My grandson and I stood on the sidewalk, watching and waving as the horse-drawn carriage pulled away from the curb and into the line of traffic. Our hands were sticky from the ice cream cone we shared moments earlier.
We continued waving while the carriage, filled with passengers, none of whom we knew, bounced its way down the cobblestone street. I heard the tour guide introduce himself before pointing in our direction. “Did you see that toddler waving to us. He doesn’t realize it, but his daddy is coming home today after being deployed for two months…”
Tears pooled in my eyes. The thought of our son and the sacrifice his family makes with each deployment threatened to overwhelm me. I picked up my grandson, wiped his hands and put him in the stroller. We had approximately thirty minutes left to wait.
As I strolled my grandson along the Riverwalk, I couldn’t help but wonder if our daughter-in-law was enjoying her cruise up the Cape Fear River on our son’s cutter (Coast Guard vessel). Early that morning, she and a few other women joined their husbands downstream. Riding on the cutter was a special opportunity.
I vigilantly counted the minutes, watching for any sign of the cutter’s return. My heart soared when I saw a fireboat pass under the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, shooting celebratory streams of water into the air. Quickly, I gathered my grandson into my arms and pointed to the ship following the fireboat.
“Your daddy is home,” I said, my voice thick with tears.
At first, my grandson looked confused. Then, he began to squeal, “Dada’s boat home. Dada’s boat home.” The tears I squelched all morning ran down my cheeks, unchecked. Despite the passing years, these tears are still fresh in my memory.
The core needs of our military families are no different than those of our non-military families. All families need security and stability. The members of our armed forces AND their families sacrifice both to protect our freedom.
Military families with a strong support system handle subsequent moves, deployments and fear of the unknown better than those without support. This is where grandparents have the opportunity to step in and lend a helping hand.
Time and experience, plus numerous blunders on my part, have taught me that as military grandparents, we need to be knowledgeable, available, encouraging, generous and faith-filled.
The draft or active conscription ended when an all-volunteer force was established in 1973; consequently, many of us are unacquainted with the ways of the military.
Did you know that each branch of the armed forces has its own language, complete with acronyms like MRE (Meals Ready to Eat: A vacuum-sealed meal with a long shelf life)? In fact, everyday words take on a new meaning. For example, sandbox doesn’t refer to a child’s playground, and the head isn’t a body part. The sandbox is Iraq or Afghanistan, and the head is the bathroom.
To help those who serve in the military, we must attempt to understand their world. We start by asking engaging and informed questions.
A visit from grandma and grandpa normally boosts everyone’s spirits, especially during moves or deployments. I try to visit once a month when our son is gone. The frequency is dependent, of course, on the distance I need to travel.
When I visit, I offer to bathe our grandchildren, read them bedtime stories, unload the dishwasher, fold laundry, babysit or anything else our daughter-in-law asks of me. I remind myself that I’m not there to take charge; I am there to serve. I also try to be a source of encouragement. I often remind our grandchildren that their father is doing an important job, helping people who are lost at sea.
My husband and I understand that one of the best ways we can love our son is to be available for his family while he is underway. We always remind him that we will be there ASAP if an emergency arises.
Many military families have financial struggles. The spouse who is left at home often has trouble finding a job. Employees are hesitant to hire military spouses because they move so often. Therefore, I recommend that grandparents offer to pay for a month of childcare, treat to a week of groceries or purchase new shoes for their grandchildren.
Whenever our son and his family move to a new duty station, I check to see if the books from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library are available in their area. These books are age-appropriate, delivered monthly free of charge and give children something to look forward to.
Normal childhood fears, such as fear of the dark or fear of thunderstorms, escalate when families move to a new duty station or a parent deploys.
One way to alleviate our grandchildren’s fears is to teach them that our heavenly Father is always with them. He is the Good Shepherd who promises never to leave them nor forsake them (Joshua 1:9, Deuteronomy 31:8). Another way is to let them know that we are interceding for them every day and to teach them how to pray.
I love reading bedtime stories with our grandchildren and tucking them in bed at night. I use this time to talk about God’s love and to give them the Aaronic (or Levitical) blessing:
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn His face toward you and give you His peace.”
One Final Note:
Yesterday, while writing this blog, I received a text from our daughter-in-law. Though brief, her message spoke volumes. “Just got him,” it said. I smiled at the picture she sent. It was a photograph of our son, still in uniform, cradling his daughter in one arm and embracing his sons in the other arm.
“Thank you, God,” I whispered, “for once again bringing Dada’s boat home.’”