I was a soldier and my partner still is a soldier, we have an 8 year daughter, we have encountered Kosovo, Iraq, Cyprus UN tour, Canada and Afghanistan many a time before she was born and since, add onto that countless field exercises and I think we calculated in her 8 years her daddy has been away cumulatively 4+ years of her life.
When she was very young it really was a case of out of sight out of mind, they know no different and the onus is on you, the parent behind, to cope, get by and bring them up. I wont lie it was a very bumpy ride for us. I was still serving, we were living in Germany, Madison was a baby, chuck in a war starting, sprinkle in a few challenging situations and lets say it made me the strong independent woman I am today!!
October 2010; nothing could have prepared me for the 7 months ahead.
Fuel levels were already very low as we had endured a long pre deployment training package over the summer and a few courses so I'd already 'coped' alone for 3 or 4 months.
Our situation is very different now than before in that I have left the army and pursued a very different career but that is a full time commitment, our daughter is now at school which we all know brings with it lots of dates, assembly's etc etc and of course they want to do brownies, street dance, golf (?!) and all the rest so lets say I was juggling a fair few balls and spinning a couple of plates for good measure!
Tony deployed, I was broken. I always am for 2 weeks or so before I pick myself up and carry on, but it took longer this time.
I remember being sat on a train going to a meeting in London on Remembrance Day, suddenly over the tannoy the driver announced there would be the 2 minutes silence. There on the train I couldn't stop the tears streaming down my face, they wouldn't stop, I was biting my lip hard but they just wouldn't stop. Some lovely women on my table seat gave me tissues and when I told them my situation it was hugs all round, they were my saviours that day. I got off the train and trotted off to my meeting mascara smudged down my face. It hit me hard, this was real, this was our life, and it was raw emotion that I couldn't contain.
It was evident that Madison was struggling this time, she was older and you can't shelter children from the news, the radio, newsround, papers, people ringing and asking....this tour of duty I could tell was going to be like nothing we'd been through before.
Contact from Afghanistan was particularly awful , we'd go 10 days or so with nothing, no letters, calls, not a dickie bird and that in itself is stressful.
Madisons behaviours were subconscious to her, she wasn't aware they were a result of anxiety or worry as they were subtle changes; waking in the night, every night, twice a night! regressing to behaviours of a very small child...not dressing, not wanting to do anything alone, asking where I was going even if I was just leaving the room!
I was exhausted, but then a call from the school, there had been an incident.
Madison had taken a stone into school, her daddy had bought it back from his last tour in Afghanistan, she showed it to the class. A child then raised her hand, I believe innocently and said ' Your daddy is going to die out there' (writing that I am now in tears) it was obviously a shocking thing and Madison was undoubtedly rocked by it, she had never contemplated this thought. I was sent a letter of apology from the childs mother and I tried to talk to Madison and explain the child hadn't thought through what she was saying.
I came home, I googled 'support for army child with dad in Afghanistan' the results were disappointing. There was some support from the regiment, booklets but nothing child specific, nothing to distract my daughter from the worry of her daddy being in a war zone, nothing to explain her recent behaviour changes, nothing purely because 'I am 7 and I'm sad because I can't see or speak to my daddy when I want' ........just nothing a google search page full of US Army initiatives we couldn't use.
I then decided to do something about it, the trek was born out of a letter Madison wrote (see a previous blog post) I absorbed myself in the trek of Snowdon with Madison which was a life changing chapter of my life and has evolved into My Daddy is a Soldier Adventures.
I know there are thousands of you that will relate and agree that support for army children is needed for all the reasons I have talked about and its needed now, we can't eliminate war or daddy's and mummy's being soldiers and going away but we can go some way to eliminate the loneliness and fear an army child can feel when that happens and give them a secondary community and other children who are going through the same. Make them feel safe, secure and distracted.
For the little Troopers at home....
We hope you join us on the My Daddy is a Soldier Adventures journey!
The objects of the Charity are to enhance the support already given to British Army children via various sources by the following, but not exclusively.
· To undertake to promote and enhance the quality of life of those who have a serving parent away from the family home
· To provide workshops and activities that offers a distraction to British Army children in a safe, secure and familier community environment
- To give the parent serving their country away from the family home the reassurance that their child(ren) have support
- To offer the parent in the family home the opportunity of a secondary community and support network
We see a time in the future when British Army Children will benefit from various nationwide workshops and activities covering many different interests, run by My Daddy is a Solider Adventures and appointed regional co-ordinators, in time these would spread worldwide to where the British Army serve. Our Children will be able to have a positive experience with our events with children in a similar situation. Our ultimate goal is to open a residential adventure centre available to all British Army Children with a parent away providing a retreat with planned activities, indoor and outdoor, offering respite in a community environment.