Raising two children is hard enough, but doing it while a husband is gone on his third deployment is even more challenging.
Melissa Seligman keeps herself busy with many projects while her husband Lt. David Seligman has been serving the country since August with the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division.
The couple and their 6-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son moved to Fort Riley about a year and a half ago.
Seligman wanted to make sure her Family was healthy during the current deployment so she and the couple’s daughter began counseling about eight months ago.
“My husband has been gone for 80 percent of my children’s lives and multiple deployments start to take a toll,” Seligman said. “So I wanted to make sure that we were all healthy, and about five months ago they were starting to talk to me about my daughter having depression.”
Doctors mentioned starting her daughter on medication for the depression and that worried Seligman. She wanted to do everything she could to help her daughter, so in December 2009 she began working on a children’s book.
“I thought it might be a way for her to start talking because you do it through art or through writing as opposed to having to sit across from a grown up and saying, ‘I’m really angry at my dad,’” Seligman said.
While David was home for mid-tour leave he sat down with their daughter and created her book.
The book, “A Heart Apart,” became a bonding mechanism for David and his daughter.
“My daughter actually turned around and looked at him while they were building it and said something along the lines of ‘Is it OK to be mad at you?’” Seligman said. “The amount of courage it takes for a kid to say that especially during R&R was really hard but I think it was important because he had the chance to say back ‘Sometimes I get really angry too because I want to be with you.’ They started having a great conversation about it.”
This book is interactive with a base storyline that Seligman wrote seven years ago. Children can adapt the story to fit their own life and add their own pictures.
Seligman created the book hoping children, especially her own, could find a way to communicate.
“There (are) all kinds of resources out there especially like the ‘Sesame Street Talk, Listen and Connect,’ but it’s really hard for a 4 year old to look at Elmo and say, ‘Oh, that’s supposed to be me,’” Seligman said. “So when they look at this book and they see their actual face and they get to tell their story, it’s really important for them to have a chance to do that.”
Her children now sleep with their books under their pillows, and the book has accomplished what Seligman hoped it would with her daughter.
“It’s opened up conversations with her that I’ve spent months in counseling trying to make happen and it’s not happened, and now she’ll tell me when she’s angry and why she’s angry because she has a book that she wrote that talks about those things,” Seligman said.
Seligman said she feels children don’t have anyone fighting for them on the same level that spouses do and that there isn’t much dialogue in terms of what deployments do children.
She believes that it’s more focused on the “Family,” Soldier, post-traumatic stress disorder issues or suicide rates.
“I feel like these kids, especially the ones from the age ranges of 3 to 10, kind of get overlooked because people just assume if they are quiet and they are functioning then they’re fine and I don’t think that’s the case,” she said. “So this gives them a way to talk without having to look straight at an adult and say something that might feel a little dirty because they’re told over, over and over again ‘You’re daddy’s a hero; I’m so proud of what your daddy’s doing.’”
Seligman also helps fellow spouses with her book “The Day After He Left for Iraq.”
When she wrote the book in 2008 she was nervous to be honest and tell people that there were “some days I just want to quit, or I’m so angry or if I see someone walking with her husband I want to throw a rock at her.”
“I really thought I was the only person who felt any of these emotions in terms of feeling kind of crazy during deployments or even really depressed because I’m not naturally a depressed person,” Seligman said. “So some of those emotions I had made me feel very alone and isolated. So I wrote this book not having a clue that anybody else felt that way.”
She soon found she was not the only military spouse who had these feelings when she began doing book signings. Seligman began thinking that there needed to be a way other spouses could express their feelings.
“So I got with a friend that I meet in Fort Campbell, (Ky.) – her name is Chris Piper – and we decided to create a support group online because we move so much and it’s hard to keep those contacts but it’s really easy online, so we created ‘Her War, Her Voice,’” Seligman said.
The site began as a blog in September 2009 for the two women where they would talk about the things they were going through such as the cycle of a deployment. They now have 2,500 followers and highlight guest bloggers.
Seligman and Piper began work with Operation Military Family, a group and book created and written by Michael Schindler in December 2009.
“Their entire goal is focused on driving the divorce rate down and focusing on building up military relationships – be it through children or spousal relationships – in terms of getting through deployments especially reintegration because I think that’s the hardest part of a deployment,” Seligman said.
Through this program the women have created a marriage seminar with the help of a Navy chaplain and Schindler revolving around the nuts and bolts of a deployment – how to communicate during it, what’s the most responsible way to communicate, how to keep the lines of communication open without being overwhelming for either spouse, using things like letters to talk about really deep conversations that probably shouldn’t happen over the phone or an e-mail or webcam.
The seminar is being accredited by psychologists and psychiatrists in the Army, Seligman said.
They are hopeful the seminar will begin in May.
Also in the works is Trench Talk, a live chat support group focusing on marriage and child issues along with PTSD and reintegration. This is a joint effort with www.notalone.com.
Seligman and her husband co-wrote “Simply Green Easy, Money Saving Tips for Eco-Friendly Families,” and she also has a poem printed in “Heart of a Military Woman.”
By Shandi Dix
1st Inf. Div. Post