Sunday, September 27, 2009

Do Children Understand Goodbye? (Babble)

Today we drove Ian to Madison.  We had to get up very early to drop him off on time.  Aden and Mona both decided to dress up for the occasion, Mona in her red velvet dress, and Aden in a long brown sundress that she got from her aunt.  Her aunt is from India and petite, and last time we were in New York she was cleaning out her closet and gave some of her clothes to Aden.  My daughter is tall for her age and fits into a lot of her aunt’s clothes just fine, but seeing my seven-year-old in such a grown-up looking dress stopped me in my tracks for a moment this morning.  She’s old enough that this is a goodbye she will remember.

Quinn and Mona I don’t think really understand what’s going on.  I tried to explain again to Quinn yesterday that we would be saying goodbye to daddy because he had work to do with the Army and it was going to be a long time before we saw him again,  Quinn just said, “Oh” the way he always does when you present him with information, and then he asked, “Why is daddy going away for the Army?”  Mona, without even looking up from what she was working on said, “Because of the war.”  I have no idea what that means in Mona’s mind, but at least she’s able to keep the basic facts straight.  I’m impressed that unilke a lot of adults she remembers a war is even happening.
The last deployment there were too many goodbyes.

We had six days (that included projectile vomiting just for added fun) to prepare for Ian to leave in April 2006.  Here’s what that goodbye at five in the morning looked like before we had to drive Ian to the airport:
But Ian had to do training in Texas before leaving for Iraq.  He was working with a local unit there, and everyone else had families living on the base. They liked having time off to be home when they could get it, and Ian missed us when everyone else knocked off early, so over holidays like Memorial Day weekend, and July 4th, he arranged to fly home.  I was pregnant and exhausted and as much as the idea of having him home whenever we could get him was great, the reality of it was a little awkward.

Was it supposed to be a break for him or a break for me?  It was hard to explain to the girls that he was back but would be leaving in a day or two.  After he was in Iraq for a few months he arranged to return in the fall for Quinn’s birth.  There was really no choice about when he should take his two weeks leave.  How do you not come home for the birth of your son if you can?  But later might have been nicer when I wasn’t in the hospital and recovering from a C-Section and we could have really seen each other.  Was he a guest while he was home, or was he home?  The reality of running a household without him meant clearing my space of all his things.  With a new baby coming I needed all the space I could get, so I emptied his dresser and boxed up his books, but I waited to do that until after his fourth goodbye once Quinn was born.

So we said goodbye in April, and May, and July, and November….  It was beyond draining.  It was confusing for the girls and gut wrenching for me, and it’s one of those things that is hard to admit to without sounding like a heartless freak.  I felt guilty for not wanting the disruption, because he was the soldier at war and no complications I experienced at home could ever compare.  From the outside I’m sure it looked as if we should welcome him with open arms anytime we could get him–and we did, but that doesn’t mean it was all fun.  Small children change very quickly, and the routines keep shifting.  Ian would be home just long enough to realize he’d missed a lot, but not long enough to find a way to integrate himself into the new rhythm.  And each goodbye got harder, especially for Aden.

This time I’m not even sure if Ian will get two weeks leave.  This goodbye had a different sort of certainty to it, although knowing Ian is a nintey minute drive away at the moment and we can’t see him is strange.

A week ago, some friends of ours offered to take some family pictures of us all together.  It was a lovely idea, and one I greatly appreciated, but it was another one of those things that’s hard to explain to someone else why it wouldn’t completely work.  It’s one more way of drawing attention to something we’re dreading, and the dread extended to the photo session, too.  I got depressed and agitated before our friends arrived and had to take a walk alone outside.  I wanted to take Aden with me, because I could see she felt the same way, but it wasn’t possible to go anywhere without Quinn and Mona coming along too.  We got through some basic pictures with all of us sitting on the front step of the violin store, but Aden kept slumping lower and lower.  She couldn’t make herself smile.  Mona was a ham and Quinn was cute, but Aden looked like she wanted to disappear.  She tried to angle herself behind me.  Her eyes are an intense blue when she cries. The more my friends tried to get her to smile the more despondent she became, so I told them to let her be and I was just grateful she agreed to sit with us at all.

The last time Ian got deployed a neighbor took a few pictures of us at my request, and Aden was completely uncooperative and sad.  The July goodbye looked like this:
I’m amazed when I look at old photos how much the children have always been themselves.  Mona is very much Mona here, and Aden is definitely Aden.  The new round of photos will be similar, but with Quinn outside of my belly, and Aden looking even sadder.

There is also this picture from that same time that I include only because Mona looks like a lamp standing on that pedestal.  She used to climb everything and it was impossible to stop her, so we just let her get good at it and stopped paying attention.  Most people look at this picture and don’t notice her up there, but I laugh every time I see it.
After our friends had done all they could with trying to capture a decent picture of us at our violin store, Ian took Mona and Quinn home.  Aden clung to me and begged to stay while I got a little more work done.  When we were alone I sat with her and she broke down.  She fell into a heap in my arms and wept and finally said, “I don’t even know why I’m crying.”  I told her I understood and that she should cry as much as she needed to and I’d hold her the whole time.  My poor Aden.  When she calmed down I told her stories that I knew would make her laugh.  She perked up a bit and went back to her drawing.  We both worked on our own projects for awhile and she was in better spirits by the time we went home.

We’re not done with goodbyes yet.  We’re going back to Madison to spend the night in Ian’s hotel so we can go with him to the airport in the morning.  He told me someone is trying to arrange a special send off for the soldiers’ families so we can say goodbye at the gate.  It’s a goodbye with a lot of logisitics–packing an overnight bag for four, cancelling violin lessons, pulling the girls out of school, a bunch of driving….   I hesitated briefly when Ian asked if we wanted to do it, but Aden looked at me imploringly and said, “I want to see daddy.”  So of course we will.

You’d think we’d be better at ‘goodbye’ with all the practice.

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