A little family stands in front of the cold, metallic gates that separate airline passengers from family and friends. They hold each other close, hearts melting together and dissolving in a pool of tears, their newborn daughter crying between them – an island of emotion among the hordes of people hurrying past. Moments later, the daddy, clad in Army fatigues, breaks away, heading through security and back to the desert that is thousands of miles away.
The mommy watched, holding their daughter close, until he disappeared into the crowd.
It may have been a scene from a movie – but last week, it was a scene from my daughter’s life. By virtue of having her stay with us during her husband’s deployment, it became a scene from her parents’ lives as well. We weren’t there when our son-in-law left for Iraq in August, since they are stationed 700 miles away in up-state New York.
But this time was different. We were there for it all. And it hurt.
The day before he left, we watched them turn inward, simply sharing their space, breathing the same air, exchanging few words – absorbed in the moment they seemed to want to freeze forever. My daughter said she desperately wanted to stay up all night, to talk or not talk as they felt like it. But the baby’s bi-hourly feedings and diaper changes fed into both of their exhaustion, and sleep inevitably took over, though not for long.
And though they hoped morning would never come, it did, and they were caught up in the flurry of last-minute details, packing his bag and checking for tickets and military orders while their dog trembled in a corner, knowing something wasn’t quite right but unable to express himself.
I felt just like the dog, watching and waiting and wondering what was next. We walked out to the car and I hugged my son-in-law, wishing him well, holding my breath and hoping this was all a dream. I held my breath more, walling the tears behind my eyelids and inside my throat until the car backed out of the driveway and headed down the road.
Then I cried – for my son-in-law, for my daughter, for their baby – for the dog. I cried for the thousands and thousands of other families who would repeat similar scenes all over the country as their soldiers headed out, either for their initial tour or to return from leave.
I wondered if I, as a 20-something-year-old new mom, could have been so brave. How is it possible that her father and I were responsible for raising a young woman who so quickly learned to be independent, to make major decisions, manage her family, be a mom and make sure her husband feels included in the process?
We have since dried our tears and begun to carry on, making sure the new daddy has a continuous flow of pictures and stories about his baby girl. Our daughter is making plans to return to their home in New York in a month or so, to get everything ready for his return in a couple of months. Soon, their separation will be over and they will be a family again.
How thankful I am for the brave men and women of the military. I am also thankful for their brave and wonderful families who say goodbye so often and “hold down the fort” at home, until the morning comes when their soldier returns.