rips into a million pieces, for him and for her.
The last time he came home from a week-long work trip, she ran to him and made a noise that can only be described as crying for joy. She was so happy to see him it actually made her emotional, and it made me emotional to hear it.
In four months, she will be 2. I know there will be more work trips. Some will be a week, some will be a month, and in the future, depending on where we go, they may be many months. That is the military life. That is the life my husband and I chose.
But it is not the life she chose.
As she gets older, it will get harder before it gets easier -- before it is the "norm" for her. I don't relish in the idea of having to catch more of those tears as they fall, knowing there is nothing I can do to prevent them. But I know in my heart she will be resilient. I know that there will be something about this life, though tougher than most, it will teach her something that she couldn't have learned any other way.
To my husband, if you are reading this, it's not your fault. This is our life. This is what we signed up for. And this is what we will get through together, as a family. I know you feel guilty, but you shouldn't. You are a great father to our daughter. Even though you may have to leave us every now and then, she will know and one day understand that it was and is for a greater good. She will be so proud of you, and you will be her hero. You already are.
To the military spouses reading this, your children will know you did the best you could. Our spouses are the defenders of freedom, and we are the defenders of the homefront. Your children might not understand it now, but one day they will, and they will be proud of you -- and you will be there hero too. Because the truth is, you already are.
*April is Month of the Military Child, this post was originally posted on A Navy Wife's Life*