I was tucking you into bed last night and you reached up quick and put your chubby little hands around my neck and whispered a question “Is Daddy coming home this year, or the next one?”
I didn’t even think, I crawled right into that bed that’s three-sizes-too-small for me and pulled you in close, right next to my heart. Sometimes I can’t even come up with the right thing to tell you, a way to help you understand why he was here but now he’s gone, so all I say over and over is “Daddy loves you. Daddy loves you. Oh baby girl, Daddy loves you so much.”
I think that’s all you needed to hear, really, because the more I say it the more I feel your body relax into mine and your simple response is “Yes.”
And I see that when you feel loved, you can kind of get through anything.
As I think through what it’s like to be a military child, I see it’s true, it’s so true:
We’re driving in the car one day, very middle of a deployment, when I hear you say from the back of the van, a little bit sad and a little bit of a question: “Mommy?”
“I forget what he looks like.”
“Daddy. I can’t remember the shape of his face or what color his eyes are. I forget what he looks like, Mama.” This last bit sounds like more than sadness, it sounds like desperation, like you’re reaching out trying to hold onto something that keeps slipping through your fingers.
“Oh baby girl. We will look at pictures of him when we get home and you’ll see- his face lights up when he laughs and his eyes are the brightest green and his arms are so strong he can throw you up to the sky and catch you on your way back down. Also? Since half of you is made of him, he looks a lot like you.”
“Absolutely. So that means that you are strong like Daddy and brave like a soldier and generous with your love because you got all the very best parts of him and that’s exactly how he is.”
That seems to help you; you take a deep breath and I hear you say over and over “Strong like Daddy, brave like a soldier, strong like Daddy, brave like a soldier.”
I think about how our military kiddos are the most resilient kids I know because you have to be, because we do ask a lot of you. But as you find your way along, there are these strong and brave guides serving as role models; actual superheroes calling you forward, reminding you- you can be like this, too.
I think that when courage is your guide, you can’t help but become brave, too.
At your age, but also mine, some of the times we need courage the most are when we feel alone- when we’re new, when we don’t know who to call, when we’re figuring out where we fit in a city that doesn’t quite feel like ours yet.
I wonder what it would be like to give you a different childhood, friends from kindergarten to high school graduation all at once.
But also, I think of you girls, my own daughters, and the stories you tell me from the playground. You tell me of how you saw a girl playing by herself so you went up and invited her to swing. You tell me that our last name should actually mean “the includers, because that’s what we do- we include people.”
When you know what it feels like to be the outcast, the lonely, the new kid, it builds love for the outcast, the lonely, the new kid.
If this life is giving you eyes to see the ones that need love the most, this life is building you exactly into the kind of people this world needs.
And now that we’ve been able to befriend people all across the country in different assignments we’ve had, we have a community spread out across the world who has our back at a moment’s notice should we need it.
If we’re stronger together, when you have people across the whole entire world encircling you, loving you, cheering for you, it means you are some of the strongest kids in the whole entire world.
Sometimes you get a sad look on your face: “Sometimes I wish Daddy didn’t have to be gone so much.”
Here’s what I want you to know- Daddy will always, always, rather be with you than away from you. You need to know that and you need to believe that.
Sometimes though? I’m sad about it, too. When we’ve been up all night or I’m a little stressed because it’s just one mommy taking care of three kids and I just can’t seem to do everything that I need to do, I take it out on you. I’ll snap or I’ll yell and it’s not fair and I know it.
I once told you this: “Baby. I’m so sorry. I miss your Daddy and it’s making me all jumbled up inside and I took it out on you and it’s just not fair.”
You came up to me, put your hand on my cheek and said “It’s okay, Mommy. Sometimes I’m sad too. Do you want to do a puzzle?”
I think when you know what it’s like to ache, you know what is needed to sit with others in their ache. You simplify empathy for me, sitting with me as we build our firetruck puzzle, right there on the floor, right by my side.
Being a military kid gives you a deep well to draw from. Keep pouring out your love all over this whole world, baby. We need it.
I think about all of this and it makes me think about that time when I was sending you girls out to the backyard to play and I called out to you from the kitchen “Make good choices! And also take care of each other!”
You pause, halfway out the door, look at me: “Of course we’re going to do that; we’re sisters. We always take care of each other.”
And I can’t help but believe that that statement is less about what I’ve taught you as a mom but more about what has become normal for you in this military life. You see Daddy take care of soldiers as he takes care of us, wives take care of each other as they take care of their own, I take care of you as we all take care of each other some more and the circle goes round and round.
I should never have been worried that this life would be too hard for you. This military life is building you into the exact picture of love and courage that this world needs.
You live a life that shows what it means to love anyway, be brave anyway, find joy anyway, empathize anyway, take care of each other always.
So in my book?
You’ll always be the most courageous one of all.
[ photo credit: Courtney Bond Photography]
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