Recently my husband deployed for the first time. We have been preparing for this deployment for months, but I was still nervous about how the first day would go down. Would I be a mess of tears? Or would I be completely stoic? Would our two-year-old understand what was happening? Had we prepared him to the best of our abilities? Here is what Day One of deployment looked like for our family.
The night before he left, we gave Hadden his “Daddy Doll” and to explain again what would be happening the next day. I’ll write more about the Daddy Doll another time and about the other ways we prepared Hadden. For now I’ll just say that the moment he saw the doll he said, “Dada!!” and reached out for it. He was thrilled. For our son, who is speech delayed, is was clear that he loved the doll.
I didn’t sleep well that night as we’d been sick for weeks and I was restless knowing what the next morning would bring. At 4:15am I decided to stop trying to fight sleep and started getting ready for the day. I had a quiet few moments downstairs while my husband was getting ready.
While alone in the kitchen I started pulling down the pieces of our gratitude wall. I plan to redo it with Hadden while Caleb is away (I’ll write more on that another time) and I wanted a fresh start. The bare wall was a stark reminder of the change that was about to happen in our family.
Since Caleb was leaving from the airport, instead of from our base, we had to be out the door early. We ended up having to wake Hadden up in order to leave on time. We had spent a lot of time discussing whether or not Hadden and I should go to the airport with Caleb. There were so many reasons why it made sense for us to stay home, but in the end I thought that Hadden needed to be there to say goodbye and to see what happened. I wanted to make it clear to him that this day was different than normal days when Caleb leaves to go to work. I’m SO glad we made the decision to go.
When we got to the airport, we parked the car so Hadden and I could help Caleb carry his bags. Once inside, Caleb took Hadden on a ride up and down the escalator. He adores the escalator so it was made me happy to see them making one last happy memory before Caleb left. When they were finished we quickly hugged and kissed goodbye and I turned to walk out. That’s when I cried for the first time that day. Hadden turned around and waved goodbye, but I kept walking. Both Caleb and I knew that we’d rather not prolong the goodbye and that other people from his squadron would be showing up soon. We’d rather do it quickly and privately than drag out the inevitable. Plus I wanted Caleb to get mentally prepared to leave and not have to worry about us. We’d already talked everything over so much in the past few weeks. I’d slipped a letter into his carry-on and he’d left notes for Hadden and me in our kitchen. There wasn’t much left to be said.
From the airport Hadden and I went to Chick-Fil-A (his favorite!). I planned this so that we would have somewhere to go and he would have something to look forward to as we left Caleb. On the ride home Hadden started asking “Dada? Dada?”. Each time I would remind him that Daddy was deploying and that he was getting on a plane.
We ran some errands before we headed to Hadden’s speech therapy. On the way home from speech, Hadden fell asleep in the car. I think waking him up that morning had something to do with that! I let him sleep in the car while I unloaded some things. But when I walked inside, the first thing I saw were the letters that Caleb left for us. I couldn’t make it through them without crying again.
Hadden and I spent the rest of the day cleaning and organizing. I just wanted to stay busy, so we steam cleaned the carpets, did the laundry and cleaned out the fridge. It was cleansing to begin this new stage in our lives with a clean house.
In a big way, the first day of deployment was a relief. We had known about this day and been dreading it for so long. And that was miserable. At least now we can countdown until we will be reunited.
All day long it was the little things that made me tear up. His coats, missing from our coat rack. The way he (as always) including the numbers of days we’ve been married in my note. Picking up the phone to ask him about dinner only to remember he wasn’t going to be there. Answering the questions of where “Dada” was for the fifteenth time.
But mingled throughout this hard day was the encouragement that comes from friends. I have a great support system in friends and family and that day they let me know it. So many people texted or called to see how we were doing. Everyone reminded me that if I needed anything, I just needed to ask. My sister and her family had sent a box a couple days earlier for Hadden and I to open that day, just so we’d have something to look forward to.
When evening finally came and Hadden was in bed, I crawled into my own bed, exhausted from our weeks of sickness and from a long day. My room felt empty and quiet. I missed my husband being there with me. Still, I knew that it was my new normal. My bed wasn’t empty for long though. A few hours after I fell asleep, my son woke up crying. I brought him into my bed and he quickly fell back asleep. He didn’t come alone either – my bed had a two year old, a Daddy Doll and a stuffed doggy, not to mention a plethora of pillows.
This is our new normal. It’s taking a bit of getting used to. We’re still trying to find the best ways (and times) to talk online. I’m getting the hang of extra duties around the house, like putting the garbage out of the right day.
It is not what I would have chosen. But I think we can make this new normal work and I think we will learn and grow as a result.
- What did your first day of deployment look like?
- Do you have any tips for us?