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“I didn’t think we did that anymore.” I wish I could attribute that to one person, but I’ve heard it from multiple people when I’ve mentioned that my pilot-soldier National Guard husband is deploying overseas.

Yes, we still do that. Men and women still suit up every day to carry out various missions, both valuable and confusing, around the country and the world.

And for the whole of 2023 that includes my husband.

My partner, my co-adventurer. The one who will use our flight and hotel benefits from his day job to visit Hawaii for three days on a pre-deployment getaway. The one who can make me laugh with the dumbest, yet funniest, jokes. The one who drives me crazy when he puts his dish in the sink instead of the available space in the dishwasher. All of those: one in the same.

He’s also one more thing: my daughter’s daddy. And this is the first deployment we’re going through with her understanding time.

He’ll be gone for half of second grade and half of third grade? Yes. (Sobs)

He’ll miss summer vacation? Yes. (Sobs)

Can I go with him? Can we visit him? No, and no. (Sobs)

Can’t you go away instead? No. (Sobs)

Will he be home next Christmas? I don’t know. (Sobs)

And so many more questions that are a front for some very big feelings. And these feelings don’t just leak out in drips. They come rushing out the floodgates, making no apologies for their presence.

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Moms, we do a lot for our kids. Make meals, brush and style hair, cut little toenails when they get too long. Arrange playdates, scrub in the bathtub, teach them how to shower. We can even get them started with some friendships.

What we can’t do? The hard stuff. 

The forged through the fire stuff. For that, we have to lean on the power of with to get us all on the other side. In my case this year, that means walking with my little girl over and through a mountain and forest of sadness and anxiety because of Daddy going far away for far too long.

The power of with helps others name what they see. In this case, it’s a kid-friendly cocktail of sadness, worry, fear, frustration, and anger. I’ll teach her other words for h-a-t-e (she spells it because we try not to say it). I’ll teach her the five senses of all those feelings so she knows when they show up. I’ll teach her how to talk back to the worry monster.

The power of with holds a person’s hands as they learn what needs tending to. In this case, it’s her heart. I’ll teach her to breathe deep and to pray. I’ll teach her that sadness cannot equal meanness and that I’m right here when it’s all too much. I’ll teach her that when our hearts are heavy, we’re not meant to carry them alone.

The power of with invests in the other person’s growth.

In this case, I hope that’ll be in her courage, bravery, strength, and faith. I’ll remind her every day how brave and courageous she is for moving one day closer to Daddy coming home and for trying new things. I’ll hold her hand and say “I’ve got you” more times than she can count, as she learns that there’s strength in numbers.

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I’ll remind her that we’ll keep the hard to the hard and the easy to the easy. Brushing our teeth can’t be made into a historical event every day; let’s save that for the big moments, like missing Daddy at the dance recital.

I can’t go through the deployment for her; she will experience it in a completely different way than I will.

But I can go with her.

I can’t do the hard things for her. But like the nights when she’s scared of the dark or has a bad dream and she asks me to stay with her until her heart is better? To that I say: I’m with you, kid. All the way. Whenever and wherever, I’m with you.

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Elisa Preston

Elisa Preston is a writer living in western New York with her soldier/pilot husband and her first-grade daughter. When she isn't traveling to somewhere warm and sunny, she's dreaming about it. She spends her days bike-riding, baking, writing, watching Gilmore Girls, and hanging out with her family.

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