Monday was Memorial Day, the American remembrance to honour all who have given their lives in service to the USA.
Too often, we get caught up in the excitement of a day off work, family barbecues, and widely advertised sales, forgetting the Memorial part of the day altogether. My daughters’ father is a career soldier and has served 3 combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. While we’re thankful that he has never been injured, I’m very aware that not all military families are so fortunate. On this day of the year, I always remember a waitress I met near where we live. We started chatting about our families when she noticed that my girls were twins. She was pregnant with her twins, she told me, when her husband was killed on duty at the Pentagon, on September 11, 2001. She moved back to Texas so that her parents could help her raise her three children even as she grieved.
It’s easy to overlook how war, especially war that takes place far from our shores, impacts children. It does impact them, though. My daughters have known all their lives that Daddy goes away to catch bad men. They know that he carries a gun, and so do the bad men. They also know that most of the people in Iraq and Afghanistan are just mommies and daddies and kids who don’t want any fighting. They just want to be together.
These conversations with my daughters were not easy. They were at least as hard as the conversations we’ve had about divorce and that mommy and daddy don’t love each other any more. Now that M and J are 9, they can verbalize how they’re feeling. When they were younger, it was much harder, especially with Daddy away more often than he was living with us at home.
To help my daughters talk about and process their father’s absence, I turned to Daddy Dolls, a company started by two Marine wives. They turn the full-length photo of a loved one into a doll for your child to interact with. Ours came out wonderfully. They held up through 2 years of daily hugs and countless runs through the washing machine, looking just as they did they day we received them. Sadly, they’ve been left at the bottom of the toy bin since shortly after the divorce, despite my efforts to bring them out to play.
I ordered the girls’ dolls the day that my now-ex left for his 3rd combat tour. We took photos of L in front of our garage the morning he deployed to Afghanistan. The company removed the background image and printed a smiling picture on each of two camo-backed dolls.
When our then 4-year-old daughters received their dolls, they were completely enamoured. You can see their reaction in this video.
A few days after we received the Daddy dolls, I walked over to J’s bed after brushing M’s hair. J had her doll in her hand, facing me.
J (age 4, as Daddy): Hi Sadia!
Me: Hi L (ex’s name)!
J: So, how are you doing?
Me: I’m fine, but I miss you. I have a hard time falling asleep.
J: I just came by to say, “You’re welcome.”
Me: I see.
J: You’re welcome for the dolls.
Me: I love you!
J: I miss you all, even Penelope (the cat).
Me: And we miss you.
J: (as J, addressing the doll) You and me only have the … What’s the hole called?
Me: A dimple.
J: You and me only have a dimple.
M (age 4): Mommy and me have moles!
J: Does Daddy have a mole?
Of course, the utility and value of these dolls isn’t limited to families with a deployed parent. Any child suffering loss might benefit. I gave a gift card to the site to a friend for her son when her husband passed away. Moving away from the morbid, when it comes time for holiday shopping, a Daddy (or Mommy or Grandma or Sister) Doll might make for a good present. We received ours in less than two weeks.