In certain times in life, we get bogged down with what we are experiencing so much so that we get tunnel vision. This is especially easy to do when you are in the Army! I often catch both Jeremy and myself using Army acronyms when telling stories or recounting events. People get this glazed-over look in their eyes and I realize I’m talking jibberish to them! I forget that most people have no idea what I am talking about let alone what the Army is like!
The same thing can happen when it comes to strategies you use to cope with a particularly difficult season of your life. What could be more challenging than having your spouse gone for a whole year?! So, I thought I would share some of the things I am doing/have done with the kids to help them feel connected to Jeremy while he is in Afghanistan.I hope this will help other people who are about to experience a similar circumstance and that this encourages them.
These ideas are not all my own! Many of them were suggested to me from other people I’ve talked to, literature I’ve read, websites I’ve reviewed and most importantly, other Mommy friends who are seasoned Army wives. If you get an idea by reading this list, please post it in the comments! I love anything that I can try to keep my kids connected to their dad!
- Way, way, waaaay before Jeremy left (like a year before), we started talking to Cooper about how whenever Mommy or Daddy leaves, we ALWAYS come back. And we talked about how no matter how long we are gone, we ALWAYS come back. This was great because we could reinforce it whenever we went out on a date or whenever Jeremy or myself would even go out alone for whatever reason (guys night/girls night/meetings, etc.). We never took it any farther than that. We just reminded him that we always come back. So when it was time for Jeremy to leave for a long time, Cooper was pretty secure that Daddy wasn’t just disappearing.
- We waited to tell Cooper until 4 weeks before Jeremy left. This could seem like a bad move to some, but this was directly recommended to us by our Parents As Teachers gal. She said kids who are as young as Cooper are not going to remember or understand this. So don’t wait till it is 2 weeks away, but don’t tell them too far in advance either. I’m sure you guys all remember how that went….
- Before Jeremy left, I snapped A LOT of pictures of Jeremy with the boys. I made sure I had pictures of him with each of them individually and together. Then, I got doubles printed of the pictures. I’ve taken one set and split them between the boys: pictures of Chase and Jeremy are taped to the wall next to his crib so that he sees them every day as well as on the wall next to his changing table. Pictures of Cooper and Jeremy are taped up on his wall too next to his bed. The second set I sent to Jeremy.
- Before Jeremy left, I created a “Daddy Book” for him on Shutterfly. It was actually his Father’s Day gift from me and the boys all about his role as a Dad and how important it is in our family. The idea I had was that he could take it with him to Afghanistan, look at it often and remember how important he is to us and our family. However, Jeremy had SO MUCH STUFF that it was one of many things he asked me to mail to him when he got in country. Well, the day he left, Cooper saw it on the table and wanted me to read it to him. He has clung to it ever since. Jeremy has since told me to let it stay here for the boys to see!
- I also created an 18-month collage calendar on Shutterfly. I entitled it “Counting the Days Back to You!” I wish I could say it was only a 12-month calendar, but I wasn’t about to “jinx” myself in case the government does the unthinkable and extends this deployment. Each month features pictures of all of us together with a little thought to go with them. I had 2 copies of the calendar printed, one for Jeremy and one for me and the boys. Both of us are to fill out what we did EVERY DAY of this deployment. Then, when he gets home, we’ll swap! The idea is that so much happens in the course of a year, how can you remember everything you did? Thanks to Julie Ross for this idea!
- My MIL Marsha, bought the boys these great Daddy Dolls. She also included a recorder that allows Daddy to record a 10-second message. Then, there is a little pocket in the bottom of the doll that you put the recorder when you are done recording your message. I think it is activated when the kids hug the doll. I say “I think” because we forgot to do it before Jeremy left! I sent them to Jeremy and hopefully he’ll send those back. In the mean time, Cooper especially likes his Daddy Doll. It means a lot to him. (Though right now it is MIA and I’m hoping it just fell under the bed, but I don’t want to ask him and make him cry!)
- This is something that Jeremy has done for the kiddos. I guess at the FOB (forward operating base) he was first at before he moved out, the Chaplains ran this totally awesome service to the guys. There is this little room with a couch, a bunch of stuffed animals and a bajillion kids books and a video camera. The soldier goes in, reads some of the books on camera and then the Chaplains mail the cd home to the guy’s family! Cooper has called this his “Daddy Movie” and I mentioned it in a previous post. I think Jeremy did another one or even two, but we haven’t received them yet. Cooper requests to watch this multiple times a day and always says “HI DADDY” as soon as Jeremy’s face pops on the screen. It is an incredibly special thing for him. We haven’t gone a single day without watching it since Cooper received it. Chase also watches it and laughs at Daddy, which cracks me up. (Even as little babies, they know that “Daddy” means fun time.)
- Jeremy has also written letters just to Cooper. He draws pictures in the letters too. Cooper has a stack of letters and photos that he keeps on the headboard of his bed so that he can look at the pictures in the letters and the photos of him and his Daddy.
- We hang out with families from Jeremy’s unit. This has been helpful and comforting to Cooper especially. The other night, we went out to eat with my friend Stephanie and her two kiddos. On the way there I was telling Cooper that Christian and Ashlee’s Daddy (Steph’s hubby) is with his Daddy in Afghanistan. His eyes got real wide and he said “He is?!”. I said, “Yes and mabye you can talk about that with Christian and Ashlee”. He said, “Can we talk about how we feel?” and I said, “Yes, you sure can.” To which he said, “Today, I feel sad”. And then we talked about how it is ok to feel sad….etc. When we got to the restaurant, apparently Cooper did mention to Ashlee something about their Daddy’s and how he was feeling. Steph heard the conversation and said it was super cute. I think having little friends for Cooper who are going through the same thing is comforting to his heart because it makes him feel much less alone.
- Other random things that have been helpful; the guys who are a part of our weekly Bible study (there are 5 couples) took Cooper under their wing for a bit when we were out at a cabin on Anderson island a few weeks ago. He got to play the wii with them. This probably was nothing to them, but to Cooper it was huge. He and Jeremy spent a lot of time together playing video games. Jeremy just was always great about having the patience to let Cooper try it out even if he failed miserably. It was really special for these guys to let Cooper play along with them and it meant a lot to him and to me. I can tell he has a bit of a need for guy time often. (Can you blame him?!)
I think that is everything. Somehow it doesn’t seem like much, but it has really helped a lot. We have a lot of conversations about Daddy, we pray for him and talk about the things he would like, the things he would say and the things that would make him laugh. Cooper really enjoys this and I am glad to say that he talks about his Daddy pretty often, which is a good thing I think. Better than acting sullen and not saying anything!
It has “only” been 5 weeks on Tuesday since Jeremy has left. I’m sure I’ll need to add to this list as more time goes on! But in the mean time, this is working for us.
Oh yes, and regarding the phone when Jeremy calls. I usually try to let Cooper talk to Jeremy. It is a very brief interaction but Coop isn’t exactly a phone talker. It is usually only 2 minutes tops. But it is enough to satisfy both their hearts I think.
I hope this is helpful to somebody out there! And, if you have an idea or if you’ve heard of something someone else has done, leave a comment! Thanks for reading!