The Preschooler Gets It

I knew that it would take my strong-willed five year-old the longest to understand. He knew Daddy was leaving for a long time, but he didn’t truly understand how long that was. Not really. The measurement of time is still shrouded in eerie mystery. My boy sleeps so hard that he wakes up and asks, “is it day or night?”

Can you remember that? Can you remember when hours, days, and months were inconsequential? Because I’ve tried, and I can’t. I’ve clearly been an adult too long.

Now, in the past I’ve mentioned the existence of our well intentioned but psycho-killeresque shrine. This is the one we erected after the visual impact of 360 or so days was just too exhausting to bear. We moved instead to a monthly system of marking time … the symbolic lighting of twelve candles. Everyone in my house loves fire.  Perched on the side of the shrine, symbolizing the triumphant return of our Hero, is a pile of Husband’s valuables not permitted to accompany him on his exotic vacation this year: Navy Wings (he doesn’t need them on his NARMY uniform), a flight suit name patch, the Breitling watch I got him one year, and his wedding ring.


These are pretty neat candles, each one bearing a little silver word placard on the front. Husband bought them for me on my 39th birthday and I never lit them. Of course, the candle we picked for the month of February was “Love.” So on Valentine’s Day we lit the Candle of Luv and The Preschooler asked when Daddy was coming home. I pointed to a candle midway down the row and said matter-of-factly, “here’s where Daddy comes for a visit.” Then I pointed down to the end of the row at the pile of Husband’s familiar things and said plainly, “and here’s where Daddy comes all the way home.”

We had been lighting the candles periodically, but not daily. The Preschooler had finally caught on that we couldn’t light the next one until an entire month had passed. He was slowly understanding what that period of time felt like. I could see he was doing advanced candle trinomials in his head. His eyes fell on each candle one-by-one, and as he looked down the row and paused on each one, together in silence our memories were sparked.

  • Halloween. He dressed as a Ninja and got an email account so Daddy could email him.
  • Veteran’s Day, and the explanation of the White Table.
  • Thanksgiving, when we had our little meal with Nana and watched football rather quietly.
  • Christmas: getting a tree, singing at church, sending Daddy’s presents in the mail.
  • January, and the impromptu but brave trip to the ER.

And then I watched him turn his gaze to the long stack of candles yet to be lit.  He looked at candles but I looked at St. Patrick’s day, Easter, and his sixth birthday. He saw blue and pink wax and I saw summer come and go. He looked at the silver plates with words he couldn’t read … words like “longevity” and “peace” and I saw the colors change, and his first day of Kindergarten. I watched his eyes fill with water that billowed up and held steady, right at the dam’s edge of his little eyelashes. And my heart broke in two, right there. It was hitting him in waves. He was realizing how long a month was. He was realizing how long a year was. He was realizing what deployment meant. He could see it for the first time.

But then, The Preschooler didn’t respond as I expected. He didn’t scream or bawl. He didn’t say, “but that’s a LONG TIME!” or get angry and punch something. Or jump on something. Or break something. These were the reactions I was betting on. These were the outbursts I was prepared for. Something big, something dramatic, something violent and boy-like. Instead, he was silent and lifeless, his arms dangling and his back slouched. I recognized the absolute resignation and my  heart broke some more. And then right there on the bathroom floor, he put his face in his hands, let his back fall against the cabinet, and slowly slunk down into a ball, collapsing in a heap. He started to sob.

I wondered how he knew that I secretly cried this way when he and his sister weren’t looking.

I didn’t scoop him up. I just got down on the bathroom floor next to him and held him there for a minute. I thought about the night before Husband left, and what I wanted to hear. I thought about what Husband said, and I repeated parts of it in The Preschooler’s ear, trying hard not to show the breaks and cracks in my own voice:

I’m so proud of you. I know you will be strong. The time will pass quickly sometimes and slowly other times, but at the end of the year it will be the best of homecomings. Daddy misses us, too, so much. He thinks of us every day and he will keep thinking of us. He won’t forget you and you won’t forget him. We will talk whenever we can and we will keep telling him what we are doing. We will keep praying for him until he comes home.

It was silent, and I was happy with my response. And then he asked the question. The Question.

Through tears he turned and looked at me: “How do we know Daddy will not get killed?”

My responsive silence was not awe-inspiring. I had applied diversion tactics to questions about the “bad guys” and why Daddy was carrying a gun in his pictures. I had successfully avoided international politics and news shows during the dinner hour. I had even described Daddy’s abode as a “hotel room” or a “camping tent.” But this was a very pointed question. He was asking me to make a promise I could not make. And he was asking the question that had been nagging at me for months. How, indeed.

I had to hug him tight, because I couldn’t look him in the eyes and say it. But for the first time, for him, I believed the answer to the question.

“Well, everybody dies baby. From the day we are born, we are one step closer to the day God calls us to Heaven. Daddy isn’t any more likely to die today than you or me walking down the street. We aren’t in control of our lifetimes and you know what? Wherever we happen to be or whatever we happen to be doing doesn’t change when that day comes. Only God knows. So where Daddy is and what he’s doing doesn’t mean he’s going to get killed or not get killed just like it means nothing for you or me. Daddy is in a safe place, just like you, because it’s where he is supposed to be in that moment. And no matter what happens, Daddy will be taken care of, and you will be taken care of.”

The Preschooler got it. And I got it, too.

We snuggled lots that evening after blowing the candle out, and the two of us stayed awake in the bed long after Sweet Pea fell asleep. It was good to have safety and arms around each other. We were working through it together. He asked the question again several times, and I gave the same response. He wanted to hear the answer again, and I wanted to say it out loud again. The more I said it, the more true it became.

So I guess it took me a while. In fact, it took me as long as it took The Preschooler. But there it is. Finally. Acceptance.

And now, we can move on …


31 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Grave Contemplation «
  2. Kathryn Robinson
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 10:24:50

    Thank you for sharing your heart…and life….fears and faith. Thank you for letting your husband, your children’s daddy, your protector and friend be a hero for our country….and for my family. I pray that God will build a concrete wall around your heart, your mind, your body…around your husband…around your children… you wait for his homecoming. I am humbled by your sacrifice for our country….you are a hero, too, my lady….and I thank you….from my heart.
    Kathryn Robinson (from the Bible…..please read, 1 Peter 5: 6 & 7)


  3. Trackback: Every Little Thing Is Gonna Be Alright « Witty Little Secret
  4. mothers
    Mar 02, 2011 @ 01:41:31

    The human race needs more posts like this these days. I don’t have a big retort, just wanted to say “well done – wonderful article.”


  5. Nancy Cron
    Feb 24, 2011 @ 09:06:04

    I am a friend, colleague, and former student of Elizabeth’s This is wonderful. Your answer was perfect….so much wisdom for a young woman.

    Praying for you all!



  6. Daughter Brown
    Feb 20, 2011 @ 23:46:46

    Had to hold my breathe rather than choke out a sob… (How could I explain that to my family?) Makes me just as determined to keep doing what I am doing (sending care packages to troops overseas) but it makes me wish I could do something for you and your little one. The raw emotion in your post comes through, and I will be praying for you guys. Love you!


    • wittylittlesecret
      Feb 21, 2011 @ 15:56:20

      Thanks so much, I’m in your area so I’m very aware of what you do! Thank you. We don’t send enough packages, but we are assured that each one we send my Husband gets opened in the presence of the group, and everything gets shared. Keep sending packages, and maybe one of these days we can help you when you have some assembling to do. My kids would appreciate that.


    • Daughter Brown
      Feb 21, 2011 @ 22:59:28

      Hi! Are you really in the Portland area? If so, I’d love to get packages out to your husband! Your kids could definately help… they could look through my “mini RiteAid” and pick out stuff he needs (along with stuff his buddies could use). It would be an honor! Send me an email if you want to arrange this. *Smile* Plus, I’ve heard great things about your kiddos… 😉
      With Love,


  7. Stacey
    Feb 20, 2011 @ 12:54:58

    This post is wonderfully written. I started crying halfway through. I was right there with you.


    • wittylittlesecret
      Feb 20, 2011 @ 21:23:18

      If I’m being honest, I cried when I wrote it, too. I hope you will be “right there with me” for the homecoming post, too in 200 or so days. It will be better. It will have me crying for a different reason. One third down …


  8. vikki
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 16:13:39

    You are brave and you are strong. On those days when you don’t feel strong lean on us, your friends who love you!!


  9. Beth
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 13:03:48

    I was dissolved to tears along with the two of you. I have had to ask those questions too and I finally got it, after sobbing, as did John when I read your blog to him. We love you and share in your praise that you have received from others. I am so blessed to have you as a daughter in law. It must be a God thing. I am sure I don’t deserve such a super wife for my son, and mother to my grandchildren.


  10. Sgt Mark Hall (deployed)
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 11:39:17

    Athena and I have six beautiful children at home, and I am now on my second year-long tour. I am beginning to understand the sacrifice my family is going through. I am silently crying after reading your blog, while my battle buddy is sleeping during fighter management (in preparation for mission). My heart aches for my family. I thank God every day for our family and my life.


    • wittylittlesecret
      Feb 18, 2011 @ 12:08:33

      Very brave of you to comment, then. Athena and I lean on each other electronically. Like you, we are making it and biding our time until homecoming. With the tears come understanding, maturity and strength that will serve us well in the many years to come. Thankyou for going, and thankyou for coming home.


  11. Mom
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 09:12:23

    Hang in there kiddo, some days are better than others. The only way through it is to keep walking. Love you lots.



  12. bekkijo
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 09:03:47

    LV, you are one talented lady! The bravest one I know! So much emotion in this blogpost. Thank you for sharing all that you do, it is inspiring!


  13. Athena
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 08:41:54

    I seriously had to stop reading half way through and then come back. These stupid long deployments are too much – for the kiddos, for us and for the Heros.

    Praying for the four of you daily.


  14. Heather
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 08:39:17

    Yup ..note to self don’t read these posts in public. I was at the gym glad I had my towel to wipe my “sweat”. That was very beautiful. We miss you guys and are praying for you.


  15. Amy
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 08:32:11

    Way to make me tear up first thing in the morning. You are a good mom. I am glad that you had your husband’s words to pass on to your son in his time of need.

    Thank you for giving us a glimpse into your…. life.


  16. Shana
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 08:03:21

    We have a 6 year old, daddy left just after her birthday last year, and the concept of 16 months for a deployment seemed unavailable for her. We did a daily chocolate count with him. They counted out 1 for each day until R&R together before he left and now she has been able to watch the jar go down. There are currently less than 60 so she can see the bottom and that has seemed to ease her question. She knows he comes home when the last one is gone (there will actually be 2 left but she doesn’t know that, due to the impossible way of knowing the exact day).
    I LOVE the candle idea… we may have to do that for the next deployment.


    • wittylittlesecret
      Feb 18, 2011 @ 08:59:29

      Shana, we got them (actually husband got them) from, I’m pretty sure. I didn’t blog about it, but the really cool thing is that as each candle melts there is a little metal charm inside. Thanks for stopping by!


  17. Diane
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 07:55:39

    Lori, a wonderful and true explanation about death. you, Husband, and the kids and their kids will enjoy your stories, for years to come.


  18. Gail
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 06:44:21

    God, you have a talent! I thought I had done enough sobbing, but here I go again. Thank you for your wisdom, your insight, your honesty and your open heart. You are an amazing woman with an amazing family. *hugs*
    God Bless and Keep you and yours. Much Love and Peace 🙂


    • wittylittlesecret
      Feb 18, 2011 @ 06:54:42

      Thanks for reading Gaily. I have less time to write these days so when I do it all seems to come flowing out. It’s intended to be a diary for my kids someday so I always have to be on my best behavior when I portray myself. Three cheers for artistic license!


  19. Sugah
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 05:54:00

    Every day you do the hard work. Every day the kids get what they need most from you. The truth.

    I love you for so many reasons. A big one, though, is that you are brave. You don’t lie to them. Someday they will understand the enormity of that burden and be thankful for it.


    • wittylittlesecret
      Feb 18, 2011 @ 06:33:29

      Someday they will understand. Because every day you experience brings you closer to what your own mother did for you. It does engender appreciation for our mothers as we mother our own kids!


  20. mikigoodger
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 05:28:31

    Awesome. Glad I didn’t read that one in public.


    • wittylittlesecret
      Feb 20, 2011 @ 21:24:15

      Sorry, I forgot the obligatory sob factor warning. I can never tell if what makes me cry is going to make other people cry or not. Heck, the dirt on my kitchen floor makes me cry sometimes.


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