Adapting Behavior During Deployment
Everyone in our house has a unique role, and with each role comes expected behaviors. My husband is the Man of the House, acting as our resident fix-it man, lawn doctor, and master of Wii. I am the Domestic Engineer. I take command of child care and keep the household running. Our son is the Man-In-Training, who diligently completes homework, enacts intricate battles with his action figures, and attempts to ignore his sister’s taunting need to be in his face at all times. And our daughter is Miss Diva, princess of independence, naughtiness, and Sponge Bob underwear.
Although every now and then roles will temporarily switch, we generally wear the hats we’ve grown accustomed to. But with the Man of the House taken out of the equation, the rest of us are forced to take on new roles and behaviors to adapt to the minus one.
In his father’s absence, my son has taken on the role of the New Man of the House. Within days of his predecessor’s departure, my little boy stepped into his new position with a dedication and fervor I didn’t know a 6-year-old possessed.
Suddenly, this boy who once vowed never to forsake splashing in the bath tub, started taking showers by himself. The only help I am permitted to offer is adjusting the water temperature. After his manly shower, which I’m quite sure involves more knocking over of bottles than actual bathing, New Man waits for his aftershave, which I am required to apply in the exact manner his father did.
New Man of the House has also found a fresh voice. A very bossy voice. As acting Man, he feels it is his duty to order his sister around and advise me on the best disciplinary actions when she neglects to follow those orders. Although I’m not thrilled about this developing attitude, I do appreciate when he reminds me to water our garden, grabs the mop out of my hands and swabs the entire house himself, and on our more stressful days, encourages me to take deep breaths.
This New Man, who proudly totes a wallet while commissary shopping and passionately adjusts his cup during baseball games, seems to be adapting well to his inherited role. However, my 2-year-old daughter’s adjustment to the deployment has not been as smooth. New Man is growing up. Miss Diva is regressing.
Since birth, Miss Diva has exhibited the bravado and audacity of a supermodel astrophysicist. But since her father left, her Diva status has reached unprecedented heights, leaving her with no other title than Preeminent Prima Donna. Tantrums that once involved tolerable tears and outbursts have evolved into foot stomping, door locking, and brother biting.
Preeminent Prima Donna’s behavior is capricious, vacillating between aggressive and clingy. With little provocation, she tackles her brother, pulls his hair, and throws toys at him. If she isn’t receiving the motherly attention she feels a prima donna deserves, she slaps me, yanks my glasses off my face, or spits at me. But almost instantly she transforms into a snuggle bunny, hugging my leg while I cook, crawling into my lap as I check my email, or lovingly kissing my cheek.
As difficult as these mood swings are, her nighttime restlessness gives me the most concern. During the first several days of the deployment, I frequently opened my eyes in the middle of the night to see her perched beside my bed, begging to sleep with me. Although she has never consistently slept through the night, she has never before asked to sleep with me. Sometimes she claims that ghosts are coming (ok, no more Scooby Doo for her!), but some nights she just shrieks inconsolably. At first I pulled her into my bed and cuddled her back to sleep. But fearing an unhealthy habit in the making, I started coaxing her back to her own bed with promises of the Enya playlist on my iPod that now resides on her dresser for late night soothing.
During our pre-deployment preparation, I tried to brace myself for my children’s inevitable behavior adjustments. It’s impossible to predict how children will manifest their emotions, but I expected my son to have the most trouble adapting. However, it’s my daughter’s behavior that baffles me. And unlike New Man, Prima Donna is unable to comprehend the X’s marked on the calendar or my explanations when she randomly declares, “I miss my daddy.”
I know that adapting behavior is a part of every deployment. At this point, all I can do is accept it, offer extra doses of love and affection, and hope the positive behaviors stick around and the negative behaviors fizzle out.
What about the Domestic Engineer’s new roles and adapting behaviors? Stay tuned for Part II next week to find out.