My husband left not too long ago on another military deployment, and we are in the season of separation. I wish I could say that it gets easier.
When my husband left this time around it was tough. Saying goodbye pregnant with a two-year old in tow has a way of pulling at the heartstrings. Our apartment felt a bit lonely. Maybe just empty. It was apparent an integral part of our lives was missing. Surprisingly though, much of our day to day routine stayed consistent and familiar. From days at the park to mealtimes with mommy, things were running smoothly in our home. My son was taking this military deployment like a champ.
He took it like a champ right until bedtime each night.
And then he struggled.
I would go through his regular bedtime routine. He got the same bath with lots of bubbles that he always does. He loved splashing the water everywhere but the bathtub. He loved watching me clean it up with a towel, telling him to keep the water in the bath tub. He thought it was hilarious, and I’m pretty sure it was the highlight of his day most evenings. He got the same jammies and song that he always does, followed by a few stories and a drink of milk. Life was good.
Then I’d take him to his room and do this ridiculously awesome deep breathing thing to help him calm down and fall asleep fast. And just like always, I would tell him to lay down while I covered him up and quietly closed the door behind me.
Normally he would fall asleep and I wouldn’t hear a peep.
Instead every night from the start of the deployment I would hear, “Mama, mama.” I honestly wasn’t surprised. Having his dad leave without understanding why or what exactly was happening is a tough situation for a 2 year old. I can only imagine it feels ambivalent, unfamiliar and confusing. It’s hard to really know, especially when he only speaks about 10 words from the English language.
His voice was saying “Mama,” but his tone was communicating “I need you.” Again, none of this was surprising.
What did surprised me was the life lesson that followed.
In the following days, I started changing things up a bit with the bedtime routine. Instead of simply laying him down alone in his crib, I decided we should lay down together. His room contained both a twin bed and a crib, and each night after his bedtime routine, I would flop him into the twin bed, lying down right along with him.
He would lay on his right side sucking his right thumb, and I would lay snuggled up right behind him. Each night ever-so-gently, he would take his left hand and stroke my cheek, as if to say “Mommy I’m so glad you’re here.” Sometimes he would turn over, look me in the eye, and rub my hair. It was honestly the sweetest thing in the whole world. It was beyond innocent—a 2 year old opening his heart during a time of need to show love. Just pure wholesome unconditional love.
After 5 – 10 minutes of lying together each night, I told him it was time for bed and I would lay him down again in his crib. He was quiet, peaceful and happy. There were no cries for “Mama” or anything else conveying a legitimate need.
And each night after adapting our routine to create our new normal, I felt an overwhelming peace myself.
I learned the most important deployment lesson of all.
I am not always the teacher to my child. Sometimes I am the student. Sometimes he teaches me to adapt and change. Sometimes he teaches me to open my heart. Sometime he teaches me that I need a snuggle and someone to rub my hair and stroke my cheek.
And sometimes he teaches me that I need him as much as he needs me.
Those before bedtime cuddles brought us together. It gave us a special moment each day to really reconnect. To remember that when life feels tough, you have each other to carry you through. To remember that when you are struggling through deployment, you can rely on those you love the most.
No matter how unconventional it may seem.
No matter how bizarre it sounds.
Sometimes it’s the youngest people who are capable of teaching us the greatest life lessons.
Keeping your 2 year old engaged:
Want more on military deployments?
- The Thing You Miss Most During Deployment
- 25+ Self-Improvement Ideas to Do During a Military Deployment
- How to Stay Sane and Happily Married During Deployment
- 10 Things Military Spouses Won’t Tell You About Deployment
What’s the most important lesson you learned during a military deployment? Let’s chat in the comments!
What a tear-jerker, Lauren. I’ve always thought that a young child’s routine could be healthy and good for a parent while the other parent was downrange, but I never could have imagined how much a two-year-old could have taught his mom during that time. Great post!
Ha. Oh no! It certainly isn’t my intention to make readers cry…eeps! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, Melissa.
Hi, we have our daddy at home, it just sometimes happens that he arrives from work after our little one’s bed time but the cuddles before bed are and always have been a must 🙂 I can’t imagine it any other way 🙂
Our last deployment was our most tumultuous, and one where I learned the most lessons. My oldest turned two while my husband was gone on that particular one. I get a little knotted up inside just thinking about the roller coaster of emotions we went through together, and it continued after his return for a while because neither of our relationships with my husband were quite the same as they were before he left.
Yes. Totally understand that and relate. It’s encouraging to know other spouses are experiencing something the same challenges.
Rachel @ A Mother Far from Home
So lovely. I’ve found out this to. 10 minutes if cuddles makws a world of difference
Yes. Sometimes that is all they need!
Oh what a wonderful Mom you are! Both of you need extra cuddles when Daddy is gone, Peace and safety for your family.
You are too kind. Thank you so much for the well wishes!
I love this post. So beautiful and you’re right that sometimes it is the littlest of hearts that teach us important lessons.
Yes. I totally agree on the little hearts!
Thank you for this article. I needed to read this! We are going to speak to a recruiter tomorrow, and I am incredibly nervous about how life will be on myself and my children (we have a 2 year old and 1 month old) will be. We want what’s best for our family, and we think this may be it. We are a very close knit family, so this is very new for us. We aren’t sure what to expect, and I don’t know how my son will handle his daddy not being home as much. Kids are resilient, but that doesn’t make certain times any less stressful on them. Again, thank you for the article! I was about in tears myself!
Thank you for this article. My husband recently deployed for our first deployment with a child, who is now 2 1/2. Although I slept trained him young and he has always done well with naps/bed time, the last couple of weeks have been like you described, even though my husband has been gone longer than that. Although I have a bed for him, I haven’t transitioned him out of his crib yet, so he has been falling asleep in my arms in the recliner, or I have been lying down on his floor while he falls back asleep in the middle of the night . It breaks my heart and I do it because I know he needs it. I am not complaining about the extra cuddles either. I’m just wondering if it caused any issues with you son. I’m afraid that in the future he will only be able to sleep if I’m in the room with him or if he is in my arms. Did this last throughout his whole deployment, or was it just a few weeks, or here and there? We still have another 11 months to go.
This post really hit home. My son”s bedtime routine has totally changed since my husband left. At first I was constantly fighting him to get back into bed. I even talked to my pediatrician on base about it. She recommended not fighting and letting him snuggle. It has seriously been the best thing for our bedtime without daddy. Thank you for opening your life and sharing that.