"taleS froM the trencheS

National Guard wife blogging about her adventures with three sons and the unexpected joys of Smith-Magenis Syndrome (SMS)
....um, yes. They are tears of joy. Really.

Our Squad

Our Squad

Friday, April 30, 2010

A New Daddy

My husband Charlie was deployed for twelve months with the Ohio Army National Guard in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. A long separation is difficult for all families, but because we have a child with Smith-Magenis Syndrome, I felt especially overwhelmed. Garrett requires physical therapy for his low muscle tone, occupational therapy for his sensory issues and speech therapy for his speech delay and feeding problems. It was difficult to juggle all of these responsibilities and still tend to our two younger sons, Patrick and Brennan. After only one month into the deployment, I was beginning to feel pulled in three different directions.
Although he was eight, Garrett had no concept of time and believed Daddy could be walking through the door at any moment. When Daddy did not come home, Garrett cried off and on, throughout the day. Patrick, our kindergartener, knew exactly how long twelve months would be and he teared up at any mention of a holiday, school program or family event that Dad would miss. Brennan, age four, was ready to replace Charlie with any man that passed by. I had to continually reiterate that our Daddy would be coming home and that we were not shopping for a new one.
Finally, a “Carrie Wednesday” rolled around, the day we went to Children’s Hospital to visit Garrett’s favorite friend, the occupational therapist. The waiting room had a TV that played Disney movies and a magazine rack full of good reads. All four of us looked forward to “Carrie Wednesdays”.
As soon as we entered the building, Garrett grabbed Carrie’s hand and happily skipped off ready to go “play”. Patrick sat on the floor in front of the television playing “101 Dalmatians” and I was thrilled to find the latest issue of “Better Homes and Gardens”. I sat down in a chair ready for a whole hour of uninterrupted reading. I did not notice Brennan pointing to another parent on the opposite side of the room. “Look!” he shouted. “It’s an Army guy! Maybe he can be our new Daddy.”
Quickly, I scooped him up into my lap. “Use your indoor voice, Brennan,” I told him. “And it is not nice to point at someone.” I glanced at the man with a buzz haircut. He was flipping through a copy of “Sports Illustrated”, pretending not to notice us. “He is not an Army guy. He just has short hair. And remember,” I said swallowing the lump in my throat, “we are not going to get another Daddy. We already have a Daddy and that is the Daddy we are going to keep.”
Brennan went and sat down next to Patrick and I returned to my article on patio planters. The next time I glanced up, Brennan was sitting in the chair next to the man and was starring up at him as if he was a movie star. “Brennan!” I gasped. The man held the magazine up to his face, trying to block the unblinking gaze. Brennan grinned at me from across the room.
“I know, Mommy!” Brennan “whispered” with a raspy shout. He held up his left hand as a shield and began pointing with his right index finger. His face was beaming because; finally, he had found a loophole.
“This guy can be your new husband!”

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hey Daddy

“Hey Daddy! Hey Daddy! Hey Daddy!” The sing-song chorus was coming from the car seat behind me.
“What?” my husband, Charlie asked.
“Barney,” Garrett answered.
“Yes, Garrett.” Charlie sighed. “You can watch Barney when we get home.” Barney the Purple Dinosaur may be loved by children, but he causes quite a different emotion in parents.
“Hey Daddy!” We were so excited when our son spoke his first words. “Hey Daddy!” It did not take long for that excitement to wear off.
“What Garrett?” Charlie asked, again.
“Barney.” Our son had just started talking recently, so my husband was still very patient with this new game.
“Yes, Garrett. When we get home...” Charlie calmly replied. Charlie's temperament is a result of years spent worrying that Garrett's language would never develop. Charlie made countless trips through the stack of sign language flash cards, not to mention, actual trips to Children's Hospital Speech Clinic.
“Hey Daddy!” Garrett was almost two when he started speech therapy.
“Hey Daddy!” His third birthday came and went without so much as a sound.
“Hey Daddy!” Garrett's fourth birthday also passed without achieving this milestone.
“Garrett,” Charlie answered, yet again.
“Barney.” In this one quick trip to the grocery store, the miracle of speech is beginning to fade.
“I have already told you. Please, do not ask again.” Charlie has the patience of a saint.
“Hey Daddy!” As parents, the most challenging obstacle of our family's journey was learning that our firstborn had mental delays.
“Daddy!” We had dreamed of a collage scholarship, a law degree and even a term in the Oval Office.
“Hey Daddy!” My baby is not “smart”.
“Hey Daddy, hey Daddy, hey Daddy!” I am ashamed to admit how much that bothers me.
“Hey! Dad! Dee!”
“Garrett, enough!” Finally, Ward Cleaver's patience had run out. “When we get home, you can watch television. But, if you say 'Hey Daddy!' again, there will be no Barney today. Not at all!”
Ah! The peaceful sound of silence...anyway, as I was saying, my son is mentally dis-
“Hey Mommy!”

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me

My birthdays have historically been a bust. As a child, the heaviest snow of the season always fell the night before, cancelling my party. Growing up and a getting new last name did not changed my luck. I spent my first married birthday on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and a “Lifetime Movie” because my husband Charlie was five states away. The funeral for Charlie’s dear Gram was held on my twenty sixth birthday and my thirty second birthday was completely forgotten. (On the other hand, that birthday has the best “ending” with a romantic dinner and new living furniture!) But January 7, 2008 is one for the record books. On the morning of my thirty sixth birthday, Charlie’s Ohio National Guard Unit was scheduled to leave their Armory for a twelve month deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Like all events in our life, things are magnified because of our son Garrett was born with Smith-Magenis Syndrome. “I think Garrett needs to see you get on the bus and ride away,” I said to Charlie. “I am afraid Garrett will believe you are at the firehouse and he will be expecting you home every morning.” Charlie is a full time firefighter and works a 24 hour shift, every third day. This does not help Garrett’s concept of time.
In the weeks leading up to Deployment Day, we tried to teach the boys how long a year is by marking a 2008 calendar with different events and explaining that Daddy will not be there. Our two younger sons, Patrick and Brennan, were upset at first, but we practiced talking on the webcam, writing letters and drawing pictures. When Deployment Day arrived, the five of us pulled into the parking lot loaded down with Charlie’s duffel bags and made our way inside the Armory. Just inside the doorway was a gumball machine, identical to the one at K-Mart.
“K-Mart!” Garrett exclaimed. “Let’s go! K-Mart! K-Mart!” We crossed the threshold and Garrett realized we were not at K-Mart after all. A full-blown meltdown began.
I managed to grab a big juicy apple from the VFW ladies before I carried a hysterical Garrett to the van. “K-Mart! K-Mart! K-Mart!” Twenty minutes later, I stood in the parking lot with two crying boys. Patrick was stuck to Charlie’s leg and Brennan was a puddle on the ground, yet we could still hear Garrett crying out from the van, “K-Mart! K-Mart!” Apparently, coming to see Daddy climb the steps to the bus was not one of my best ideas.
One quick kiss and Charlie was gone.
Once home, I left the boys in front of the television and went outside to remove the Christmas lights. When the last of Christmas 2007 was packed away, I headed back inside for some hot coffee. I was planning a good “pity party” since all hope of a birthday celebration was gone.
Garrett met me at the front door. “Close eyes!” he said. That phrase never fails to make me nervous. He led me into the kitchen and said, “Open!” The three boys, each with a large plastic spatula in hand and a beaming smile on their face, were positioned around the kitchen table.
“Happy birthday!” Patrick and Brennan sang out as Garrett cried, “Merry Christmas!”
In the center of the table was my biggest mixing bowl, over flowing with dark water. All around the table laid empty containers: a milk carton, a peanut butter jar, a maple syrup bottle, a honey jar and an egg carton. My apple from the VFW was floating in the middle. “What are those white things swimming around the apple?” I asked.
“Marshmallows!” Patrick replied. “It’s time to bake the cake, but we aren’t allowed to touch the stove.”
It seems this birthday was not a bust after all…
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