For the sake of my children I knew this day was important, no matter how heart-wrenching it was going to be.
Before a deployment starts, there are a lot of training exercises that take place. We spouses often call this time the 'Home but not home' period. My husband was here, on Camp Pendleton, but away from home anywhere from three nights to three weeks, and even [at one point] 40 days. This time isn't easy on the kids, or even me, but what I feel the hardest part of these exercises is that it gives my children a false sense of security. Sure, Daddy is going away with his fellow Marines to do important training, but he's coming back in a few days.
We all know that children don't gauge the actual meaning of time well, but they can feel it. The weight of it presses on their hearts. But how do I explain this to them? We talked about it many times. Daddy is a Marine. He goes on deployment to help other families, boys and girls, around the world. My son was hearing the words. He was understanding, but I knew the magnitude of what we were trying to express to him wasn't sinking in.
I had asked friends how they had handled departures with their young children. I got answers on both sides of the scale. But one really hit me deep. One of my friends said that she takes all of her kids to the big send-off. For one, it helps them see it all on a large scale — all the families of all the Marines leaving and saying goodbye, which helps them to process what exactly is going on. Also, they do it that way because, good or bad, rain or shine, no matter what, they are a family and family sticks together.
BAM! Nail-on-the-head moment.
And that's what we did. I needed them to absorb the full magnitude of it all. We needed to do this together. We are, after all, Team Crawford. Naturally, we all bawled our eyes out. My son cried so hard he was literally cough-choking out his words through his tears. Begging his daddy not to leave. "No Daddy, you're my hero, please just stay with me!" It was all I could do to remember to just breathe.
Another mother, who's daughter's newlywed husband was also on the same deployment, approached me and gave me a huge hug. She told me how she couldn't imagine trying to go through this with three very young children, and how brave and strong I was. Strong? I was crumbling on the inside.
Of course I was going to miss my husband with every fiber of my being, but more than that, my heart ached for the pain my kids were feeling. My twin girls, 2-1/2 years old, were also soaking in the scene around them and understanding that their daddy was "goween away onna beeeeg sheeep fah fah away," and were just as heartbroken. But, we were there all together. Soon our goodbye cries were turning into hurry-home hugs. Taking a deep breath, we let him go to get on the bus that would take him to the docks, and start his deployment.
As a mother, that moment was one of the hardest I've had to go through. Tough love is never easy, but these are the realities of our lives. We are a team. A family. We support each other, and love and stay strong as a family. I wouldn't have done it any other way.
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