During a combat deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan, you may be afraid to discuss those countries with your children and wish to shelter them from the violence and horror that happens there. This is wise, to a point. But if we are going to tell the kids that “Daddy is fighting to protect people far away,” then shouldn’t our children learn a little more about Middle Eastern people? All those countries have a rich culture and extensive history. If you don’t want to talk about modern politics, focus on the ancient civilizations of Babylon and Persia. Look up pictures from museums that showcase Babylonian artifacts. Find paintings of poppy-fields. Try new food like couscous. This can help make foreign places a reality to young children, in a non-threatening and educational way.
During at-sea deployments, there are even more opportunities to talk about countries on the other side of the world. Use a map or a globe to help your kids track the ship’s progress, so they can see that their parent is still on the same planet! Show them the Equator and the International Date Line. Explain to them how time zones make it night-time for Dad when it is daytime for us.This is always a mind-boggling concept. And try to repeat words for both the city AND the country your spouse is visiting. I have heard military children fight about whether their parent is in Okinawa, or in Japan. (Hint: Okinawa is an island IN Japan!)
Where can you find all this useful information? In your library! Library books are great resources for learning about other countries, cultures, food, and customs. Look for books about anywhere the ship might make a port call, or any island nation that it might pass. Looking at pictures in the books will help children to visualize the cultures their deployed parent is visiting. For example, earlier in this deployment, my husband was able to Skype with us from China. We couldn’t see any of the city from his computer session, but he told the kids he was sending them some presents, including chopsticks. When they opened up a library book later, we found pictures of the city skyline he had called from, ships in the harbor, and a family eating a traditional meal–with chopsticks. That adds a lot more meaning to the gift, and helps them see that it is not just a weird object from a foreign place. They also asked a lot of interesting questions about statues of Buddha and Chinese writing (they wanted me to read the characters to them!). So I hope that our library trips will expose them to the world as Dad travels around it, and put some beautiful and interesting images into their brains!