About a month ago, my husband returned from another seven-month deployment. The previous deployments/detachments brought many of the same feelings as this one: excitement, anxiousness, etc. Adding to those was the feeling of terror of how my daughter would react to her father, at just a little over a year old. I try not to keep track of how many days my husband is gone, I think I would be quite depressed(!), but I do know my husband missed something like nine months of the first year of our daughter’s life. This is one of those areas that it seems like everyone has a comment on: “Little girls always know who their daddies are,” “Well you’ve been able to Skype right? She’ll do fine,” “She will recognize his voice,” and so on. It reminded me of being super pregnant and people saying, “You’ve definitely dropped! You’ll go soon,” “It doesn’t look like the baby has any more room in there!” They mean well, but when you’re forty-one weeks pregnant, few things are comforting. I appreciated that everyone was trying to make us all feel better, but it didn’t calm my nerves.
Those who know me well know that I do baby sign language with our daughter. If you don’t know or have Baby Signing Time, I absolutely recommend it. Our daughter says the “regular” amount of words for her age, but she signs about fifty more. For example, this morning I asked her if she wanted to go outside, then that she needed her shoes and hat before we could. She signed “outside,” “shoes,” and “hat,” then stood by the door. The first dvd, which we started while my husband was away on a three-month detachment, introduces all the basics, as well as family members. My parents were in town, so she started comprehend mom, grandma, and grandpa almost immediately. Dad was one she didn’t understand, and one that she didn’t understand the entire time he was gone, no matter how many times I did the sign over Skype, FaceTime, or through pictures and phone calls.
Of course, no one knows a child better than his/her parent(s), so I started to explain to my husband that she may not remember him. The time he was gone was the time where she started understanding who people were, and without him tangibly around…I didn’t want him to be disappointed. We talked about it often, and he seemed to understand. This paired with the fact that I don’t allow anyone to hold my daughter unless she reaches for them (some crazy CNN article I read when I was pregnant said that this is a helpful protectant against sexual predators, the child doesn’t feel like he/she has to go to any adult, stranger or otherwise), I wanted to be as honest as possible with my husband.
On the night my husband returned, she looked at him like “I feel like I should know you, but you’re definitely a stranger.” I saw his disappointment through the fake laugh when she cried as he tried to hold her for the first time…and the second time…and the hundredth time. My husband is a great dad; he isn’t afraid to change diapers, or do bath time, he plays on the ground with her, takes her for walks in her “car,” and so on, but it wasn’t an easy adjustment for her, or for him. It has taken time, and I know it will take more before they are 100% sure of each other.
The point of this blog is to reassure all the mommies, or daddies if mommy is deployed, that it’s ok if your child takes a little longer to readjust. I know my husband has seen his friends’ children at homecomings sprinting towards their waiting arms, and I’m sure he was hoping for that, too. Now that she’s well on her way to becoming a daddy’s girl, I have a feeling that will be reality for the next homecoming!
(Oh, and she certainly understands the sign for “dad” now. )
Do you have a story about your family reuniting? Please share below!