Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Deployment Part of the Parenting Puzzle (Babble)

Parenting is forever a game of second guessing yourself.  There are moments where I feel I’ve done enough or exactly the right thing, but they are rare.  Most of the time I wonder if I’ve read a situation wrong or should be doing more or less or something entirely different.  When I make Aden read to me and she fusses about it I worry that I’m taking the enjoyment out of reading, but when she’s watching a cartoon I feel like I should be making her read whether she likes it or not.  I have to balance out what I think is right with what is practical at any given time and hope for the best.

But the added complication of Ian being deployed throws a peculiar sort of monkey wrench into the works which makes parenting even more tricky.  When the kids act out or experience frustration or sadness or simply aren’t behaving well, I have to stop and decide whether the deployment is a factor, and if so, does that change what my choices are.

For instance, separation anxiety is a whole different story when your kids have had to say goodbye to a parent who is then gone for a year.  I mean, think what that feels like to a kid–they said goodbye and now daddy is gone.  For my son in particular who was two when his dad left, ‘Daddy’ is almost like a story we tell and not a person.  When I leave Quinn with someone to go anywhere alone and he freaks out, is it fair to treat him the way I would in a normal situation?  Does Quinn just not want me out of his sight because he’s a little kid who likes being with his mom, or is he scared he won’t ever see me again?  I can’t tell.  It makes it much harder to try and brush off the screams when I have to leave him because I worry that it could be more serious than the regular manipulative drama.

Any behavior that appears regressive is troublesome.  If one of my kids goes back to thumb sucking for awhile, or has a toilet training accident, or seems to take any developmental steps backwards, I hesitate before doing whatever my parental instincts suggest I do.  Those are the kinds of signs the endless mountains of pamphlets the Army sends all try to warn me about.  But what if it has nothing to do with the deployment?  I suspect most of the time it doesn’t, but I don’t know.

Odd little incidents give me pause.  For instance, the other day my son was playing with a bubbly water tube with plastic fish in it that a neighbor gave us.  There are four fish in the tube, and Quinn declared that the biggest one was the mommy fish, and the other fish were the kids, “But there is NO daddy fish.”  I asked him where the daddy fish was and he said firmly, “The daddy fish is dead.”  Normally this would go under that category of silly things kids say, but there is nothing amusing about it when his actual dad is in a war zone.  Did it really mean anything?  Probably not.  But is that a moment I should be doing something important to reassure him about his own dad, or if it’s not related is that putting an idea in his head he doesn’t need there?  I did end up saying something like, “Oh, poor daddy fish.  Good thing your daddy is fine.”  Quinn just kept smiling at his toy fish.  I still don’t know what to make of that whole scene.

Aden associates her dad with feeling sad.  I understand it, but I’m trying to uncouple the two things where I can.  I try to tell funny stories about her dad to make her laugh, so when she thinks of him she might smile more.  Right now whenever Aden is depressed about anything, she mentions that she misses her daddy.  There is a chicken and egg problem here, because I really can’t tell if being sad reminds her that she misses Ian, or if missing Ian is the thing that actually made her sad to begin with.  Could be either.  But it makes it hard to know what to do with her, because if I think she’s being melodramatic about something and I need her to buck up, I could be wrong and compounding the problem by ignoring sincere pain.  I can’t bend to her every whim just because she gets sad, but I want to be sensitive to something as big as her missing her father if that’s what’s triggering an outburst.

Mona lives in the moment more than anyone else in our household.  I can’t tell how the deployment affects her.  She’s too young to have any sense that her dad could be in danger.  He’s off with the Army in some place called Iraq.  She knows her dad wears a uniform.  She’s excited when he comes home and looks sad for five minutes after he leaves.  Then she wants to play with her Webkinz toys and buy them virtual hair ribbons and shoes online.  Mona doesn’t talk about her feelings very much, so when she’s angry it’s anyone’s guess what it’s about.  I suspect that the deployment impacts her in a second-hand way through me.  When I’m stressed out my temper gets short, and she seems to understand that that’s related to her dad being away.  But it’s always surprising how much that little girl knows that she doesn’t let on.  I often wonder if there are signs about how she’s dealing with the deployment that I’ve simply overlooked.  I hope not.

The whole experience makes parenting that much harder.  There was the last deployment, then the adjustment to their dad being home again, now this deployment, and most of next year will be about adjusting to his being back….  It’s hard to have a clear perspective on how the kids are developing when we’re always taking a certain amount of disruption into account.  All I can do is offer myself as a constant and hope that helps.  I never liked the idea of being predictable, but now it’s the the most loving thing I can provide.  I’m far from perfect, but at least I’m predictably grumpy about the same things all the time.  My back is always itchy, they can count on me to put breakfast on the table in the mornings, and they know I come kiss them in their beds every night before I go to sleep.

I may second guess a lot of what I do as a parent, but as long as my children feel safe and loved I’m doing well enough.  Deployment can’t interfere with that.  I refuse to let it.

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