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The Ones Left Behind

By Anita Tedaldi

My husband left us again. For the next few months it’ll be me and our five daughters, ranging in age from 8 years old to 6 months, while he serves Uncle Sam. We are a military family and after years of deployments, I still find my husband’s coming and going -- mostly going -- challenging.

I think I overcompensate for his absence by keeping everyone busy, including our pets who end up in some type of obedience class, when my husband is gone. As for keeping my children occupied, each of them is in sports, and two are on competitive teams. We go to lots of community events, we see friends near and far, and we travel to neighboring towns to visit museums or farms that allow kids to play with some of the animals -- heck, I even managed to go to Disney World on my own with the girls and returned unharmed.

But I don’t just fill our schedules. I also try to help my daughters deal with their own emotions when dad is gone. When they cry because he can’t be home for their birthday party, or for one of their sports competitions, I tell them that he is also very sad he can’t be here, but that they have lots of great things to enjoy and people who love them. I share how much he misses them, and they write letters, they draw pictures and even make little videos for him. My focus is entirely on helping my daughters.

I almost never stop to think about my own emotions. I hide them with an "everything is fine" mask that I wear for others and even for my own husband when he calls from overseas.

I take off my mask only when I say goodbye to him before a deployment.

Things are different then. It’s the only time when I’m the one driving while we are both in the car. I think symbolically my husband is giving me command of our home and of his car while he’s gone. I don’t make small talk or pretend that I’m fine. When we get to our destination he unloads the dark bags and desert gear and we lightly kiss, our lips barely touching. The sound of his dog tags jars my ears with many fears about him getting hurt, and I press my wedding band to his, our little ritual reminding us that we love each other and that we’re a team, even though we’ll be apart. With as much steadiness in my voice as I can muster, I tell him that I wouldn’t change anything, not even one detail of our lives, that I’d do it all over again, and that no matter what happens I have no regrets. I’ll be waiting for him to get back.

Then we part ways. I get back in the car, turn on the engine and almost in unison with its rumbling I sob. When I wipe my tears I’ve made it back home. My eyes are red and puffy, but I slowly put on my "everything is fine" mask. Maybe it’s not even a mask but simply a different side of who I am, my rational mind ready to get to work.

My children and I have our own ritual. From the kitchen wall, we take down our large calendar and mark the first X of many to come until my husband returns.

And when he does, we get ready to do it all over again.


Anita Tedaldi is a freelance journalist who writes the blog Ovolina. Her husband is in the U.S. Air Force. If you are interested in guest blogging for On Parenting, please e-mail parenting@washingtonpost.com

By Stacey Garfinkle |  January 23, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Guest Blogs
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Comments


Anita, you obviously have the strength of ten women and twenty men. I hope that you have people around you to help out and give you much needed breaks from time to time. God bless you and good luck.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | January 23, 2009 7:54 AM | Report abuse

Anita,

As long time readers of this blog and that other On ..... know, I am a strong supporter of the military and its families. I never had the challenge of a spousal deployment, my military days were long before my marriage. I can only speak from the viewpoint of a solider being deployed and a parent of a child being deployed. The time that my daughter was in the desert was about the second toughest period Frieda and I have had as parents. I just cannot image the challenges of the spouse left behind and the strength needed. I offer my best wishes to your family and hope for a speedy and joyful return.


Posted by: Fred_and_Frieda | January 23, 2009 8:14 AM | Report abuse

Anita, you have my utmost respect and admiration. This, for military families, is the way of life - you sound very much like my mother did when my father left for Korea and Vietnam and other deployments. Keep it up; be strong for the kids. Always take time to take care of your self, and please make use of any and all of the support services out there. God bless you and your family.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | January 23, 2009 8:30 AM | Report abuse

The families are truly the unsung heros! Without your love and support, these brave men and women could not do what they do to keep us safe and free. So, thank you to you and your children for giving up time with your family so that we can freely enjoy time with ours! And thank you for the reminder of what's really important.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | January 23, 2009 8:58 AM | Report abuse

Your husband is an American hero. However, don't forget that you and your family are also heros!

Thank you for sharing your uplifting story with us.

Posted by: ishgebibble | January 23, 2009 9:04 AM | Report abuse

Picking up the thread from yesterday, I challenge almost any mom to a dad info throw-down.

Give the nicknames of teachers your spouse had for all of his teachers K thru 12. (Hint: blue hair and stinky would be 2.)
Name the name of hubby's bowling ball, golf clubs and his--uh-never mind on this one, you know it.
Give the phone number of your hubby's bookie and/or barber. (Hint, probably the same guy named Tony.)
Give the birthday of hubby's ex, his dog, his car and the last beer he drank.
Tell the actual size of his underwear, not the size he buys.
Ginger or Mary Ann?
List 5 women he would drop everything for and run away with forever (yea, in his dreams) Scarlett Johansson is probably on the list if not one thru five.
Name the tool that he just had to have and that would do most any repair in the house. But it is still in its original box.

Posted by: Fred_and_Frieda | January 23, 2009 9:52 AM | Report abuse

My BIL is in the army, and has been overseas twice. The second time my SIL was pregnant (he was, thankfully, able to be here for the birth). I don't know how people do it - not only is spouse away, they are in dangerous situations. Hail to the military families. Thank you for allowing your families to go through all of this, for the safety of our country. To serve our country. Nothing is more honorable.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 23, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Wow Anita. Sounds like your life is incredibly fulfilling. Great for those of you that have the spunk. Six females under a single roof? Oh boy, just wait until your kids turn into teenagers, you might want to consider hiring a referee.

It's hard for me to believe that you hide your emotions. I've never met an Italian that could actually do that. Great writing!

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | January 23, 2009 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Wow, Anita. You are a strong woman. You and your family sacrifice a lot for all of us and we are greatful. I have 5 girls, ages 2-10, and when my husband travels for business I usually start tearing my hair out on day 3. I have a lot of respect for what you do everyday.

Posted by: thosewilsongirls | January 23, 2009 7:53 PM | Report abuse

Great column...and so true. I like the mask metaphor a lot. I think a lot of us who've gone through "temporary" lossess of deployments, know what that mask is about. now if you could find a way to sell them....

Great column -- Hang in There!

Posted by: Pave429 | January 24, 2009 2:27 AM | Report abuse

What a model of resilience you are for your children! They will learn from you how to handle adversity in their lives. Hang in there.
coach jamie www.myparentingsource.com

Posted by: coachjamie | January 26, 2009 9:24 AM | Report abuse

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