Princess, meet your new family for the next year: your Aunt Donnah and your favorite cousin, cousin “K.” Remember? You met them twice before? Oh, and your grandma and uncle whom you met when you were 10-months old; they will be there to help raise you for the next year. And how could I also forget, your grand aunts, and your cousins… yes, all your other family members who you’ve never met.
This is our family and village who have stepped in to extend their love for you, and to help us get through this process. Oh, and silly me, your godmothers in the U.S. and your grandpa, granduncle and cousins back in Grenada. You have a very large village, my dear. They all love you and will protect you in mommy’s absence.
I spent one week with you to help you “settle in” and acclimatize to your new surroundings. Then the day came for me to take my drive back across the border and get ready for my own journey. I dropped you off at the Blaisdale Montessori School, gave you that final hug and kiss, and told you “I love you” a thousand times. We both cried, and I quickly walked away too broken to endure the visible pain upon your face that I have indirectly inflicted.
“O Canada” has now become your favorite song, as you screamed the lyrics across the miles in your untuned and transitioning voice: “O Canada! Our home and native land! True patriot love in all thy sons command…!”
You struggled the first two months, even developing a stress induced syndrome called pollakiuria. But you have adjusted well over the last few months. You have developed a regular schedule for a kindergartner: school, swimming lessons, French class, Sunday school activities, family time, and time with your new Canadian friends.
While you adjusted, mommy also adjusted too because I had to “get my head in the game.”It was difficult to say the least. A year is a very long time. But a break from the dark clouds was about to appear. When I found out that I would be eligible for two weeks of rest and recuperation (R&R), I quickly sprung into planning mode. Where would we reunite? Should I tell you? You’re in Canada, our home is in New Jersey and I’m on the other side of the world defending the flag.
I decided not to tell you; it was going to be the ultimate surprise. But, how were you going to meet me? You’re five years old and cannot travel by yourself. I was ecstatic when your godmother agreed to catch a flight to Canada to pick you up, and then fly halfway across the world with you as your chaperone.
Our meetup destination will be Thailand! Yes, this is it; two weeks in Bangkok, Thailand over the Christmas holidays!
And so the planning began. Tickets to purchase; permission to travel letters to write and notarize; hotel to book; leave request and travel briefings to complete; and the fear of you travelling for 21 hours to overcome. Meanwhile, I still had to maintain anonymity of going on the trip despite your million and one questions about why you were going to Thailand with your godmother and why I would not be going.
And then the day arrived. I arrived in Bangkok two days before you, due to the scheduling of my flight. With very little sleep from excitement, I left the hotel, hailed a taxi, and was off to Suvarnabhumi Airport to await your arrival.Arriving one hour early, I quickly took my place with other excited family members also awaiting their loved ones.
And there you were, in your tall and slender, newly expanded frame that was foreign to my eyes. I was shaking with joy while maintaining my grip on my phone positioned to capture your first expression upon envisioning my being. I slowly crept up behind you.
“Hello… who is this…?” was the barely audible words faintly escaping my tongue. You turned, stared, raised your arm in a half-wave mixed with confusion and jet lag all wrapped in one. Then you stood there, frozen and firmly planted to the floor until prompted by your godmother who said“go give your mommy a hug.”
That was all it took, as though you needed validation that yes, this is your mommy. What followed was a long expanse of hugs and kisses with a barrage of questions: “Mommy how did you know we were in Thailand… how did you get here, I thought you were in… where’s your uniform… mommy let me show you my Baby Alive…” and on and on spilled out words of excitement and curiosity. I turned and hugged my friend Audrey and thanked her for carrying you across two oceans to give me a Christmas I will never forget.
Holding your stuffed teddy bear dressed in army fatigues in one arm and my neck with the other, I carried you down three levels, out to the taxi stand leaving the airport behind to begin our two weeks of bliss. I never knew love like this before. You never left my side.
Our days were filled with many activities: Planet Dinosaur; a safari tour with elephants, sea lion and dolphin shows; a boat ride; hanging out at the beach; shopping; temple tours; parks/playgrounds, and just enjoying the city and the people of Thailand. And of course, we can’t forget; reading our favorite book- “The Tale of Buzz-Anna the Traveling Bee.”
We cooked, played, laughed, went for long walks and just enjoyed each other. The park was your favorite place to go as always. At first you struggled. You ran around from slide, to swing, to see-saw with your doll looking for a taker to play with you. But you quickly enticed a “friend” with no language in common and were soon chasing each other, playing hide and seek, going up and down the slides and running around the park. You eventually convinced me to play “monster” and before long, I had a slew of streaking Thai children and you hiding inside closed-in slides as I banged on the outside in loud roaring monster sounds.
One of my favorite moments with you was our daily breakfast time together, you me and Aunty Audrey. It was great watching you activate the ritual that she had taught you, to always set the table before breakfast. Knife, fork, napkins, plates, and cups. Everything in its place. And, my favorite part was listening to you leading us in prayer before every meal. My big girl, oh how time has flown! My second favorite moment was when we laid down to sleep at night. You moved your little body so close into mine until all the air gaps were completely obliterated. You were hungry for my hugs and the opportunity to lay in mommy’s arms.
The days flew by with fun and laughter. And then it was January 4th, the day you were to depart. It was a say day because we were saying our goodbyes all over again. I tried and eventually convinced you that this was a different kind of goodbye, because I would be coming home soon.
I know that months are hard for you to conceptualize, so we tried an alternate countdown method. I had you count the number of Saturdays I had remaining since numbers are easier to understand. So every Saturday, you will count and say “Mommy’s coming home in twenty Saturdays, nineteen Saturdays… five Saturdays! And that my dear, will help to make the time go by faster. You seemed to be satisfied with that suggestion.
I watched you drag your princess Sophia suitcase into the elevator with your head bowed. I knew what was happening. You came alive again in the taxi chatting up a storm. Then, we got in line at Eva Air to check in and it happened again, lowered head and sad eyes. You said “pick me up mommy” and I knew the moment of separation anxiety was quickly consuming you. Passport checked, bags checked in, boarding pass received and off to security check-in.
We approached the dreaded escalator of separation- “international departure passengers only.” Your grip got tighter around my neck and your body tensed as the tears rained down. We cried and hugged, and hugged and cried.Then it was time to put you down, to release you from my arms and back into the world. The world where your presence will only be visible in my imagination and on my phone screen during check-in-calls.
Boardingpass submitted to the security check-in guard. “I love you baby, see you soon… I love you mommy… bye Audrey…” I watched you wave as you ascended the escalator. And then you were at the top, the final wave and then you disappeared. I lost it; the bathroom became my best friend for the next twenty-minutes or so before making my trek back to Sukhumvit.
That night, I couldn’t sleep, tense with anxiety knowing you were flying throughout the night on your way back “home.” But deep inside I knew you would be fine because you said to me, “I will tell the pilot to ‘drive’ carefully.”
So here I am, back in the game for the final stretch and you are safely back “home.” Mommy’s doing well and will be home shortly. Be good; listen to your auntie, your teacher, grandma, your uncle, and the rest of the villagers who are taking care of you. Be good my princess, mommy loves you and can’t wait to see you again. Thank you for a wonderful start to 2018! Thank you Audrey for making it all happen!
If you’re reading this blog, thank you for taking the time to do so. Remember the men and women who are serving all across the globe. Also remember, it’s not only about the soldiers/airmen/sailors, but our families too. Most importantly, the children who feel it the most. They don’t understand the enormity of it. They just want their mommies and daddies home.
Thank you to my village who has stepped in to help me complete this journey. I love and appreciate your sacrifice to me and my daughter! See you soon.
Proud American Soldier!