From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

From a Distance

In 2003, as a single parent of a sweet little four-year-old boy named Dylan and as a soldier in the Canadian military, I was going on deployment to the Middle East, although to a location that was considered safe. Having been recently divorced and dealing with the challenges of a shared custody agreement and being a completely devoted parent, I knew this would not be an easy thing to do. I truly believed I was helping our son by giving his dad a chance to be with him without me around, so he could focus on Dylan and provide a stable home for him, emotionally and physically.

I left home on December 31, 2003. I had been told we’d be gone anywhere from six to nine months to an undisclosed location in the Middle East. I had packed several self-addressed stamped envelopes with a blank piece of paper in each into Dylan’s backpack so that he could draw pictures and mail them to me.One of my most vivid memories in my life was when I dropped Dylan off at his dad’s house. I will always remember Dylan standing on the couch in the living room window, waving at me and blowing kisses with tears streaming down his face as I drove away. I don’t know how I could see him or the road through my tears. I felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest.

Once I was on the plane, I had a slight sense of relief because the decision was made and there was no turning back. At the same time and for the same reason, I had a sense of panic. I was already looking forward to receiving drawings from my wonderful little boy.

The first thing I did when we arrived was to look for a phone, so I could call Dylan. The camp was well set up with several phone booths. Hearing Dylan’s voice through the phone lines made the distance seem less; still my heart literally ached. I wanted to reach out and hug him, but I knew it would be a long time until I could.

Even with my busy schedule and many work challenges, my mind never drifted far from thoughts of Dylan. We didn’t live far from civilization, so I was able to buy cards, postcards, toys, clothes, and candy and send packages to Dylan, so he knew I was thinking of him. Prior to leaving, I taped Dylan “reading” along with his read-along stories. At my lowest times, especially when I had tried unsuccessfully day after day to talk with him on the phone, I would bring out my tape recorder and listen to his voice. Hearing him would bring sadness to my heart, but at the same time I felt a sense of pride for the great little person that he is and it made me feel closer to him. I had also videotaped us reading together and told him to ask his dad to play it for him when he was missing me.

On one of my trips into civilization, we came across a store where you could build your own teddy bear. I jumped at this and recorded my voice saying how much I missed him and loved him, and they sewed it up with a heart inside blessed with my kisses. I could hear his excitement through the phone lines when he received the bear.

I would get up at night to call because the time difference was ten hours. I also called the day care to find out how he was doing there. This was an arrangement I made before I left to ensure Dylan’s well-being because my conversations with his dad were limited. They reported he was doing well and sent me updates. To Dylan’s dad’s credit, he did send several pictures that Dylan had drawn. Between the drawings and the photos I brought with me, my room was decorated in “Dylan wallpaper.” His face was the first I’d see when I woke up and the last I’d see before I fell asleep. I kept pictures of him at work as well, so I was never without him.

I was relieved to find out that we had an end date of six months, which was so much better than nine months. After almost four months, I was able to come home for three weeks. One of the happiest moments in my life was when Dylan was dropped off at my house, and he came running toward me with a huge smile on his face and his arms wide open. We held each other, neither of us wanting to let go. We had a bond that would withstand incredible challenges. We had a wonderful time together, but I could not help thinking, How am I going to leave him again to finish my tour?

Somehow I did it, with another tearful good-bye and wondering how many times a heart can break before it can’t be healed. I just kept thinking, Only one and a half months to go. After I returned to the Middle East, time seemed to drag. I thought it would never end! But it did, thankfully, on June 23, 2004.

When I arrived home, I picked up Dylan at preschool. When he saw me, he had a look of relief on his face and literally fell into my arms. I vowed then and there that I would never leave him again.

I have since voluntarily released from the military to ensure Dylan and I will not be separated again. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. I have lost job security, but I have gained family security, which means so much more.

Sheryl McCormick

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