Thursday, December 3, 2009

What the Army Thinks Is Helpful (Babble)

The Army is trying hard to stay in contact with me during my husband’s deployment.  I appreciate the thought–I really do.  And I try to be polite to the people who call, but they aren’t listening to me when I say I want them to stop.  I have repeatedly told Army people that unless there is information I need to know to leave me alone.  Email is okay, but don’t phone me, and don’t mail me things.  The contact is intrusive and unwelcome.  I don’t need it.

Now, I’m sure there are people out there who have no one to talk to, who need these calls.  I know the Army is making an effort to care for families of soldiers.  I’m glad they are reaching out as a general policy to make sure people aren’t dangerously depressed or desperate or in serious trouble.  That’s fine.  But I am a very fortunate person who has a whole address book of friends and familiy I can call if I’m sad.  I don’t want to talk to a soldier I don’t know.  They always ask what they can do, but there isn’t anything.  I want to hold my husband at night.  I want Mona to eat peas.  I want someone else to take out the garbage once in awhile.  I want Quinn to wear a jacket.  I want the laundry to put itself away.  I want to not feel scared and lonely in the middle of the night when I can’t fall asleep.  The Army can’t help with any of these things. 

I have asked them directly what it is they are hoping to help with, exactly, and they always respond, “Oh, just if you want to talk.”  Well, I don’t.  Not to them, and not on their schedule.  They call when I’m bathing the kids or doing the dishes or making lunch.  They force me to think about the deployment at moments when I wasn’t expecting to.  They bring me down.  Some of the people who call do sound genuinely nice and caring.  Others fall far short.  The worst was a call recently where an Army person was trying to verify certain information about how many people live in our household, and the guy specifically wanted to speak to my husband’s “next of kin.”  It’s hard to think of a poorer choice of words when calling…. well, ANYBODY.  The call left me in a fidgety, unhappy mood the rest of the evening.

The worst part is now they are sending stuff to the kids.  I got a box full of the same old family readiness material I’ve been throwing out for months, and another Sesame Street DVD.  I think I own 3 DVDs now of the Sesame Street crowd talking to kids about deployment.  I don’t need Elmo becoming associated with the war in my kids’ minds, so we haven’t watched it.  There are other DVDs we will never watch in the box, along with sentimental dog tags that kind of offended me, and then these:

I think they are horrible.  I showed one to Aden and she found it really scary.  Mona and Quinn just thought they were ugly.  And they’re right.  We’re supposed to put a picture of Ian’s face on the front of the head, but frankly it looks like a voodoo doll.  Someone thought this was a good idea, and if it brought comfort to someone else’s kid, more power to them.  But I could have told them that my kids wouldn’t like these dolls, and I wish they hadn’t mailed them to me.  I don’t want any more scary soldier dolls showing up on my doorstep.  I need to find a more effective way to get on the Army’s ‘do not call (or send)’ list.

Again, I’m glad they are concerned about families, but they can’t know what is right for all of them.  The advice they hand out always sounds as if it’s universal, and you can’t expect anything to work for everyone.  For instance, something I hear suggested all the time is that when a parent gets deployed, let each of your kids pick out a nice frame and put a picture of the soldier with the child in it for them to have. 

Sounds great.  Except when I did that for Aden the last time the reminder of daddy by her bed upset her so badly she went and hid it under a pillow in the family room.  I decided to try it again this time and this is what happened:  Mona loves having a cute picture of her with her dad by her bed, it makes her smile, very nice.  Aden is traumatized and cries everytime she spots her picture, but she won’t let me take it away because she feels she should be sad.  Quinn looked at the photo I picked out of him and his dad together and he protested loudly, “But I want a picture of me and YOU!”  Three kids, three reactions: happiness, sadness, and indifference.  Parenting is not a one size fits all event no matter what the Army pamphlets want me to believe.

The problem in general with the Army’s attempt to help is that everything they do or send reminds us of the war.  Yes, Ian is a soldier, but that’s not how his kids know him.  He doesn’t tote a rifle or wear a uniform at home.  I respect and acknowledge the job he does so well, but even I get a little freaked out seeing him in Army mode.  I like my computer geek of a husband in an old T-shirt and jeans, carrying one of the kids on his shoulders and making me laugh.  When we think of Ian we don’t think of dog tags and camo themed items.  They are not comforting reminders of daddy, they are items associated with our fears and loss, so they aren’t helpful.

I feel (at this moment, anyway) that I have a pretty good handle on how best to get my kids through this experience.  We have a good routine with things the kids look forward to every day and every week.  I fill their days with opportunities to go places or do projects or just play and be kids.  I want them to focus on all the things they have that are wonderful.  They know they are loved and they live with the assumption daddy will come back one day.  They don’t need people or creepy dolls to remind them their dad isn’t here.  They confront that reality every time they see some other kid hug his or her dad at the after school pick up.  They each love their dad in their own way, and they each miss him in their own way too.  I respect that.  And I will distract them and keep them smiling as much as I can until he comes home–no matter how much the Army inadvertently undermines my efforts.

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