Today was a day like any other, probably just like yours: It started off as I shuffled around the house trying to scrounge up some food for my ever picky pre-schoolers to eat before I had my cup of coffee (I never drank the one I made), and I try to mix the baby food before the baby really started to scream. I grab a slice of banana bread before I rush to the seat I'll be stuck in for a half an hour as I feed the baby and remind the boys to use proper manners. We discuss our day, I hand over napkins so that the boys can wipe up their own spills, and I wrestle a very persistent five month old as she grabs her banana and rice cereal from the spoon I'm feeding her from.
But then, my day becomes different from yours: The phone rings. The boys know the familiar tune of the FaceTime ring. They jump up as it rings and rings. "Mooooommmm" they say as they give me a glare because I cannot answer the phone with banana on my hands. Finally, my hands are damp, but clean-ish, I slide the bar. "Hi Daddy!" they say as they crowd around me. "Are you sleeping?! Ha ha hahahaaaaa, you have to sleep and we just waked up" Teddy teases. They're in my space, the baby is getting frustrated because she's not eating. "Ok! Who is going to talk to daddy first?" "I AM!!!!" Teddy takes the phone from me and heads up to our deployment desk. A place where they can write letters, draw pictures, mail packages, learn where daddy is, and once a week, a place they get to have "alone time" with their dad over a telephone.
Many of you don't know a military kid. Some of you never will meet one, and that's unfortunate, for a lot of reasons actually, but the two most important reasons I can come up with are these: First, you'd never get a glimpse into the world that one percent of our American population does, but serves 100% of us. And two, you'll never get to see love and loyalty in it's purest form.
April is the Month of the Military Child. And April 15th, today, is Military Child Appreciation Day. In an article put out by DoDLive, we find some pretty horrific reasons why "military kids are so cool", including MREs which stands for Meal Ready to Eat. If you don't know what an MRE is, it's food for combat situations. Learn more about them here. Is this honestly the best they could come up with? MREs aren't cool. And military kids are mostly normal kids, they don't have MREs on hand to pass out for an after school snack. They want a granola bar, fruit snacks and goldfish crackers just like the rest of us. I was deeply saddned by this article, and can't believe it's put out by a military friendly organization aimed at honoring our nation's heroes. Even the littlest ones.
As an Air Force wife for seven years and a mother of three incredible military kids, I wanted to share with the world why it really is important to honor these kids.
A lot of times I don't love being in the military, and about 90 per cent of the time, that dislike is because of my children. I want them to have the kind of childhood I had; filled with cousins, grandparents and a home that has been theirs for decades. A home that they will return to and share with their spouses and kids and a home that has memories of a lifetime of happiness. I feel for them every time we change pre-schools and I hate the idea of having to move during grade school or even high school. I hate the stress and behavior changes we go through every time we have to pack up and move on. I hate that they ask to play with friends that are half way across the country, and I hate, more than anything that they cry or get angry or just can't handle the stress of having their dad gone.
After our phone call, I urge my boys to get dressed so we can continue on with our day. Again, like yours. I probably tell them 100 times to put on their underwear and to put their butts away. I tell them 15 times to grab socks and shoes and when we can finally make it out of the house.
We continue on to story time, pick out our library books and play at the library. Then, leaving the library our day switches again. "Ok boys, remember what we are doing? Books, Bakery, Hardware, Subway. Today is a special day. It's Military Kid Appreciation Day". I tell them that we get to have a day out to honor them. "A day for us?" Henrik asks. "Yup", I reply. "You guys are military kids, today is about how amazing you are. You are strong, brave and tough. Today, Daddy and I thank you for helping out the military". Their eyes lit up. I don't know what they were thinking, I only imagine them thinking they are in super hero suits helping their dad keep the world safe. We enjoy our lunch, talk about our day and what we enjoyed at story time-- just a normal conversation.
On the way home, I made a comment about the trees starting to get buds on them. "Daddy's NEVER going to come home!" I hear Teddy whine as he huffs and crosses his arms across his chest. "Yes, Teddy, he will. It's just not time yet." We count the months, we talk about the seasons that have to pass before he will return and we go through the routine of questions about where and why he's away. You'd think after all this time they'd know these things and it would just make sense, but the truth is, they can't really make sense of it. They try. They're grabbing at everything trying to make connections of the life they were thrown into, but they can't get the whole way there.
I don't think deployment would be as bad if I didn't have kids, because then I wouldn't have to convince them that their dad will come home as we count through the seasons and months, and I hope to all the gods in the world that I'm not lying to my sons as I tell them that their dad will return. But I carefully watch my language and make sure I never say, "I promise".
Our days are full of moments of normalcy and moments of fret and terror. We have breakdowns and heart ache, regression, anger, frustration and more. We deal with them, all of them. We have to.
My oldest son, almost five years old, has moved to two different bases, but because of our military life, he's changed houses, and friends, and his "home" nine different times. It doesn't get easier. It's never easier. I'm better at packing and I can unpack and put together a home in a week flat, but it's not easy. We've moved so much due to my husband's separations from us that moving is now in their blood. They've invented a game, it's called, "pack it up". It's where the boys take everything they own, seriously, every toy box in the house, and pile it on to the couches or the table and create a camper where they are moving to their new house because, "We're in the Air Force, and that means you've gotta move sometimes". It breaks my heart to see them play this game. But at the same time, I'm pleased and quite amazed at their ability to process this as normal.
I've had a lot of people tell me in the wake of this deployment that I shouldn't worry about my kids because "military kids are resilient". Of course NONE of these people have ever served in the military or have been a military child, but they know, because they've heard that military kids are resilient. Part of me wants to punch them in the face as they brush off the tantrums and tears I've had to tend to. The other part wants to shrug my shoulders and agree, my kids are resilient. In fact, they are better than that. And this is what makes military kids so cool, no matter the situation, no matter the length of time, military kids are truly inspiring. Here's why:
A Friend is a Friend, is a Friend.
No matter how many times they move, a military kid knows the drill and is used to being "the new kid". They don't care what you look like, how old you are, what branch your in, if you are a civilian or not, they just care that you are there. Military kids are open, friendly, welcoming and are good at sharing. They will play with anyone who is around and are often the first ones to start a conversation with a person at the grocery store, the park and at school.
Family Isn't Made Up of DNA.
When you are miles and miles from biological family, you have no choice but to create a safe, loving environment for yourself- and you do that with your chosen family. Military kids are used to spending birthdays and holidays with "aunts" and "uncles" that are really their parents best friends. They are used to calling neighbors "cousins". It's just the way of life. Military kids incorporate everyone into their world.
Bloom Where You are Planted.
When your best friend doesn't move with you, or they don't have your favorite sport at your new base, of course military kids are sad. But, military parents have taught their children how to focus on the good in every situation so that no matter where you are in the world, you will find something new to enjoy just as much.
Wearing Your Heart On Your Sleeve.
Most adults aren't good at dealing with emotion, but from a very early age, military kids are taught to understand, express, and talk about their feelings. They openly express when they are hurting and are missing a friend or parent. They mean it when they tell their friends they love them and they are genuinely saddened when orders come through. But, they know how to tell their friends and how to deal with this sort of loss.
Military Bases Are Worth More Than Gold.
Living in a community where everyone has a different version of the same story helps. Military kids (and families) thrive in communities like this because everyone is there to help out when spouses are deployed, on TDYs (away from home for anywhere from one day to months), or even the birth of a chid. But more importantly, military kids have free reign in this safe, close knit community. Kids run (safely) across streets to greet their friends and neighbors home. They have instant best friends in their neighbors because their lives are so similar, they have community centers and chapels that focus on the needs of military kids, and they have sports teams and youth events geared towards families. It's the perfect place to be if you are a kid.
Living in a military community means honoring your flag, your country, your service members and one another. Military kids have an understanding around age two, that the National Anthem is a time to be quite, stand at attention, salute or hold your hand to your heart. They learn about what the flag represents. They learn why we defend and protect it, and they start to understand the ins and outs of what the military does. They stand with their hands on their hearts as fallen soldiers are paraded on their final welcome home through base on their way to the funeral, and they are there jumping with joy as soldiers return home to their families. They understand the true meaning of nationalism, community and pride.
As my children are nestled in their beds holding daddy dolls dreaming of the activities they will do when their dad comes home, I stand in their room just watching. They are so peaceful. They don't need to know exactly what their dad is doing, but they believe that he is a super hero. They believe that he is making a difference in the world and he will return. When I go to kiss them one more time, and tuck them in extra tight, I give them two kisses, one for me, and one from Dad. They are still learning about tomorrow and the next day, so they still aren't sure how much longer they have to wait, but they know that they are safe and happy where they are now and that they have the luxury of having their grandparents around every corner while we wait for their dad to come home. I am inspired by their ability to take this difficult situation and to turn it into something good. They don't understand that it's part of the job, but they are treating it like that. If they can do it, then I can do it. Military kids should be an inspiration to all of us. If nothing else, we should learn that military kids have it tough, but they take one moment at a time and make it through. They look for the good in the world and they let that guide them through the hardships of life.
Today, I want my oldest son to know that he makes us proud every day of this deployment. He has so much love and has such a protector personality to care for his brother and his sister, and even me, that I am honored to have such a great young man in my life. He has come out of his comfort zone to do so, and that shows me just how strong he really is. He told me a few days ago that he wants to be in the Air Force like his dad, and while my heart screams 'no', I know that he'd make an excellent officer one day.
I want my middle son to know that he, at the age of three, is at the worst age for this deployment. Out of the last six months, he spent three of them with is dad. And now, his dad is gone again. Teddy just began the imprinting stage and believed that his dad was stronger than Hulk, as good as Captain America, and was more amazing than Spider-Man, and now, he's left in a world of confusion and anger but is afraid to say he's mad at his dad for fear he won't come back. He's sad, he's struggling for a father figure in his life, but he is so brave and so impressive in the way he's handling this, that I know he is starting to get it. He will make it through and this event will change him forever in one of the best ways we could ask for.
I want my five month old daughter to know that even though she doesn't remember her father, she knows the sound of his voice and she responds to phone calls, will stop nursing to turn to his voice and smiles at him during FaceTimes. I am so thankful for the technology, so that when he returns, it will hopefully make the re-integration more successful and she can finally have some daddy bonding time.
To all three of you, Happy Military Kid Appreciation Day. You are truly an inspiration to me and many more. And I hope that no matter the length of time we remain in the military that this experience as military kids sticks with them. I can't ask for a better life shaping experience for my kids, (and me) and while it's tough, so is life. My kids are just getting more opportunities to learn how to handle it.
And that Ms. Lange, is why military kids are so cool.