Call In Your Battle Bunnies

Every soldier has a battle buddy. They don’t go it alone. That’s also a good idea when you volunteer for an Easter/military kids project that turns out to be bigger than you expected.

My heart said yes

I was busy at work and home when I saw the request to send Easter baskets to kids of deployed troops. My heart said “awwww” and I signed up to take one family. I figured I could swing that. My little Sofia was 5-yrs-old and would “help.” Then I got the info and it turns out the family had five children. At that point, I should’ve asked a friend to join in. Having another mom and child do it with us would make it easier. Also, the more love that goes into something, the better. But I had to do this myself. You know why? Me neither.

Mistake #2

I let Sofia pick out ALL of the contents. I didn’t have names of the children but I had genders and ages. In my daughter’s mind, she KNEW them and knew exactly what they would like. I was touched that she wanted to look out for these kids who were missing their dad. In fact, I was so mushed out that I didn’t have the backbone to say no to anything. We wound up with heavy baskets.

Mistake #3

This is actually a repeat of my first mistake- thinking I have to do everything on my own. After Sofia and I made the baskets, we had to get them to the shipping store. I live in Manhattan and do not own a car. The shipping store was both too far to be convenient and too close to take a cab. I could’ve called my friend with the double-stroller and it would’ve been easy. Instead, I did this:

I got two large black garbage bags and put 3 baskets in one and 2 in the other. Because of the irregular shape, the only way I could carry them is with my arms straight out to the sides. If you met me, you’d see how petite my arms are. So I’d walk 15 feet then put the bags down for a second. Then walk 15 feet and put the bags down again. Picture this on a New York City street. I looked like I had an odd attachment to my garbage and that I was taking it out for a walk with my daughter. Hip and cool. That’s me.

filling easter baskets

Sofia, in her Little Mermaid phase, filling the baskets.

packed Easter baskets

Five finished baskets

 The good news…

Despite my production mishaps, the good news was that five kids and their mom had a nice surprise that Easter. It meant a lot to Sofia to do something kind for these children. And a deployed soldier knew that complete strangers cared about his family. That’s what matters most. A bonus lesson for me was realizing how ridiculous it is not to ask for help. People are kind, my friends are awesome, and others will be there for you if you let them. But you have to ask. In this case, I should’ve called in my battle bunnies. After all, no matter what the situation, we’re stronger when we’re in it together.

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© Gina left the mall, 2013

 

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