JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas — Deployments can mean long days and nights for the families who are left behind, but there are ways to ease the pain of separation and maintain a normal routine.
The wife of an Air Force brigadier general, who knows the stressors of deployment well, has used her family’s experiences as the basis of a children’s book that helps families cope with the temporary absence of their fathers.
Kristin Ayyar’s “Countdown ‘Til Daddy Comes Home,” which was published this month, tells the story of a boy whose father, in his words, “is going on a trip.” With the help of tools such as a countdown chart, a treasure box where he keeps things he wants to show his daddy when he returns, a “Daddy Bear,” books that feature his father’s voice and care packages his mother can send to his daddy, the boy is able to stay connected to his absent parent and live a normal life.
The self-published book also includes discussion questions that a mother can ask her children before and during the father’s absence and four ways a family can count down the days until the father returns.
“I wanted to combine a story for children with great suggestions for parents and caregivers,” Ayyar said. “To make sure I had the right discussion questions, I talked to mental health professionals and a military family life consultant.”
Ayyar said she wrote the book some 10 years ago, when her teenage children were younger. However, she put it away until last year, when she dusted off the manuscript because she was unable to find a suitable book that would help her 4-year-old daughter, Asha, cope with her father’s absences.
“There aren’t many that apply to the Air Force,” she said.
There also weren’t many that offered the quality she was seeking.
So Ayyar began the process to get the book published. She started a “kickstarter” campaign to help cover the publishing costs and searched for a publisher and illustrator.
It was an exhausting process, Ayyar said in her blog.
“When I started writing my book … I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” she wrote. “I now am officially a small business owner, blogger, social media consultant, web designer, public relations consultant, book distributor and public speaker.”
Ayyar found a publisher and hired an experienced illustrator, Melissa Bailey, through a freelancers’ website. She also used the services of her son, Vasan, as her “techie.”
“I narrowed the illustrators down to two and did focus groups,” she said, which included her daughter’s pre-school class as well as parents. “They all chose this illustrator.”
Ayyar described Bailey’s style as “between art and cartoon.”
Bailey based her illustrations on photos of the Ayyar family, including Vasan, now 15, as the boy in the book.
Although the book is based on her Air Force family’s experiences, Ayyar said she purposely did not identify the father as an active-duty member. The only possible reference comes when he tells his son it’s his “duty to go.”
“Somebody else’s daddy or mommy would have to go if I didn’t,” he said.
Ayyar said it’s not “military-specific” for a reason. Many civilian families also deal with separation.
“Everybody can identify with it,” she said. “It applies to lots of different situations.”
Ayyar also said she chose not to give the boy a name.
“He’s everybody’s boy,” she said.
Ayyar, whose book can be found on various websites, including Amazon’s and Barnes & Noble’s, put on her public speaker hat last weekend for the Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Airman and Family Readiness Center’s Hearts Apart event, which supports the families of deployed members. She’s already presented Story Time at the JBSA-Randolph Library, been interviewed on the Army Wife Network and will be signing copies of her book at a San Antonio Barnes & Noble store in June.
She’s not doing it for the money – she said it’s not a project that will make her rich – but she’s proud of the purpose it serves in the lives of families of deployed members.
“I hope it helps families stay connected and find ways to make time go more quickly,” Ayyar said. “It’s about helping families solve problems.”