Absence puts family strength to test
Crystal Lewis Brown is the editor of the Fort Jackson Leader and an Army spouse of six years.

FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- The other day, my son said four little words that broke through my cool faAfASade and nearly had me running for the tissues.

"Where did Daddy go'"

That one question asked in his little voice simultaneously saddened me and reminded me of the strength of the many military spouses who have heard that same question asked in their own children's voices through multiple deployments, temporary duty assignments and unaccompanied tours.

It reminded me that no matter how many classes I take, no matter how many spouses I find to commiserate with, there is nothing that can be done to prevent that question and the feelings you have when you have to answer it.

Here at Fort Jackson, we sometimes tend to see through training glasses. And while the installation's mission is to train, we must not forget those service members who deploy, either overseas or at other installations in the U.S. where they train others slated for Iraq and Afghanistan deployments.

In some cases, spouses who have come to call Fort Jackson home stay behind while their Soldiers move on to train at other installations in preparation for a deployment. I remember being in Germany when my husband deployed to Iraq, and how lonely it felt. I was grateful that I had met some wonderful spouse-friends who were able to prop me up when I was feeling low, and I hope that I did the same for them.

My husband recently left for a temporary duty assignment; the first time our small family has been apart for an extended period of time, and already, I can feel the difference. My little man seems to have already stepped into another role. When I open the dishwasher, he grabs what he can reach, putting things away where he sees fit. Once it's empty, he reaches out his hand, repeating, "Please, please, please," as a way of asking me to hand him items to put in.

While letting the dog outside has been his task for a couple of months now, he seems to relish the job even more; opening and closing the patio door and handing me the dog's empty dish to fill with food before gently placing it into the dog crate. But when he dissolves into tears when he doesn't get his way, or - as he did twice the other day - for no apparent reason at all, I wonder just how those other spouses do it.

Instead of wondering, I solicited the advice of two seasoned spouses. Here's what they had to say:
"Keep busy," says one friend and military spouse whose husband has deployed three times and will do so again this fall. "Take the time to learn something new, start something you always wanted to start or finish something you need to finish. Bad days are OK, both for you and your kids. Remember that each day you get through brings you one day closer to your spouse coming home. Laugh...a lot, because it puts everything in proper perspective. Find a support system that knows what you are going through and one that has no idea; that way you have someone to objectively listen no matter what's going on."

Another friend, whose husband is on his third deployment and who has been deployed herself, is the one who keeps me from feeling guilty when I want to take time for myself.

"Don't look at the big picture, just take things one day at a time," she says. "Otherwise, you might get completely overwhelmed and pass out! Carve out a piece of time for yourself when you don't do anything but what makes you happy."

Tomorrow, I will take her advice and go out and do something just for me, without my son.
And whether your Soldier is deployed, TDY or working round-the-clock hours, I suggest you do the same. Trust me, you will be a better parent for it.

Page last updated Thu May 19th, 2011 at 08:35