Military Family and Deployed Parents
The Dog Named Moose
My daughter is in Afghanistan. Is that more dangerous than driving on the Interstate? Yes it is, even in El Paso. While her risk and her danger are ever-present, that worry settles into the background like music always playing.
Today, this morning, this minute my energy is consumed with the four children at home.
"Why are you up?"
"The sun was in my face." Alex, age five, tells me while rubbing his eyes.
Since I have to turn on the lights to see him, I say, "You mean the moon?"
I am being sarcastic, but he looks at me with his earnest eyes. "No, it's light in my room. What's for breakfast?"
We go to the kitchen followed by Moose, appropriately named. I put toast in the toaster. Alex climbs onto the step-stool to reach the jelly while I bend over and pet Moose.
The children never ask, but somewhere in their little beings they must wonder how I always know when they are up. The answer is Moose. He is deep brown, long haired, and huge. Once dad leaves for PT, Moose moves to lay in front of my door.
At the slightest sound or movement, Moose leaps. (He rarely barks except outside at birds. Our airspace is totally clear of birds.) Moose does not allow the children to be up without me. Apparently in his opinion, dad needs his rest. Whether it is midnight, two AM or six o'clock, if a child is afoot, Moose gets me. He noses open my door, pads to the bed and leaps up. If I were in a coma and could ignore the leap, he then nudges with his nose and pats with his paws.
I am up. I check the time. Can I put whoever is also up back to bed? Generally not. I sigh.
"Come on, Moose."
Sometimes if one of the children is sick or has a nightmare, he or she will come downstairs to sleep by me. By the time the child reaches my bed, I am awake. Moose lumbers off the bed and waits politely until the child settles in place. Then he returns to his watch. No wonder he lays on his mat and snores all day.
Art and Activities
Fort Bliss, Texas, provides a nearly endless supply of scheduled activities for the children of the soldiers stationed there. And still it is not enough. I say this not because they are intelligent, active, and slightly wired which they are.
I say the scheduled activities are not enough because if left on their own, they do things like dig a trench through the yard and run the hose to fill the trench in order to sail bathtub toys. The neighbor only complained when the water flooded the ground beneath his trampoline. The children are very fast and look very innocent. They also work together very well.
I decide we must do some art.
In theory, an art project should allow them to express their inner turmoil, use their creative energy, provide an outlet for their emotion. My goal was to keep them busy and focused.
I tried filling their activity table with supplies, which are bountiful. I set out the crayons, markers, paints, paper, glue and scissors. I gathered my small troop: Hannah, age seven, Alex and Rachel, age five, and Robert, age three. I set out the paint cups with water to clean their brushes. Have a go. Make something beautiful.
Okay, that idea did not work. Though I did discover that hand lotion removes marker tattoos.
Still believing in the theory of an art project, I evolve my plan. We need something more specific, and, though I quake at writing the word, structured. One child can be creative with an abundance of choices in their medium. Four children do better with one choice of what to use.
An inspiration hits hard. I need to make a trip to the hobby store. Moose blocks the front door if I try to get out, so I ask the day-care provider to come over. She is on call.
The next afternoon, we try again. The activity table is completely clear of all distractions. I assemble the four children and into their midst, I put clay and some accessories such as colored pipe cleaners and yarn.
Have a go. Make something beautiful.
They do! We experienced nothing short of an amazing time. Rachel helped Robert cut his yarn to tie up his clay mummy. Alex cried briefly when the arms for his soldier kept falling off. Hannah used too much time trying to mold perfect high-heeled shoes for her mommy. Other than to help Robert, Rachel never looked up. She had a plan to execute.
I had to call them away to clean up for dinner, and I made a mental note to apologize to the cleaning lady. When no one had ballet, or basketball, or golf, or play group, or tumbling, we did an art project. These were the best times though I may never bring from my drawer their Grandma Donna portraits.
The Words They Use
My other daughter, the one who is not in Afghanistan, is a child psychologist in a Colorado school system. She uses vocabulary to help form her judgments regarding learning options. I use what the children say in order to understand what they actually mean.
These children use words like "choices" and "consequences." They say "periphery" and "weapon" and "artillery."
My three year old grandson said to me from his seat behind me in the van, "When I was little, I made some bad choices."
"You have time to change that."
"Ya, I was little then. I suffered consequences."
This is true. I couldn't make up the words that come from his mouth.
My granddaughter wants me to check the periphery for bugs. My grandson does not have a toy water gun. He has a weapon.
The sound coming from the distant training field is artillery. And the big white truck parked in the fenced yard along the route to the splash park is not a big white truck. It is a patriot missile launcher. These are the words they use in everyday language the same as hotdog, juice, or Peppa Big.
It is not quite the same as the child of a scientist knowing the word evolution. It is not quite the same as the child of a maintenance man knowing the word crescent-wrench. With each passing day I am more and more impressed that the military life has no separation between home and work. Home is a separate building from the other buildings on base. Home is a far distance from Afghanistan where mommy fights the bad guys. Yet, home is not far and not separate.