Today, I’m handing over the blog to Petrell, the author of a new children’s book, Xs and Os for Gabby Ann. The book is a sweet story about a little girl with a dad who is far away and the love that is sent over the miles. (I think we know just a little bit about what that’s like!) Petrell is generously donating 10% of the net profit from every book sold to benefit the Operation Purple Camp Programs of the National Military Family Association.
As I mention in my author’s note of Xs and Os for Gabby Ann, my daughter once asked if her dad’s hugs and kisses came by airplane. And so, the idea for this story was born, and I couldn’t be more pleased to share with Jo’s readers the journey of the Xs and Os. While this tale has brought such joy, it is a bit bittersweet because at the heart of the book is a loving father and husband who is often on the other side of the world for very long stretches of time – mirroring my reality.
We are not a military family, and certainly I cannot relate to the stress involved in sending a loved one into harm’s way. However, I can relate to the difficulty brought upon a family when there is an absent parent situation. Yes, it can be a handful to have to do everything myself. But, the biggest task at hand is making sure the kids feel connected to their dad. While we’ve been married for 15 years, my husband’s coming and going is pretty much all our children – ages 3 and nearly 6 – have ever known. My quest to keep him a constant presence in their lives and the anxiety level down is never-ending. So, I wanted to take this opportunity to share a few ways I keep my kids and their dad connected. If you have tried and true tips, we’d love to hear from you. So please, chime in.
1. Haul out the iPad
Clearly, nothing clever here. I understand technology might not always be an option, but if it is, use it! We’ve done FaceTime from swim lessons, karate, tennis and everywhere in between. Yes, once or twice, I have been that mom, pushing my way to the front row so my husband could watch our daughter at the school show in real time. I’ll gladly take the eye-rolling from parents if it eases some of her disappointment upon seeing friends have both parents present. Dad has been in on everything from hide-and-go-seek, searching for seashells, chasing butterflies and choosing ice cream flavors. A few minutes of doing an activity together from afar really seems to work wonders.
2. Start a collection
Before an extended departure, sometimes we’ll start a collection that our kids add to while their dad is gone. As they build it, they think of Dad and look forward to sharing the latest finds when he returns. We make the collection from things he can also look for and bring back. Some easy collectibles: small rocks, seashells, quarters/foreign currency, Pez dispensers, stickers or feathers.
3. Surprise deliveries
Packages, flowers, small toys, pizza, ice cream and other favorite surprises have shown up from their dad after an accomplishment. Okay…I admit, I’ve often orchestrated the whole thing. But really, so what? He’s in on it and appreciates my doing the legwork. The smile it brings to our kids’ faces is well worth it. Even better, before he goes, my husband also writes a few notes and picks out some surprises that I bring out from time to time.
4. Video a bedtime story
We’ve made videos of Dad reading favorite bedtime stories. (of course if you make yours, include Xs and Os for Gabby Ann!) It’s a small and effective way to include him in the bedtime bonding ritual when he can’t be part of the real thing.
5. Track time and weather
My kids love talking about what time of day it is on the other side of the world. They love to imagine what exactly their dad is doing at that moment. Moreover, they can’t wait to check the weather report to see what’s happening in his area. They think the basic weather app where they can see rain, lightening, etc. is the greatest thing ever.
6. Keep talking
I couldn’t even begin to count how many times a day I remind them of how much “your dad loves you even when he can’t be here.” Enough said.
Are the above tips the cure-all? No. Does my husband know where the lunchbox goes? No. Does he know with certainty who goes to after school art club or swim on which day? Hardly. Does he know that the homework folder is green and the reading log is blue? Unlikely. But, when he finally walks through the front door and the kids fly into his arms, he doesn’t miss a beat at being one of the absolute best dads I know.
To all the military moms – and dads – who may be reading this…Thank you for all you do. God bless you and your families, and may the Xs and Os connect you and your children wherever you go.
- How to Grow Your Military Family’s Capacity for Empathy
- For Every Milspouse Who Has Wondered, “Can I Cry In Front of Them?”
- 7 Ways In-Laws Can Support Military Spouses
Petrell Marie Özbay resides with her family in South Florida. In addition to living abroad, she long called both Wisconsin and Ohio home. Her two clever and inspiring children keep her smiling through the chaos and busy searching for seashells, garden fairies and geckos. She created this story to simply help parents, regardless of their whereabouts and personal situation, bring children a goodnight hug and kiss. Petrell holds an undergraduate degree and an MBA from Marquette University and previously worked as a public relations executive at some of the world’s most well-respected companies.