Long-Distance Rescue

Jack was 4 and did not want to speak to his deployed dad on the phone. No matter how hard his mom tried. His dad, Andrew* (*name changed for privacy) was one of the troops I was writing to in Afghanistan. His son’s silence was breaking his heart. I tried to help. First with words, then with action. Action worked better.

Steal a helicopter

I’m not a child psychologist, but I am a mom. I shared my mom-guess that Jack’s reaction was normal. “Rejecting” a phone call is a way to have control in a situation where he was otherwise powerless. Especially since Jack had clearly told his dad to, “steal a helicopter and come home now!” When his dad did not comply, what else was there to say? I told Andrew, “it’s not that your son doesn’t love you… his anger is because he loves you so much.”

Also, this little boy did not live in a military community so, there weren’t other kids in the same boat. Everyone else had their dads. Where was his? You can’t hug National Security. That whole idea doesn’t mean much to a preschooler. My pen pal thought this all made sense but it didn’t help his mood.

Closer to home

I thought Andrew would feel better as he got closer to going home. I was wrong. It’s almost like time slowed down for him. Me brightly saying, “hey, you’re one day closer!” did not lift his spirits.

I wanted to have some positive effect on this Serviceman. But how? Nothing short of being with his boy was going to cut it. Or maybe… I could do something that would make his son smile. If I could do that, I knew Andrew would be thrilled. Whether that thrill lasted a day or just a few minutes, it would be time spent less stressed.

Action

Okay, so what could I do for Jack, a child that I do not know at all?  Wait, that’s not exactly true…I knew his Halloween costume was Ironman. His favorite blanket is blue, named “Blue.” His favorite stuffed animal is “Kitty.” Kitty has been repaired so many times that Jack’s mom feared that one day, there would be nothing left to sew. And I knew that Jack absolutely L-O-V-E-S fire trucks and firefighters.

I was also well aware that I live in the same city as one of the most amazing Fire Departments on the planet, the FDNY. Who better to help me rescue Andrew’s sinking morale? So I reached out to Engine Company 8, Ladder 2 in Midtown Manhattan. Could they help this troop connect with his son? Hold some signs? Surprise a little boy that these real official firefighters in NYC “knew” him and cared about him? The FDNY Lieutenant I spoke to said they would be more than happy to.

When I got to the firehouse, they were out on a call but a firefighter in the office asked me to please stay close by. When I came back again, the Lieutenant gathered his men and asked me to tell them about Andrew and Jack. This family they didn’t know mattered to them. They extended an invitation to Jack to visit any time. I was only there a few minutes but I was very touched by their genuine kindness. I had tears in my eyes when I took this picture.

FDNY helps deployed troop by saying hi to his little boy

FDNY Engine Co. 8, Ladder 2

Sending a lifeline

Andrew was so excited when he received this picture!! He immediately sent it to Jack’s mom, and to the grandparents and other family members and a thank you note to the firemen and, and, and… I could feel his energy when he wrote me about all of this. More importantly, I could feel his happiness when he told me that Jack thought the picture was “awesome.” They had spoken about it on the phone.

© Gina left the mall, 2013

28 thoughts on “Long-Distance Rescue

    • Lol… I love MacGuyver! Especially when he used a paper clip and a chocolate bar to escape. Reason enough to always carry both!

      I started blogging in 2012 but I started supporting troops in 2009. But you’re right, one at a time, I try to figure out how I can be of some help. And to do my part for those who do so much for all of us.

  1. Incredibly cool. I’m thankful for people like you reaching out to not only the troops, but also to families just like mine with deployed spouses/parents/etc. And much love and shout-out to the FDNY for all that they do!

  2. Ok, so I cry during reading just about all of your posts but I don’t comment because you have already said it all. 🙂 I know you do these things just because you believe in them but Gina, you really are amazing. The time and effort you take to make the world a better place is so special. The impact you have is so meaningful. How wonderful to know that small actions can create such happiness.

    • Wendy, thank you for reading and for your very kind words. It is amazing to see how a small act can wind up being anything but small for those involved. Whether you are on the giving or receiving end, it touches your heart. That’s the lovely surprise of it all. Doing for others often means getting back more than you give 🙂

    • Thank you, Nelle! As you can see, I’ve gotten a lot of help in the above and beyond area. More than I ever expected. People really are kinder and more giving than Reality TV would have us believe.

      I’ve also learned when I’ve taken on too much. If you’ve never read the Killer Snowflakes post, check it out when you have a chance 🙂

  3. My daughter did the exact same thing to my husband when she was young. It was back in the 90’s so there was no Skye or email and he was only able to call every few weeks. It was heartbreaking for him (and me). His deployments were only 3 months at a time, but they occurred about every 6 months. Every time he would get home she would be thrilled to see him, but then wouldn’t allow him to have any part of her daily routine. For the first week all he could do without her crying was play with her on the swing set. I’m not a child psychologist either but I believe you are correct about it being about control… at least it was in our case. She didn’t understand why he couldn’t just come home, and when he kept leaving, she didn’t trust that he would be around for her. The good news is that we got through it. She is a smart and well adjusted 20 year old now who has an incredible relationship with her Dad. It sure wasn’t easy though and it would have been wonderful to have someone who cared enough to do what you did 🙂 Keep it up because you truly do make a difference!

    • Until my troops told me, I was not aware what loved ones went through. I can’t imagine how much harder and more isolating it was in those pre-skype, pre-email days. I’m happy I could bring a few smiles to Jack’s family.

      As adults, our minds can comprehend situations even as our hearts ache. Of course, children do not have this skill. It must take great love and strength to help a little one through deployment (at the same you are trying to keep your husband’s morale up!) I suspect this same love and strength is what leads to
      a smart and well-adjusted 20-year-old with a great relationship with her dad!
      That is no small accomplishment 🙂 I am happy for your family and thankful for the sacrifices you made along the way that helped protect us all.

    • I know how I’ve felt when I’ve had normal travel and my daughter didn’t want to speak to me. I can’t imagine this level either. To be in a stressful situation for such a long period of time, and to want so desperately just to hear your child’s voice…..Those firemen really did give this family a wonderful gift.

  4. Hi there…I was recommended to you by a good friend Kristine Murtha. Great articles posted. Funny you talked about a child not wanting to talk to a parent deployed. I had a similar situation during my first deployment in 06. My daughter did not want to talk to me, she wanted to talk to sponge bob square pants. So, I did just that. At least I got to talk to her. Thanks for being such a awesome supporter. Yours truly, caesar camacho, U.S. Army

    • Caesar,
      I love that you were Sponge Bob for your daughter!! (I am now picturing him in camo..lol) I love that you found a way to reach her. I hope some other military family sees this comment and steals this idea if they need to. Whatever it takes to help children through a deployment, is what we should do. I would also like to thank you for your service and for the sacrifices your family has made as well.
      sincerely,
      Gina

  5. You have the best ideas, Gina. How cool! Jack’s response is totally understandable. What a difficult age to be separated from his daddy. I know he loved seeing the firemen saying “hi.”

    • Thanks! I was so happy that it all worked out. I think it’s very tough for a child that age to comprehend why you would “choose” to leave them. I am very, very grateful for the FDNY for caring and helping. They made a world of difference for this family.

  6. Gina, you are truly in-gina-us. What a creative solution to Andrew’s problem. You brought a smile to his face, to Jack’s, to mine, to the FDNY, and to everyone who read this post.

  7. What a creative and thoughtful idea! My older son (10) is the same way. When my husband is deployed, he rejects phone calls and even the rare skype sessions that seem like gems in the rough to me and my other child. It’s totally his way of controlling the situation and even more so – protecting his own tender heart.
    Aloha & thanks for sharing.

    • It’s funny how two kids can react so differently to the same situation. And I totally understand why a tender heart needs protection! Perhaps in time it will become easier for him to stay outwardly connected (since we always connected inside to those we love!) Aloha & thanks for reading.

  8. Gina, you continue to be an inspiration. What a thoughtful and generous gesture (and a true New York moment!). To all the military families–you’re in our thoughts and prayers!

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