This post originally appeared in the August 19, 2009 edition of The Flagship.
By Vivian Greentree
My husband recently deployed (I say recently because my donut of misery still has too much green on it to say anything else … still it feels like forever!) and I have been doing all the typical stuff for trying to keep my kids connected with their dad through our normal routines.
For instance, we are on a care package schedule now, wherein my oldest, MJ, practices his writing skills in telling dad what he’s done and the youngest, Walker, displays his ability to draw circles and color them in. There is always a golf magazine that my oldest saves from the mail with a reverence that is almost comical – “I get to be the one who puts it in the box,” he says. And, I think the only sacred box of cookies in the house, the only box that isn’t in danger of being raided by grubby little hands on the sly, is the one that has been earmarked for dad. Always Chips-Ahoy (not enough chocolate to melt but enough to make a good cookie). Oh, and his special hair gel. My military man knows how to look good even in the desert thank you very much!
So, thinking about what to put in our care packages has become a running point of interest with me and the boys – “NO! Daddy does not want you to send him that frog. NO! Not even if you put it in water on the way over!” We also read We Serve Too! (www.weservetoo.com) before bedtime a lot. I found that particular book when an organization I’m a part of, Blue Star Families, held a Books on Bases, Smiles on Faces program here in Virginia Beach for our local military families. The National Guard representative who came had a slew of books aimed at helping military children cope with the challenges of having a deployed parent. I have found it to be invaluable in starting conversations with MJ, who’s 5, about his feelings of missing his dad. And, it shows him that he and his brother are serving in their own way – as children in a military family – which allows him to replace some of that anger he has towards missing his dad with the pride of being a military child who is working hard in his own special way.
And now, I have just added another tactic for getting through this deployment (while retaining my sanity!) which has proven to be quite the hit in our house. A few weeks ago, I was introduced to an idea by a military spouse friend in Florida who told me she has a friend who has been carrying her deployed boyfriend’s picture around on a stick. I know, sounds odd. Like a warped version of a blow up doll date. However, she has been taking pictures of herself with her “flat Stanley” at all the fun places she goes and then puts them up on her blog for her friends and family, and most importantly, Stanley, to see. Flat Stanley has been to baseball games, a friend’s baby shower (probably glad he actually wasn’t there in person for that particular one!), out to dinner, and to the pool. I decided to try it out for myself. So, MJ and I picked a picture of my husband and enlarged it. Given my lack of craftiness (though surely I must be given points for ingenuity) we used what would otherwise be known as a barbecue skewer to tape his picture to. Oh yeah, and given our tendencies towards water play, we laminated it.
MJ calls it ‘dad on a stick.’ And, since his creation, DOAS has been biking with us, on a picnic, and to the pool. He’s peered over MJ’s shoulder while MJ was working on his letters, gone to Habachi with us, and he’s even tagged along to “George Washington DC” on our trip to the Smithsonian (he was the only one in the car who didn’t complain during the six hour trip home, when we got stuck in traffic).
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The pictures we take I send to Mike. It gives him a pictorial of what we are doing and allows him a window into our world. He says it is bittersweet – obviously it makes him wish it was he who was actually here helping MJ with his school work or even here being trapped in the car with us during horrible traffic instead of a paper version of himself. Still, he says he enjoys the whole process and seeing what we are doing, even telling me new places he wants DOAS to go (to a Pearl Jam concert is one that has been mentioned). And, MJ and Walker are all about finding outrageous new scenarios for DOAS to be involved with, especially as they try to show dad what they want to do with him when he gets home. Last week, when I had class, MJ asked our babysitter if DOAS could help make Mac and Cheese with them. Accordingly, in this most recent care package, there is a picture of MJ holding DOAS while he helps stir the macaroni with the carefully printed message of, “We’ll eat Mac and Cheese when you get home! You can use my Spiderman bowl!”
So, if you have a deployed spouse and are looking for a fun summer project to do with your kids, why not make a DOAS (or a MOAS)? While he doesn’t compare with his living, breathing counterpart, at least he’ll be able to invoke some of the comical, yet poignant moments that help get us through these long separations. Plus, unlike his real-life counterpart, my DOAS agrees with everything I say!
Vivian Greentree lives in Chesapeake, VA and is the Membership Director of Blue Star Families. She is also on the Governor’s Commission for Nation and Community Service. If you’d like to get involved with BSF, contact Vivian at firstname.lastname@example.org.