Christa Charter is a Playground Dad guest contributor. You can follow her on Twitter @trixie360
My husband is a GySgt in the Marine Corps. We’ve been married almost two years and our relationship is not typical. He lives in North Carolina at MCAS Cherry Point, and I live in Redmond, WA. How did this happen? Well, it’s a Web 2.0 love story; a social media fairy tale. It goes something like this: I had a weekly show on Xbox LIVE called “Community Close-up”. He was on recruiting duty in Buffalo NY. He saw my videos and liked them. He followed me on Twitter, then friended me on Facebook (scrolling through thousands of female Microsoft employees because he didn’t know my real name). We chatted on Facebook and Twitter and my trip to a Community Conference in Vegas coincided with his transfer to Cherry Point and leave. Just before the doors closed on my flight to Vegas I semi-jokingly emailed him on my smartphone an invitation to spend the weekend in Sin City. He showed up 24 hours later. Three weeks later he proposed on Twitter. Romantic, eh? What unusual is that we have never lived together. The longest stretch of cohabitation was 5 weeks when our daughter was born. (She had a Twitter account while still in utero). He comes home about every six weeks for a long weekend. Our face time is all about quality, not quantity. When we’re apart we text, email, IM, tweet, write on each other’s Facebook walls, and Skype. Via Xbox LIVE I would destroy him at Guitar Hero 3 while he’d wipe up the floor with me in Scene It.
Then came the deployment. He is on the USS Kearsarge right now, helping with disaster relief in Pakistan. He’s doing important work, and I married him knowing that deployments happen, but I won’t see him in the flesh until next Spring. I’m afraid the baby won’t know who he is when he comes home.
The toddler years are ones of constant change. They learn new words, develop new skills, and grow hair (hopefully—my little girl and her dad have matching high and tights at the moment). My husband is missing all of this. He can’t cuddle her, push her on the swing, teach her not to throw food, or just carry her around when she wants ‘up’. She can’t email him, and on the rare phone calls from the ship, she mostly just grins when she hears Daddy’s voice.
So it’s my job to keep these two close. Before he left I took the baby to Raleigh and we three spent a last weekend together. I used my FLip camera to record my husband saying goodnight and good morning to the baby. We also made one for when she’s sick. (“I’m so sorry you’re sick sweetie. Mommy will take care of you. Daddy loves you.”).
I play these for our daughter—not every night, but when she needs it. When she sees Daddy she blows him kisses. Then she puts her hand on her head and says “Ayyy”. This means she wants Daddy to sing the Head Shoulders Knees Toes song. Luckily, I have that on video too.
When the ship has email running (which so far is most of the time – except for several long days of “River City” when I realized I’d never gone more than 12 hours without talking to him since the day we met) we chat back and forth several times a day. He’s on the other side of the world, so our schedules are opposite, but there are a couple of hours of overlap when we’re both awake and alert.
We’ve found that if I record a quick (not more than a minute) video with my phone and email it to him, he can watch it. A minute isn’t much, but it’s enough time to sing Happy Birthday, to show off the baby’s new word, to share with him a moment that he’d otherwise miss. When he was out of contact for a couple weeks, I sent him long rambling emails about the minutia of my day – something that pissed me off at work, what the baby had for breakfast, the weather. It felt like talking to myself, but it helped me feel not so alone. Those ended up being his favorite emails from home.
I’m confident that with the wonders of technology (and some old-school care packages with photos and baby drawings) we’ll still feel like a close family when this deployment is over. And our little girl will run (she’ll be running by then!) straight into Daddy’s arms when he gets home.