Thursday, September 8, 2011

Gone to the Sandbox

When John was on active duty, I'd often hear him and his comrades "lovingly" refer to their deployments as trips to the sandbox. John's had quite a few trips to the sandbox over the years ... some as you might picture if you watch the 6:00 news - in a tent on a cot in the middle of a tent city with, well sand everywhere. On other trips he's stayed in a hotel and lived and worked among the locals. This time around, he was working on an established base and had a dorm room all to himself - cozy, huh? We were thankful to have great communication with John while he was away. I think there were only two days that we didn't actually hear his voice. He was in a safe location, but there is nothing like hearing someone's voice when they are so far away! Sometimes John would call us and other times we would facetime with him. At first facetime was a little awkward ... it's hard not to look at yourself in the little corner box :o). Will would always act so silly when we'd facetime with John. I think it was his way of keeping himself from feeling sad ... more on that below. Kate loved facetime with daddy and she did the best at talking to him when she could also see him. She didn't understand that John couldn't see her when she was talking to him on the phone, saying things like, " See my shirt, daddy? You like my fishy on my shirt?" After I stopped feeling self-conscious about how I looked on the computer camera and after I assured John I had not given up on fixing my hair or wearing makeup just because he was gone (because of the time difference - we'd usually run in from the lake or the pool to catch John just before he was going to bed - so I usually looked frazzled and hot - not in the good way :o), I loved facetime too. John and his buddies worked long hours, but he says that's the way they like it. That way they keep their mind on the mission and off of the fact that they're missing home. As is his custom on deployments, John spent a lot more time at the gym than he does when he's home. It's a good thing too, because Will was ready for some wrestling matches and he (Will) isn't exactly a lightweight anymore! John mostly ate at the chow hall. He says "it wasn't too bad, but they mostly served chopped chicken." Yummy. It was no surprise that he requested a steak at Outback as one of the first meals when he got home!
It had been 6 years since John's last deployment and while I knew how to prepare myself, this was the first time we really had to consider the kids and how they would deal with dad being gone. I think I've mentioned before that John is kind of the World's Greatest Dad, so I knew there was going to be a huge void in Will and Kate's lives for these few months. We started talking about the trip with Will back in January just so we didn't have to drop it all on him at one time. At first he was really excited and proud that his dad was going on this great adventure. Then reality started to set in. Will would talk about his birthday or some other fun thing he was planning to do over the summer and we'd remind him that it would be fun but that dad wouldn't be there. He wasn't really sad, but sometimes he'd express frustration - "Why does dad have to be the one to go on this trip?" We did our best to explain to Will what an honor it is for our dad to be able to serve our country this way. With Kate, we didn't really make a big deal out of it because we knew she wouldn't understand until we were in the middle of it. She was happily oblivious to the whole deal! The first few weeks of June were filled with lots of family fun - trips to the pool and the zoo, pancakes for breakfast AND supper, late night games of UNO, and hours of building with legos and playing the wii. The day that John actually left, Will was sad and teary, but so was I! Kate didn't like saying good-bye, but she never does. I think she cried because Will was crying and it didn't help that Mom was sad too. We drove home and began to pack up for our long summer trip and we all seemed to be doing okay. At dinner, I brought out some surprises John had left for the kids. He'd recorded a book for each of them. Kate loved hers and listened to it over and over again. She'd even repeat what John said at the end of the book "I love you Kate. Sleep good. Be good girl for Mommy." Will looked at his book and then left the table. I assumed he was going to pack a few more toys for the trip. When I went to find him, he was very sad. We had a good long hug and reminded ourselves that we were SO proud of our daddy and that he would be safe and come home soon. We also talked about all of the fun things we were going to do and how we'd send John pictures and emails as often as possible. While Will really wanted to talk to John on the phone and on facetime, he would also usually be the saddest after talking to John. I'm not going to lie - it was tough on our boy and on his mama! Kate talked about her daddy all of the time but only a few times did she really question where he was. At one point on our trip, she kept telling everyone that Daddy was at home with her toys. Oh dear ... I didn't know what she'd think when we returned home and he really wasn't there just yet. She did fine, of course. Towards the end of John's time away we talked a lot about John's return and her reply was always, " I gone give my daddy big ole' hug!" The other surprise John left for the kids was a big hit with both of them. He gave each of them a mason jar filled with hershey kisses - one for each day he'd be gone. So every day they got a kiss from dad. I still can't figure out why he didn't leave me a jar ... maybe because he knows me well enough to know that I probably would have eaten the whole jar full of kisses that first night he was gone!
From my perspective, there were SO many things to be thankful for during this deployment. John was in a friendly country in a well established area. He really seemed to enjoy the team he was working with. It was a relatively short deployment (although it didn't always seem this way!). Since he was gone over the summer, the kids and I did a "tour of the families" and were gone for almost 6 weeks of John's time away - another post on that later. Most of all, I'm thankful that this deployment is behind us, and that Johnny is home safe and sound!

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