Parenting Is the Ultimate Leadership Challenge
I waved goodbye to my son, Isaac, as I stood in the airport security line fighting the inevitable. He was exactly five months old that day, and I didn't want him to see me cry. I thought that if I cried, he might too. The elderly lady behind me in line was observing the goodbyes and my fight against the tears. She tried to say something comforting, but her words had no effect.
I made it through security before the emotions overwhelmed me. My husband held me close as we sat waiting for our flight back home to Fort Drum, NY. In a week, we would be deploying with the Army's 10th Mountain Division to Iraq. Our son would be staying with his grandparents for about 15 months.
For 15 months, I watched my son grow up through pictures. His grandmother was faithful in sending them frequently. When we could call, she let him listen to us on the phone, and eventually he talked to us too. Every day she showed him a picture of us and told him that we were his mommy and daddy, and that we were coming back for him one day. Somehow, even though we weren't there, his first word was "dada."
Like his first word, we missed a lot of things: crawling, learning to walk, the transition from bottles to table food, and so many other things. Isaac spent his first Christmas and first Thanksgiving without us, but by the grace of God, we were blessed to be able to visit for his first birthday during our two weeks of R&R (rest and relaxation).
When we finally returned home from the deployment, we felt out of place. People mentioned news stories, movies, TV shows, and books that we had never heard of before, and the radio was full of unfamiliar songs. Isaac felt unfamiliar too. He was 20 months old and he had changed from a cooing, squirming infant into a running, talking toddler. Grandma told lots of stories about him that we had never heard before either. Those first few months seemed like a constant revelation of things we had missed. When we reflect back, we often feel like those months are missing from our life, like a photo album that lost a few pages or a movie with an important scene cut out. It's an odd sensation because we can remember all of our deployment experiences so well, but the rest of life moved on without us.
We were worried about our transition back to normal family life. We knew that Isaac would miss his grandparents after living with them for so long. We were also worried about all the other changes: a new house, a new daycare, new friends, and a new church. Most important, he would have to adjust to our parenting style and rules. One of God's blessings was that he adjusted far better than we could have imagined. We had to be patient and ease him into things, but he was a happy-go-lucky child who was mostly unaffected by the wholesale changes in his life. We dealt with some separation anxiety and a few behavior adjustments in daycare, but on the whole things went smoothly.