There were a lot of Eliza's 'firsts' that Ed missed while he was gone. She was 10 months when he left for training, and 22 months when he came back. If you've ever had a kid, you know how much happens in that small time frame.
She began walking a few weeks after he left and he didn't get to experience her first steps. He did get to come home for 4 days between his training and deployment and see her though, which was such a bittersweet moment for all of us.
You can't really tell, but there's tears in his eyes here. He walked in the door of my mom's house and she shyly toddled up to him and wrapped her arms around his neck. It was as if the 2 month he'd been gone had never happened, except for the fact that she was walking to him instead of crawling, and could clearly say "Daddy" now. Her first birthday was shared through pictures and journal entries.
Her first word was 'dada' (of course- because my kids love me like that. Eliza called me 'Bob' until she was almost 2. I only wish I were kidding.) and I can still remember her watching the videos he'd send us; him sitting alone in the cab of his wrecker, talking to the camera as if it were us. The tears welling in his eyes as he'd tell her how much he loved and missed her. I have a video I took of her watching his video, and the way she smiles from ear to ear as soon as his face comes on the screen- the way she responds, as if he can hear her, and the absolute sadness on her fact when he waves bye bye at the end. Maybe it seems cruel to do that to a kid- and who knows, maybe it was. I was more concerned about her remembering him, her keeping his face in her head so she'd know who he was the moment she laid eyes on him at the airport gates. I just didn't want her to ever forget her daddy.
I remember how many times we said we were glad she was so young while he was gone because she'd never remember and hopefully walk away unscathed from it all. Boy were we wrong.
She found the pictures I had cut out and laminated for her the other day. Somewhere in the depths of her toy box, she dug them out and came running up to me. "Look mom! It's my family! I had these when daddy was gone being a shouldjur! When I was little, like Bubbins!" The kid is an elephant- she never forgets shit. I wasn't all that surprised when Orrie got a hold of one she left on the floor and she snatched it up, screaming "No Bubbins! These are MINE!" I didn't punish her for it. I understand her desire to keep something from that time as all hers, so I couldn't imagine punishing her. I just told her to keep them in her room where he couldn't get to them.
She watched that video a few days ago- the one of her when she was little, watching her daddy's video. Within the first few seconds of the video, I watched as a normally rambunctious, sassy three year old, suddenly turned into a somber little adult. Her face clouded over and she rested her head on her shoulder- and she watched it quietly. When it was over, she asked in a small voice to watch it again. I was so overtaken by how different she was acting, I told her no- it was the past and we didn't need to worry about that anymore. She didn't press me, but she also didn't act the same for the rest of the night.
As parents, we fuck up. We make choices we later regret. I worry a lot about how all of this is effecting her, and even if I don't give things like that video enough forethought, I hope it's not fucking her up too badly. I know that I don't have to do or say anything and she'll still remember, but I don't want to hurt her by forcing her to remember too.
Orrie's milestones are hard. He'll be 10 months old next month, so everything he starts doing from that point on is new territory for Ed. They're super exciting for all of us, but it comes with a bit of sadness, as Eliza perks up and asks, "Do you remember when I was little and did that like Orrie, Daddy?!" What's there to say? Lie and hope she doesn't remember that part, or tell her the truth and risk breaking her heart?
These are things they don't teach you in the Family Readiness meetings. These are the things that catch us by surprise every day. We're 6000 miles from Iraq, and yet we continue to live inside of it in the most unexpected of ways...