Warning: Long, rambling post ahead.
Get a cup of coffee and make yourself comforatble...
Observations on how my relationships have changed with my eldest son (ES) and youngest son (YS) over the past few years cycling between sea duty and shore duty (with a few tangents here and there):
My ES was only 9 months old when I reported to my department head tour. Over the course of the next 3 years, I spent 50% of my time out at sea, and when I was in port I was working very long hours. I joke with LW that I would have enjoyed actually "living" in San Diego. Occasionally I poked my head up through the hatch and looked across the bay at the downtown San Diego skyline. I'd say to myself, "Self, you live in San Diego! What a great place to live!" LW and ES had a ball with annual passes to Sea World, the Zoo, Legoland, etc. I didn't really realize just how much I missed until our follow-on shore duty.
I did, however, notice that ES didn't recognize me when LW and ES flew out to meet me for a port call in Pearl Harbor in 2002. That hurt a little. It took him a few hours before he warmed up and stopped treating me like I was a stranger. After that, I started making videos of myself doing things with ES - reading stories, doing puzzles, drawing pictures, etc, so that when I was gone, LW could play the videos and he wouldn't forget me again. LW called it "Daddy TV" and said it was a wonderful respite that allowed her to take a shower without interruption. Later when I returned home from a long time out at sea, ES came running up to me on the pier and clearly remembered me well. Even so, I still didn't quite realize just how much of his growth and development I missed.
My family shortly after arrival in DC for Shore Duty
When I reported to my desk job in the DC suburbs, ES was 3 years old, and YS was only 9 months old. Over the course of the next 2 years, I spent a LOT of time with my family. I mean, when I finished my dept head tour, I had like 69 days of leave on the books. When I left my cushy desk job two years later, I had like 9 days of leave on the books. Take a moment to consider what that means. In those two years, I earned 2.5 days per month x 24 months = 60 days of leave earned, plus the 69 days I already had on the books comes out to an inventory of 129 days of leave. I left with 9 days of leave. That means I had to take 120 days of leave in two years!!! That was AWESOME!!! (Orlando, Boston, Lake Winnipesaukee, San Diego, Orlando, Aruba, Lake Winnipesaukee...) But anyway, I digress...
I spent my last three months on the boat out at sea, so LW flew out to DC, bought a house, had the household goods delivered, and got settled in over the summer. When I flew to DC to rejoin my family and walked into 9-month-old YS's room, he took one look at me... turned around and took off crawling away from me (he wasn't crawling when I last saw him in San Diego). So during those two years of shore duty, I saw my YS crawl for the first time, learn to walk, learn to talk, and learn to run. That really drove home to me how much I had missed of ES's development while I was on sea duty.
It also shaped the relationships in our family. ES was a total Mommy's boy and had to have Mommy do everything for him. YS was a total Daddy's boy and had to have Daddy do everything for him. I mean, if YS fell and got a boo-boo and LW was standing there right next to him and I was all the way on the opposite side of the house, YS would run crying PAST LW to seek me out for consolation. I guess I got used to this paradigm in our relationships (LW & ES, me & YS) and just assumed that's the way things would stay.
YS and Daddy in the pool at Lake Winnepesaukee
YS and Daddy hiking in Northern Virginia
...Then I was a geobachelor for 10 months...
When I left for sub school, I thought I was only going for a couple of months and then we'd be back together again. I had orders to a boomer out of Bangor. I was going to finish sub school just before the holidays, enjoy a nice drive across country with my family and spend Christmas with LW's family. I was going to go to a month-long school in Bangor. Then the boat I was going to was going to be in drydock for a while, so I wasn't going to be away from my family for long.
Well, the Lord had other plans in mind for me. A couple of weeks into sub school, one of my classmates quit, and I got an ORDMOD (orders modification) sending me to the MSP. So after sub school, I spent a weekend and had a pretend-Christmas with my family and then flew out to meet the boat on deployment. We were on deployment for another four months after that, so there was no point in LW and the boys uprooting from our house, friends, school, and church in DC and moving to Norfolk. Then, after our return to Norfolk, we were only there for 3 months before we left to do our homeport change to Pearl Harbor, so again there was no reason for my family to move to Norfolk. Besides, we ended up getting sent to Kings Bay to offload our deployment weapons in order to support doing 2 weeks of midshipman ops (that's another story for another post), so we weren't around Norfolk much at all before commencing our month-long transit to Pearl Harbor.
ATTENTION! I'm finally getting to the POINT of why I started this post!
So following 10 months of being apart, I'm now reunited with my family in Pearl Harbor, and I have been observing that there has been a role reversal between ES and YS. Now YS wants MOMMY to do EVERYTHING - console him when he gets hurt, read stories, brush his teeth, say bedtime prayers, put him to bed. He will be right next to me as we walk up to a cross-walk, but when it's time to hold someone's hand to cross the street, he will leave my side and run back to LW to hold HER hand instead of mine. He's even gone so far as to refuse to let me buckle him into his carseat on occasion.
Looking back and trying to think about it from the boys' perspective... When we went to shore duty, ES was used to me being gone and relying on LW for everything. For YS, at the beginning of shore duty, I think he just all of a sudden found this adult who doted on him and that he didn't have to fight with ES for attention (because ES was so reliant on LW). By the end of shore duty, I don't think YS remembered me ever going away. We went to shore duty when he was 9 months old and for the next two years I came home almost every night, and he grew very close to me. I suspect the 10 months of sub school, deployment, and geobacheloring kind of betrayed the trust that YS had in me. He learned he couldn't rely on me and shifted his dependence to LW.
ES on the other hand has become very huggy and cuddly with me. He wants ME to sit next to him at dinner. When YS goes running back to grab LW's hand to cross the street, ES comes running forward to hold my hand. I find that ES is now at an age where he is just soaking up knowledge like a sponge and is interested in all sorts of cool stuff. He brings home library books about Apache helicopters and cruisers and stealth bombers for us to read. He's become obsessed with snorkeling lately, and it's been really cool going snorkeling with him. He wanted me to take him to his very first Tiger Scout den meeting on Tuesday night. That was awesome. We had a great time together. How did I get to be the dad of a 6-year old anyway?!?!
Aside: As part of the first Tiger Scout meeting, each of the boys had to fill out a short survey about themselves, then get up and read it in front of the group to introduce themselves. I was very proud of ES for getting up there and doing the introduction. That is NOT his forte. He's normally very shy around people he doesn't know. So I was very happy that he actually got up there in front of the other boys and read his sheet:
Partner's name: Kevin (in Tiger Scouts each kid has to have a parent there with them)
I joined Tiger Scouts because: I want the snorkeling badge.
My favorite food is: Candy.
My favorite TV show is: Sponge Bob.
My favorite sport or activity is: Snorkeling. (I was both very surprised and very proud of him for NOT writing "video games.")
Anyway, it seems ES and YS have swapped roles / favored parental units from shore duty to now. Don't get me wrong. It's not like YS doesn't love me or do things with me anymore, but he definitely favors LW now. While I miss the previous relationship I had with YS, LW is happy that he no longer treats her like chopped liver. I'm excited to have this time with ES to do things like snorkeling and Tiger Scouts. I'm also curious how future transfers will impact my family relationships.