Photo courtesy of Christopher Reistroffer
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Honestly, there was no easy way. We sat her down and asked her if she knew why daddy was in the Air Guards and we explained to her that "he protects us and our country from bad guys." Then we told her, "Sometimes, our military heroes need to be gone from home for long periods of time to make sure we are all safe." We explained to her that our military works as a team to keep us all safe and that she and I would need to be a team with daddy being gone that long. I know at the time when we told her it would be for 7 months, she didn't get it. I don't think she got it even when he left. Remembering back, I think about 2 months in is when it finally hit her that he would be gone for a lot longer than she expected. It was then that she truly began to miss him, and my main goal was to keep her little mind occupied for times like this.
She was my main priority of the summer. Not only was I worried about him, I woke up worrying about her and went to bed worrying about her. I tried to fill her days with as much fun as we could have just to keep her mind off of his absence. I knew it was going to be hard for her because Jerime is a huge hands-on father. He does everything with her. One of her first questions was, "Who's gonna come have lunch with me every week at school?" He does that – he does it all, so I had some big shoes to fill!
What did your family do to prepare?
The first thing we did was go and buy a big huge jar and a big bag of gummy bears and we counted out a gummy bear for every day that he would be gone. After we counted them, we dropped them into the jar and put them right on her dresser in her room. Each night she would eat one and we would know we were one day closer. I can't begin to tell you the excitement we felt when we could move the gummy bears into a smaller jar and squealed with delight when we were on our last week's worth
Jerime's deployment gift to us was an iPad, and I can't even tell you how much FaceTime was our biggest gift. Everyday at 2pm our time, Gracie and I would race home from wherever we were and wait for Jerime's call. There was not one time in his 7-month deployment that we didn't talk at 2pm, whether it was for 30 seconds or 15 minutes. Just knowing we had that time everyday was a true blessing for all of us. We shared pancake breakfasts, bedtime stories, Fourth of July fireworks, classroom parties, first day of school, and first snowfall. That connection and communication allowed all of us to feel a little normalcy in our lives, even though we were miles away. Our family and friends all knew that at 2pm, they could find Gracie and I huddled around the iPad with smiles on our faces, comforting each other through tears and laughter
Another thing we did was send packages. I think we sent almost 20 total. It was a great way to send our love to him from far away. And Facebook was also fabulous. I uploaded pictures every single day.
What advice do you have for families in the same situation?
Surround yourself with friends and family and support. Take everyone up on any offer to keep you busy. Gracie and I made so many wonderful memories and friends during the deployment. It's amazing the people who reach out to you; it's something I honestly will never forget. It was hard – don't get me wrong. I had to keep a positive mind daily because if I didn't, it was easy to wallow in grief. People always asked me, "Is it hard to have a child during deployment?" My answer was, "She was absolutely the best piece of joy I could have around me. She was my little piece of him, and my reason to stay happy and positive."
I also kept a "YOU CAN DO IT" wall in our bedroom. This was for more of a personal reason for myself, for all those things I had to depend on myself to get through instead of my husband. About 2 weeks into the deployment, I found myself with a flat tire. I didn't even know what to do, but in the end, I did it, and I got my first Post-it® note. Others included:
- a bat in our house
- celebrating our 13-year anniversary without him
- getting through Gracie spraining her wrist
- fixing our water heater
- snaking a toilet
- carrying up our porch swing that blew off our deck during a storm (all by myself, might I add)
These were just a few of my accomplishments, all those things that I depended on him to do. Each of the notes I put up made me believe that I could do it, that I was doing it, and that I will do it!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
We went into the deployment as a team, and we came out so much stronger in the end. Each day we could talk on the iPad made us focus on what was important and the end reward of being together. The little things didn't matter. Nothing mattered, as long as he was safe and would be coming home to us The night we picked him up from the airport was honestly the most emotional time in my life for me. Our relationship was solid going in, but at the end of the deployment I was more in love with him than I had ever been. I remember him coming down the escalator and scooping up Gracie. I let them have a moment, and then as soon as he set her down and motioned for me, everything became a blur. The only way I can describe it is an out of body experience. As crazy as it sounds, we were both lost in that moment, almost like two old souls reuniting again. I have never felt a greater joy or more love in my heart than at that moment, having my crazy little family back together!