It’s funny when situations in life bring out underlying thoughts and emotions that do not readily come to the surface. Right now is one such instance for me. It’s been a long day. We had a garage sale, our first as a married couple and not to mention with our three daughters. Jen’s had garage sales since we’ve been married, but I’ve always been gone and not part of the planning and execution process. We did well today.
Jen and I tag teamed the girls while getting everything ready since 4am this morning. Most of what we sold included baby clothes. Some of those dresses took me back to very fond memories. Some dresses I had no memories of; instead, having to settle for stories of where the outfits were purchased or of what my girls did while wearing them. I was gone for these dresses.
Tonight’s dinner was pork steak, green beans, and French fries. Needless to say, this evening was pretty typical for our family. I made dinner; Jen and I worked together to get the girls fed. Again, all was going well and very normal.
Well, in the middle of dinner in our living room, Isabelle, our middle daughter dropped a mirror on her big toe. Note: we are eating dinner in the living room because our dining room is now filled with boxes. “Izzie” as we like to call had already finished dinner and was playing with this antique and rather heavy hand mirror. She dropped the thing on her toe and instantly screamed out in pain. I looked to my left and began to get up.
As circumstances would have it, Jen already had Addison in her arms, calming her down for something that I can’t seem to remember as I write this. While seeing everything happen in almost slow motion, I put my plate down and called Izzie over so that I can kiss her sore toe. I was in the middle of getting up from my chair to meet her
Her words were, “no I want mommy.” My instant reaction was to sit down and to not help her. My feelings were hurt. Forget all the crap about “triangulation” etc… I understand all that stuff because of what I’ve learned in school and while counseling clients. But in this moment, I felt like a horrible father and my feelings were hurt because my daughter was angry with me.
After a couple minutes of reflection, I realized that “no, I want mommy” is a trend for my girls whenever they get hurt. Maybe it’s because I have all daughters. Or, maybe this is just a perfectly normal response for kids that are 2, 4, and 5.
The fact is though, I can’t escape the possibility that maybe being away from my girls so much, especially in their very formative years, makes it difficult for them to bond with me. I don’t know. Maybe all of their years are important for different reasons. I’m sure they are. What I did know is that the angry look in Izzie’s eyes wasn’t anger, it was hurt. Her look seemed to say “daddy, I wish I could trust you to handle and walk with me in my pain.” Have I been gone so much that my daughters do not believe that I can? I’m not asking for an answer here. I’m simply conveying my thoughts in the moment and am hopefully adequately representing experiences of other Veterans.
Maybe, I’m reading too much into this and will think different of everything in the morning. However, I wanted to write this blog entry while my thoughts were still fresh and raw.
The fact is, Isabelle is drinking chocolate milk in front of me through a straw while enjoying Monsters Inc. in the living room. She’s forgotten about her toe but I haven’t.
What I want you as counselors to see is that Veterans have these similar experiences all the time. They can take these unexpected moments in different ways and do different things, some healthy and some not so much. I’m choosing to blog tonight.
Your clients should come to understand that processing these types of experiences is healthy and essential for them.
Chris Allen is a counselor and an Army Officer just returning from Afghanistan. He is passionate about developing counseling practices that best address Veterans and their families. Blog comments are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense.