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How to communicate what you don’t know the words to say

Submitted by on Monday, 3 May 2010 2 Comments

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, Boots got to read his father the riot act via Skype this weekend.

“Why did you join the Army?” Boots asked the pixelated father on the computer screen. “I don’t want you in the Army.”

Dad chuckled appreciatively at his son’s adamance. “I joined the Army so I could help people here, and so I can take care of you. So you’ll have money to buy toys and food.”

“I can get toys from my toy box,” said Boots, who’s never before in his life wavered at the prospect of new playthings. “We have food in the refrigerator. I want you in the Army at Fort Irwin, not Afghanistan.”

It was cathartic for Boots, who has struggled to find ways to convey his loneliness. He’s at an age when he knows something doesn’t feel right, but he doesn’t quite know how to voice the unease let alone find ways to deal with it.

With Big Guy, it was easy last year. He carried his dad’s weighty Camelbak to school, and he watched the Lakers win, knowing it was making Dad happy.

Big Guy has more history with Dad, though. Boots was only three and a half when Dad left for basic training, and Dad’s been gone more often than he’s been around since that day. The Daddy Dolls and posters Boots crafted have helped some, but he’s still too often at sea, tossed about on violent wave after wave of feelings he can’t explain.

In many ways it’s set him back years emotionally, as he’s displayed stereotypical Terrible Twos behavior that he never displayed when he actually was 2. He’s started hitting. He throws things. He’s defiant.

Not all the time, mind you. He’s mostly still the happy-go-lucky boy he’s always been, except for an hour each day. That hour, though, seems even more extreme given the contrast to the way he used to be.

“Mommy, I miss Daddy,” he explains post-tantrum.

It’s an explanation, but not an excuse. He’s heard big people – teachers, other parents – nod knowingly and whisper “his dad’s deployed” often enough that he tries to use it to reason away everything, including the times when he’s bent on putting the “brat” in “military brat.”

Brush your teeth.

Mommy, I miss Daddy.

Turn off the Wii.

Mommy, I miss Daddy.

Take your vitamin.

Mommy, I miss Daddy.

We’ve talked about why Daddy’s in Afghanistan, though 4-year-olds can’t grasp that someone is taking care of them by being away. I’ve explained that the best thing we can do while he’s gone is to be happy with each other because that’s what Daddy wants.

Missing Daddy comes in waves, too. Boots struggled back in January but seemed to find an even keel for a while.  Lately, though, he’s been adrift again.

“Mommy, El is sad because his mommy and daddy are in the Army and he misses them,” Boots said recently as he brought his elephant to me for a hug.

“I know, babes. El’s mommy and daddy are away because they’re working hard for him.”

“He’s still sad because his daddy never gets to see him do karate,” Boots replied.

“What if we take the camera to his next class? We can send his dad a video so he’ll be able to watch.”

“Pictures, too?”

“Pictures, too!”

So tonight I’ll tote the camera gear to the guys’ karate class so Dad can see what his boys are learning.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we’ll once again be able to make the world a little smaller. Hopefully it will make a little boy a bit happier, too.

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • Leslie K said:

    I downloaded SKYPE onto my iphone and have no idea how to use it. I did discover I have to get a webcamera for the computer at home or it doesn’t really work the way we want it to work.


  • Debra said:

    I haven’t even tried it on my Blackberry — I’m thinking there’s no need since I get NO signal here!

    You can get a decent Web cam for not very much. I think I only paid about $30 for the one for the guys’ computer. The one on my computer cost more, but I justified that by saying that we use it more often. They’re both Logitech, and I really like them. You CAN do Skype with just audio, though.