When we hit day seven, and my son had just one week left before Daddy was home, his excitement exploded and stayed at an ultimate high through the rest of the week.
Each morning, as I sat on the couch with my cup of coffee and tried to adjust to the morning, my son would jump in front of me, place both hands on my knees, get eye-level and nose to nose, and in his most quiet and enthusiastic whisper possible, he'd say, "Mommy! I crossed one more heart off. Daddy's almost home!"
The emotion filtered through the entire house. The girls were chatting more and more about Daddy; playing with Daddy, showing Daddy their favorite toys and animals. I scurried around to get chores caught up, items and ingredients for my husband's homecoming meal bought, and even managed to squeeze in a hair appointment and pedicure. With each passing day my own enthusiasm continued to grow, but it was still hard to believe that the 239 days of deployment were really coming to an end.
The end, however, did indeed come. Last week, Monday, in the wee hours of the morning before the sun began to rise, the ships of the 15th MEU started to unload Marines and their gear around the Camp Pendleton beaches. My early-rising son woke me up at the usual 0515, and we began our last morning of getting ready for school without Daddy.
As my husband was, pretty much, getting off the bus at the battalion and then heading straight to work I decided my son should go ahead and go to school that day, and I'd have a sitter stay with the girls, while I greeted my husband. None of my children would have been very happy seeing their daddy finally come home, just to have to let him go again so he could work for a few hours. So, for me to go for the initial greeting by myself made more sense.
And, if there is anything I've learned about a military homecoming, never plan for perfect. This one was far from it, yet perfectly wonderful all the same in the end. I got to my husband's BN and waited for the bus he was on to arrive with a girlfriend who would be taking some pictures for us.
As we waited, we chatted and caught up on the latest happenings with our kids, work and life in general. Then, just to see if anything had changed in our surroundings, I glanced over my shoulder toward the warehouse and the area where the buses would be pulling in.
What did I see? Two white buses, of course. Parked and unloaded. When did they arrive? How did we miss it? Why didn't anyone announce them pulling in? I frantically picked up my phone to text my husband. "Where r u?!" to which he replied, "office didn't see u."
I'm floored. I can't believe this has happened. I've completely missed that moment when my husband gets off the bus. My girlfriend and I rush off toward the building and head for my husband's office. Naturally, he's not there and another Marine is kind enough to let me know he just stepped outside. I can only assume to try and find me, and I head out toward the warehouse bay — anticipation beating my heart to a dizzying pulp — to find my love.
Sure enough, there he is trying to find me. I yell out his name and run toward him, closing the last seconds of the 239-day gap between us, and melt in his arms. My husband is home.
That afternoon, my husband came with me to pick up our son from school and surprise him as my son thought we'd be going to pick up Daddy all together later that evening when he was done working. Waiting in line with the other kindergarteners at the gate, his face lit up brighter than the Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center. "That's my daddy! My daddy's back! That's my daddy!" — you could hear him telling all of his friends in the most exuberant voice.
As soon as it was his turn to come out of the gate, he barreled out as fast as he could and wrapped his arms around his daddy's neck. "Daddy, you're home! I missed you so much. Will you be here forever? I love you always!" He gushed a mile a minute, and you could see the pure satisfaction in his eyes. His heart is healed.
I'm not sure I know how to describe all of the feelings and emotions of the day. There's nothing like it; seeing three little pairs of eyes look up at their hero with pure love and adoration. That evening when my husband came home, he said it best as he clicked the heels of his boots together, "There's no place like home!"
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