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Reintegration: It's Not Just for Servicemembers

My husband is getting ready to leave soon for a long-ish TDY, and I know everything there is to know about getting our three-year-old daughter ready for his departure. I got coloring books at the Army Community Service called "When My Parent Has To Go Away." I dug up our old book that our previous ACS gave us, called "I'm Here For You." I have been gradually preparing her for our first family separation since she was too little to notice, and talking up all the fun things we're going to do when he returns.

In the meantime, I had to leave town for three and a half weeks for medical reasons. And I utterly and completely failed to realize that my absence is just as traumatic as my husband's.

It's one of those cases where I have had Army buzzwords like "reintegration" drilled into my head...but I forget that those issues relate to non-Army circumstances as well. I think we are so trained to notice the effects that military life might have on our families that sometimes we forget that "regular life" is not always a simple linear path.

We have been lucky that our daughter has always been a good sleeper. She doesn't fight bedtime, rarely wakes in the night, and pops out of bed singing. But the day I returned from my trip, she became a sobbing mess any time I left the room. No matter how many times I promised her otherwise, she was completely paranoid that I would leave her bedroom and go back to Walter Reed. She's been sobbing at bedtime, waking frequently, and sobbing in the morning too. And pretty much clinging to me during her waking hours as well. Plus, all of her stuffed animals are sad because their Mommies and Daddies left them.

I was completely unprepared for this.

In hindsight, I can't believe how foolish I was to not expect this. I know that when Daddy leaves and returns, there might be all kinds of issues. But I never saw myself as "deploying" or needing a "reintegration" with my child. And while I was gone, she seemed fine. She was having fun with her grandmother and barely looked at me when we'd Skype. She seemed happy and healthy and no worse for wear. (Other than a little spoiled. Oh my, a month with just a doting grandma...)

I have been back a week, and things are getting a little better. She's starting to sob less frequently, and she's stopped saying "I missed you very much at Washington DC" in every other conversation. But now we only have one more week before Daddy leaves for his TDY, and I am dreading how this might throw us out of whack again.

I just can't believe I didn't see this coming. Despite how educated I was on how children react when the servicemember parent leaves, I completely failed to apply the same lessons to my own absence.

I definitely should've grabbed two coloring books at ACS!

Photo by SGT Michael MacLeod, courtesy of the US Army

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