For the last 10 years, my family and I have lived in the military community of Hale Moku in Honolulu, Hawaii. It is occupied by only Navy families. The houses here are very well maintained; you wouldn’t be able to tell one street from other. All of the houses here are painted in a uniform pattern; one house is painted white and the next tan. Our lawn is always green and nicely edged and the trees are green and full of life, we have landscapers that come twice a week. We have alarm systems in our homes as well as patrol men who drive up and down the streets 24 hours a day. My community is safe and is considered to be that of a “white picket fence community”. What some people do not realize is that what you see in the outside of our homes does not reflect what happens on the inside of those doors; our lives are far from the “white picket fence” fantasy.
As I stand here at pier 13 watching it all play out, it’s deployment time once again. This is when the fun really begins. The pier is filled with hundreds of families waiting to see their loved ones off. I look at my children in tears as they are hugging their daddy tight, wishing he didn’t have to go. They don’t understand that Daddy has a bigger role than the average man. They just know that daddy won’t be home for their birthdays or even Christmas. As he hugs our girls tight trying to hold his tears back he says his last goodbye. I keep telling myself “You have to be strong, they can’t see you cry”. We say a small prayer and send him on his way. He then walks up the pier in his dress whites; he pauses for a moment and proudly stands at attention to salute the American flag and then continues to the board the ship. As we wait for the ship to sail away along with the other families, we finally hear over the intercom a sailor say “underway, shift colors”. Then reality begins to set in. We then begin our walk to the car, I tell myself again “You have to be strong, and you cannot let them see you cry”.
As we pull up to our driveway, I can see a package by the door, it’s a RAK (random act of kindness) from the spouses of my community. They are no stranger to deployments. Most of the women in my community are veterans and they help guide those who are new to the role. It is not easy being a U.S Navy spouse or a military spouse for that matter. Deployments are difficult and emotions are like roller coasters, some days are better than others. We as a community depend on one another to get us through the hard times! Our neighbors are our support system, our cheerleaders, therapist and family. We do not judge each other by the color of our skin, religion or social status. We are brought together because of the love that we have for our children. When our spouses are deployed, they are gone for a minimum of six to nine months. Our communication is limited and sometimes we go for weeks without receiving a phone call or an email. Most of us keep our husbands in the dark about what’s going on at home. There isn’t much that they can do from the middle of the ocean, why stress them. We rely on the support of the women in our community to get us through deployment.
Our children are affected as well. They have good days just like they have bad days and their emotions are always at a breaking point. How can I keep my children from noticing that daddy isn’t home? If I keep them busy maybe they won’t remember. Maybe today will be a good day, no meltdowns, no screaming “I miss daddy’! Seeing them that way takes a toll on me but I must not break, I have to be strong. To keep them busy I involve them in many community activities like beach clean ups and volunteer work for Operation Home Front, there they help make deployment bags for children with deployed parents. In the bags comes one of their favorite items, a Daddy Doll. Daddy Dolls are cuddly and soft with an image of the deployed parent printed on it.
Daddy dolls help comfort children during deployments, and it did just that for Kairee the son of my best friend Lisa, a military spouse of 13 years. Kairee became extremely attached to his daddy doll, it was his bed time buddy and could not sleep without him. Kairee was only two years old when Al, Lisa’s husband a First class Petty Officer in the US Navy deployed to Afghanistan. The Daddy Doll helped Kairee remember what dad looked like. Lisa’s biggest fear was that Kairee would not recognize his dad when he returned and the daddy doll made homecoming that much easier.
During Deployment, besides Daddy Dolls, we try to play games and do countdowns of Daddy’s arrival in which they get to have a small surprise each time we cross a day off. Unfortunately, this can only go for so long before our countdown gets to zero and daddy still isn’t home. The ship got extended and there is no telling when they will be returning to our home port. With not a date in sight the stresses of daddy not being home begin to affect them traumatically.
One day as I am combing my daughter’s hair preparing her for another day, she seems happy and talkative. I find a bald spot in the back of her head a little larger than a half dollar coin. I immediately choke and want to cry but I can’t I have to hold my tears in. I can’t make a scene or stress her even more. “What could it be?” I ask myself. As she continues to prepare for school, I immediately pick up my phone and open my browser to Google and the first thing to show up is Alopecia. My
and I immediately want to drop on the floor and cry but I can’t I have to hold my tears back, she cannot see me break! On our walk to school we tell each other jokes hoping that it will take my mind off of reality. For those 5 minutes, that seem like forever. I kiss her goodbye and send on her way. I quickly run off and call her doctor so that I can take her in right away. Ten o’clock is what the nurse; said that’s when they can see her! As I walk in the door, nothing seems to matter. All I know is that I am on my own with no husband by my side; I quickly drop to my knees and begin to cry. How could this happen? Why her? Could this be something worse? The worse things imaginable start running through my head!
As ten o’clock comes closer, I clean myself up and I make my way to pick her up. I have to explain to her what’s going on but I don’t want to scare her. I tell her that she has a checkup and that I noticed she had a tiny bald spot on her head but it wasn’t anything medicine couldn’t fix. As hard as it was for me to say out loud without crying I told her as if it was no big deal. As we arrive her doctor sees us walking in and immediately walks us to the back and places us in a room. He takes a look at her and then looks again, this time with a magnifying glass. Dr. Foster has been her pediatrician since she was born. He knows my daughter Alexis now all too well. He quickly ruled out alopecia and said this was nothing rare. He asked about her father and she quickly replied “My daddy is on deployment and has been for a very long time,” this time I couldn’t hold my tears back. She seemed so happy on the outside and my baby was crying in the inside! She missed her daddy terribly and there was nothing that I could do about it!
After multiple visits to the hospital and countless testing, results came back normal and everything seemed fine. Dr. Foster had another doctor come in to evaluate her for a second opinion. They both concluded that her hair was falling out due to stress and then recommended a puppy. He said a therapy dog would help her by redirecting her attention to something else other than her daddy being gone. That same day I found Sophia, a 6 week old maltipoo who has become her best friend, her sleeping buddy as well as her tool of comfort. The doctor was right. Her hair grew back and she seemed happier than ever! Sophia was my light at the end of a dark lonely road!
I didn’t tell my husband. I didn’t want him to worry besides there was nothing that he could do from his location and the Navy was not going to fly him out just to go to a doctor’s appointment. During those stressful days, I relied on my neighbors for support. Jasmine a submariners spouse with more than 20 years and 9 deployments under her belt was who I relied on! She came to my rescue with our nightly talks and words of encouragement! Being a submariner’s wife is not any easier. She says the communication on board is far worse than any other ship. She has gone as long as 72 days without hearing from her husband. Jasmine has learned to be a mother and father to her 2 beautiful girls, Nairobi, who is now senior at Radford high school, and Zahira, who is a second grader at Pearl Harbor Kai. Her girls looked forward to deployments. They know that when dad is gone mommy keeps everyone extremely busy with volunteer work and sports. Jasmine keeps herself busy as well by going to college to attain a master’s degree. Jasmine admits that by staying busy it’s mainly for her own selfish needs to keep her own sanity.
During a phone call with Jasmine, I asked her “what was the hardest thing for you, during deployments?” She recalled, one of the hardest moments for her, was hearing her daughter Nairobi make up stories as to where her dad was. Jasmine then said “I would hear Nairobi tell her friends, that her dad had broken his leg on the ship, and he couldn’t come home because he could not walk down the stairs”. Jasmine then laughed and said, “I found it funny I didn’t know what to say”. Jasmine said that they had many talks, which lead to many crying sessions. Jasmine then said “Eventually, deployments became normal, and our kids understood that”. “Deployments is what made our family strong, it’s our hardship”.
“Hardship” is the life of a military family, it is difficult to keep a family together when a parent is missing”, said Lisa. I asked Lisa, “what made deployments so difficult for your family?” Lisa replied, “The pressure of being Mom and Dad”. “Al is the disciplinarian and I am not”. She then continued to say “My kids took advantage of me while their dad was deployed, they thought that there would be no consequences to their wrongful actions”. She said that it took having many family meeting to keep them on the right track. Lisa said that what kept her strong, was the community. “The community was very supportive and everyone was very involved in helping her kids stay focus.
Deployments are not easy for anyone and homecomings are just as stressful on everyone. We have waited months for this day and have prepared for weeks. We have cleaned our homes, shopped for outfits and made signs that say “welcome home daddy” my girls can hardly wait.
As I stand on the pier with my girls proudly wearing their red, white and blue tutus holding there sign high and proud, eagerly waiting for the ships arrival along with other families, the unknown awaits. The ship finally pulls in and over the intercom you hear a sailor say “moored, shift colors”. Shortly after you hear the same sailor say “liberty call, liberty call”, the sailors are free to go. As my husband walks down the pier our girls can hardly wait they run and meet him at the bottom of the stairs screaming and shedding this time tears of joy. “Our daddy is finally home”, Alexis says. I cried tears of joy. I didn’t have to hide it, and I didn’t have to hold back! After many hugs we finally made it home!
After all the excitement our roles begin to shift. Everyone has to adjust to being a family again. Daddy is lost and doesn’t know his place, our kids only look for mommy because that’s been my place. Everyone has to readjust and relearn our roles and once that is completed, the training cycle for him begins and then it deployment time all over again.