“Mommy,” Natalie said, frowning at the uniformed man who came to pick up his daughter at preschool. “Why is he here and Daddy is in Korea?”
My heart squeezed. How to you explain deployments to a three-year-old? She understands that her Daddy had to go away for work and will be away for a long time. But sometimes, her tiny mind doesn’t compute the exact reason why.
“That Daddy is here because he didn’t have to go to Korea,” I said gently, pulling up one of Natalie’s socks that had slipped down around her ankles. “But your Daddy did.”
Natalie stared as her friend ran into her Daddy’s arms. “I miss my Daddy,” she said. “Is he coming home soon?”
I bit my lower lip. “No, baby. He won’t be home until August. But we should be able to talk to him on the computer later.”
Natalie’s shoulders sagged. “Alright.” While she loves talking to her Daddy via Skype, it’s not the same. She and her Daddy used to do a lot together. He’d come home and scoop her into his arms, pressing kisses on her cheeks. “How’s my girl?” Tom would shout as Natalie giggled happily. Natalie would snuggle onto Tom’s lap and they’d watch boring World War 2 programs on The Military Channel. I’m not sure if Natalie was fully amused by these shows, but she was always content on her Daddy’s lap, resting against his chest.
I try to cuddle with her and she lets me for a little bit, but then slides off. My chest isn’t like Daddy’s, it’s just not the same.
When we got home, Natalie sat on the couch, her mind remaining on the fact that her friend still had her Daddy around. I managed to cheer her up a bit, and she actually cracked a smile.
But then something happened, she hit her head, she banged her knee, I wasn’t quite sure. Suddenly she was screaming, howling, and I hugged her close as she sobbed, “I want my Daddy.”
“Me too,” I answered. “I want him too. But we have to be strong, okay? He wouldn’t want us to be sad.”
Natalie sniffled as a tear slipped down her cheek.
“Is there anything you want to do? To help you feel closer to Daddy? Maybe draw a picture?” I pressed.
Natalie thought about it for a second. “I want to swing.”
I glanced out the window. The wind was howling, rattling them. At best, it was thirty degrees. “I’m not sure if—” Natalie’s hopeful face stared back at me. “You know what? Okay. Let’s swing.”
We slipped on our winter jackets, put hats on our heads, slipped gloves over our hands and then made our way to the park.
A genuine smile appeared on Natalie’s face when she spotted the swing. She ran to it, pigtails flapping against the back of her neck. She scrambled onto it and I began to push her, ignoring the bitter cold. Yeah, it might have been uncomfortable standing out there as the wind brushed against my cheeks.
But Natalie was laughing. And as I pushed her up towards the sky, she waved her legs around and shouted, “I’m getting closer to Daddy, aren’t I Mommy?”
“Yes, baby, you are.”
After swinging, we returned home and Natalie said she was going to draw a picture. A few minutes later she handed me a drawing that looked like a bunch of squiggly lines. But she pointed seriously and said, “That’s me. Swinging. I was getting closer to Daddy. Can we send this to him?”
I felt a lump form in my throat. “Of course we can, Natalie. I’m sure he’ll love this drawing.”