Right now you are two years old and your daddy is deployed. He has been serving in Afghanistan since December, and he will not return home “permanently” until next December. As we discuss often, daddy will come home when we put up the Christmas tree again. Before he left, we talked often about daddy’s “trip” and how he would be helping and protecting the good guys from the bad guys in Afghanistan. Daddy made you and Jack a pair of dog tags just like his. You lovingly refer to it as your “daddy necklace” and whenever you’re missing daddy or feeling sad, I see you kissing them.
Over the past few months I’ve watched as you have tried to understand and make sense of this experience. I wonder, as any mother does, if you truly comprehend or will even remember daddy being away. To you, time has no relevance, distance, no meaning, and so every morning you look for signs that your daddy has been home the night before. As far as you’re concerned, Afghanistan is just down the road.
This past year has been unfair for you in so many ways. Last March you lost your great-grandmother, and in June your great, great-grandmother passed away. In August you papaw- and best buddy, passed away and in November your baby brother was born. And while you love your brother, I know that it has been hard on you having to share mommy’s attention. Especially now that daddy is gone away too. But somehow, you have taken it all in stride. You are such a happy little girl, full of love, laughter and sweet innocence. And while I want so badly to protect you from heartache or sadness, it seems that often, you are the one protecting me. You never miss an opportunity to shower me with hugs and kisses or do something hysterical when I’m feeling down. You are an amazing little girl, wise far beyond your years.
Your daddy came home on R and R last week. I didn’t tell you he was coming, not because I wanted to illicit any kind of emotional or dramatic response, but because I didn’t have the heart- or the guts to tell you if plans changed And Abby, you will soon learn that plans often change. Initially, I was a little upset that your daddy’s leave dates came so early in the deployment, but to you, he had already been gone a lifetime. At the first sight of your daddy, your shrieks commanded the attention if the entire airport as you leaped from my arms into his. I have never seen you so uncontrollably happy.
This is not the first deployment we have faced, and I feel certain in saying it wont be the last. And I know the day will come when you ask me when and if daddy is coming back home. And I worry everyday about how I will answer that question. Not because I’m afraid you wont understand, but because I’m afraid that you will.
And I know you will learn over the years that the Army is full of ups and downs, farewells and reunions, joy and sadness. You too will become seasoned at saying goodbye, and strong in times separation. You will learn what it means when daddy brings home a packing list, lays out his gear, and draws his weapon. Someday, the sight of a white bus will make you want to weep, and an ill timed doorbell ring will stop you in your tracks. In time, you will learn what the word “deployment” means, and appreciate what a hero your daddy really is.
But for now, your snuggled warm in your bed, chubby arms wrapped tightly around your daddy doll, sleeping soundly knowing that daddy is just down the hall. And in the morning, you will wake up, ecstatic to see your daddy, without any thought that he will soon leave again. The two of you will go downstairs, grab a milk sippy and blanket and snuggle on the couch while you watch cartoons. And you won’t give any thought to the army or deployments or how many days your have left on R&R ,because to you, he’s not a hero home on leave. To you, he’s a hero just because he’s daddy.