Your parents could be taken away by their job for just a weekend and it might seem like forever, but some kids may never see their folks again.
It’s a feeling 16-year-old Madeline Mills knows too well. She’s spent most of her teen years helping care for her younger siblings while her dad fought in Afghanistan. She doesn’t want attention for her challenge, but attention may soon surround her.
Madeline shared her story in a new documentary about Canadian children whose parents have seen combat in Afghanistan. The National Film Board of Canada marked Remembrance Day with the national simultaneous release of the film, Children of Soldiers. There was a pre-screening at the Toronto Mediatheque yesterday with two protagonists from the film, including Madeline, in attendance.
Madeline endured her father Scott’s deployment from CFB Petawawa overseas to fight in the war.
“When my dad was gone, there was a chance he wasn’t coming home the next day,” she said during a discussion following the screening. “There are those of us who lose their parents or for six or seven months straight and you don’t get to see them. Almost three years consecutively, I haven’t lived with my dad. This will be my fourth.”
In the film, Madeline tells of her struggle to keep a brave face.
A few days before Christmas 2008, Madeline found her mom Cynthia sobbing on the phone when news came that family friend Greg Kruse was killed by a Taliban roadside bomb. Cynthia fell to the ground screaming and then left Madeline with her three siblings, plus the three Kruse kids, while she comforted his wife Jill. Kruse had called just days earlier to let his wife know he was coming home.
“The worst part was going to the movie store to rent Tinkerbell and the employees wouldn’t let me,” said Madeline, who was just 15 at the time. “I look at them and say, ‘My mom’s friend’s husband just died and we have their kids at our house, we need that movie to calm them down.
“It was the hardest day. We watched (Tinkerbell) three times.”
Madeline said she tried desperately to call her best friend Mag who was living with the Mills’ family at the time. Mag had gone to Ottawa to visit family. “It felt so useless to try and just cried,” Madeline said. “You’re trying to be strong but you feel horrible.”
Director Claire Corriveau said establishing trust was essential while filming as the biggest challenge was finding families that would be willing to continue participation in the project.
“What amazes me the most is the courage for these children to talk about their parents and family life,” she said in a press conference via Skype following the film. “They don’t want to hurt their parents but to confide in a film crew and hear what they had to say was important.
“I hope this film shows that it is okay to talk about it and it’ll help other children that they’re not alone.”
The inspiration for the film stemmed from Corriveau’s first military documentary Nomad’s Land (2007) when she realized there was more to say about military wives and their families.
“It’s very far and remote from our lives but for our proudest Canadians and their families, they sacrifice their relationships with their loved ones and the kids grow up much faster than any other kid in this country, especially in tragic circumstance,” Corriveau said. “I wanted to document the children’s experiences through the Afghan mission. I believe that everyone should know this.”
The bilingual film will be nationally released simultaneously on NFB.ca and DVD format at NFB Mediatheque building. It will also open the Global Visions Film Festival in Edmonton tonight at 8 p.m.