April 12, 2010
Guest blogger Casey Spurr and her husband, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Spurr, live in Virginia Beach, Va., with their 3-year-old son Carter.
In honor of Month of the Military Child, Casey writes about how an experience she had with her son made her realize what it’s like to walk in a military child’s shoes. Military parents often dwell on their own challenges associated with military life, she wrote, without factoring in how these same issues are magnified for their children.
Casey wrote a touching tribute to military children. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did:
By Casey Spurr
A few weeks ago, after my husband had been gone for several weeks on another of what seemed like an endless series of detachments, I was putting my 3-year-old son to bed when he looked up at me and asked with the saddest little eyes, “Momma, when is Daddy coming for a visit?”
It broke my heart into a million pieces. My poor little baby, too young to fully understand these comings and goings, seemed to think his daddy was just an occasional visitor who doesn’t even live in the same house as us.
As I was rocking him a few minutes later, trying my best to help him understand Daddy would be home soon, he yanked at my emotions even harder when I asked him if there was anything special he wanted to do the next day. In the softest little voice he replied very simply, “I want to go see Daddy.”
That night I began to really reflect on what life is like for a military child. I never had to experience that type of longing as a child or the ever-changing lifestyle military children endure. While my father’s job required him to travel quite a bit when I was growing up, he was never gone for more than a few days at a time and I felt he was a constant presence in my life.
I also never had to worry about frequently changing schools or leaving my friends behind
Watching my son try to understand these feelings of uncertainty and heartache is something altogether new for me.
I am reminded of a story my mother-in-law once told me of the first move she made with her family after her children had reached school age. She picked up my husband’s younger sister from her first day at a new school and asked how the day had been. In fifth grade at the time, she replied, “I made a new friend today, so at least I didn’t have to sit by myself at lunch.” Imagine being a child at a new school for the first time, fearing that you may have to sit by yourself at lunch because you don’t yet have any friends. It’s those simple fears that can consume a child and break a parent’s heart.
My mother-in-law had a realization in that moment, similar to the one I had with my son, that for military children life can present a special set of challenges from which we are merely unable to protect them as their parents.
These children learn so early in life to find strength in the obstacles they face that, the truth is, sometimes they take better care of us than we do of them.
When my husband had just left for his first deployment, two young girls in an eighth grade class I was teaching gave me a string of paper garland they had taken hours to construct, one link for each day he would be gone. Knowing I was trying to cope with an unfamiliar situation, they were enormously proud to present their gift to me. Best of all, it came with their encouraging words of comfort that everything was really going to be okay. When I hung that colorful garland from every corner of my home, I couldn’t help but think of how many of those small paper links these precious girls had torn in their short 13 years and what strong little women they had become. I had never felt so humbled.
I’ve come to realize through my son and other military children that these kids are both inspiring and heartbreaking in their ability to continually adjust.
As military parents, we often feel inconvenienced by some of the things that come with life in the military, but those feelings certainly are only magnified for a military child. Sometimes we need to take a step back and remember what life is like in their little shoes.
From frequent moves to extended separations from a parent to the confusion that can often come from the sheer unpredictably of life in the military, military children have to learn early in life how to be flexible and to adapt to circumstances that may not always be ideal.
Military children go to bed each night praying for the safe return of a deployed parent and wake up in the morning helping to prepare their younger brothers and sisters for school.
They say goodbye to the friends they have come to love, yet pick up the pieces and start all over again in the next town.
And on those occasions when our spouses are away and our little ones manage their way into our beds at night, sometimes we enjoy their comfort even more than they enjoy ours.
I believe that despite all of their challenges though, military children love their country, admire their parents who serve, and eventually come to believe that being part of a military family is an honor rather than a duty. Perhaps that is why so many of them go on to serve their country themselves.
As parents, in the end, we cling to the hope that all of this will cause them to have a greater ability to adjust to each of the circumstances their lives will eventually present, an appreciation for the experiences they have already had, and an understanding that they are better off because of it all.
April is the Month of the Military Child, so this month let’s all take some extra time to honor these special kids in our lives and remember that they are heroes too.
For more on Month of the Military Child, visit the American Forces Press Service’s Special Report: Month of the Military Child.