When we got pregnant, my first thought was a blur of joy and shock. My second thought was to count through the nine months it would take to grow you to see if daddy would be home for your birth.
If we were staying in Hawaii, he would have deployed for a fourth time. Lucky us, we had new orders in hand – orders that meant he would get to stay on American soil for awhile. I felt spoiled. Many other couples in our shoes have to choose between spending their pregnancies apart or the births of their children apart.
Instead, our pregnancy was spent PCSing – or moving, in civilian terms. We flew to California, shipped one of our cars over the ocean and drove the rest of the way to Maryland – stopping to take pictures at all the historical markers with you in my belly. I’ll never forget when we passed through Ohio; that was the first time I felt you kick.
We found a new midwife to deliver you, a pediatrician (who will only get to care for you until age three), and a nice home in a friendly neighborhood that you’ll probably never remember. As I decorate your nursery – careful not to make any permanent changes since we are renting – I am reminded how nice it would be to buy our first home as we grow our family. But, home is where the Navy sends us, and daddy has quite a while until he can retire. So for now, we unpack without ever really settling.
When you finally made your stubborn arrival into this world, I took a second glance at your birth certificate. Born in Maryland. I smile with a slight emptiness, as I know we will be long gone from this charming little military town by the time you’re old enough to recount memories with us. You already have so many people who love you like family here. Everyone calls you “the pierogi” because you are just about the biggest baby in town. Lucky you, you’ve already gotten to tour the Naval Academy in Annapolis and stroll through the historical sites in D.C.
“I wonder where our next baby will be born,” your dad chimes in, going through the same thoughts he knows I’m having just by the look in my eyes.
It’s a bittersweet look. Up until now, this military life did not feel so daunting. You see, mommy and daddy love to travel, so a life on the move never sounded so bad. The deployments were hard because we love each other very much, but it was a burden that we didn’t mind carrying between the two of us. Now that we have you, it breaks our hearts knowing that you will have to carry this burden too. You will have to be stronger than any kid your age. You will have to be more patient than most adults, and you will have to be brave to face new schools, new towns, new people, time and time again.
It won’t be fair, and we know it is a lot to ask of you. It’s why daddy spends extra time watching you sleep at night and whispers over your snoring if he should get out of the military – if he should go back to college. If he should do anything else in the world, even something he wouldn’t enjoy half as much, just so that he does not have to leave you.
Before you were born, we didn’t think it would be this hard. Now that we have witnessed how quickly you reach milestones, our eyes well up with tears at the thought of him missing any of these moments. Watching you grow is undoubtedly our pride and joy.
While sometimes I want to shout “Yes! Get out now! Let’s build a new life!” I come to my senses and promise him that I can handle what two parents carry on the home front. It’s one of the reasons why I left my career behind so I can stay home with you. No matter how old you get, I will likely always feel a need to overcompensate for daddy’s distance so that I can try to be your steady rock. Your safe place. Your consistency.
That, and I don’t want to see him give up something he loves – something that most people in this country could never do. Mommy is proud of your daddy, and we hope you will be too someday when you’re old enough to understand.
Neither of us know how to guide you through the sacrifices ahead. I grew up in a suburb of Ohio where I kept the same friends until college. Daddy has a similar story, except in upstate New York, and it wasn’t college that pulled him from his hometown; it was boot camp.
We can only hope that the love we have built this family upon will be enough to fill your childhood with the same sense of wonder and ease that filled our childhoods.
Still, as tough as training made him and being a military spouse made me, we are weak at the knees thinking of the dreaded day you will have to learn to say, “Bye bye, daddy.” I see families around us facing these battles, and I watch quietly while swallowing the lump in my throat. I bookmark ideas to help ease the stress for you. We will get a daddy doll for you to sleep with, set up a “deployment wall” where you can countdown to his return, and I will pre-record birthday or holiday greetings so that you can hear daddy’s love for you on those times when he just can’t show it.
We know this day is coming, and we also know that it is only more reason to cherish the present. And we do. We find confidence in knowing that we will get through it just like every other military family before us has done and is doing.
That’s just it – we’re not the first. We’re not the last. We’re not alone.
Know that you are a part of something only the finest in the nation get to be a part of. When you wonder why none of your friends’ parents have to leave like daddy does, it is because his job is special. His job is to protect them. Only heroes get to do this. Your daddy is a hero, but it isn’t glamorous like the heroes you see in the movies.
I won’t pretend to we know what we are in for, and I won’t diminish the days that will be hard. On those days, we can tune out the world and eat ice cream for dinner.
I can promise you that we will get through it. Not only will we get through it, we will conquer it. Each move will be an opportunity to grow. Each goodbye will be centered on the next hello. And each day will be cherished to its fullest extent.