And Then it Hit Me Like a Ton of Bricks...


We recently found ourselves reunited with a couple we were stationed with over ten years ago. It's been great catching up with them and having them nearby.When we went ourseparate ways years ago, neither of us had children. Over the past ten years, our friends haveadded two beautiful girls to their family.

Saturday morning, my gifrlfriend called me to ask what she deemed a "huge favor." I could hear the nervousness in her voice as she asked if I could watch the girls for a few hours while she and her husband did some Santa shopping. They needed to shop, get the stuff back to the house and hide it from the girls. Both parents work, and the husband is active-duty and TDY constantly, so it's a challenge for them toget away from the kids and do some shopping.

The kids are notrouble at all, and I was happy to oblige.Honestly, my friend didn't need to explain why they needed a babysitter, but when she was ticking offthe reasons she would appreciate it if we could help, one hit me like a ton of bricks. She said...

..."I could do this by myself, but he's missed the last two Christmases and it would be nice to be able to do this together." You see, her husband has been in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past two Holiday seasons. I don't know what it feels like tohave children and prepare a Christmas for them, but I do know what it feels like to have your husband away during Christmas. I also know what it's like to shop for Christmas gifts with someone who gets it and shares your enthusiasm when you find a gift for someone you both love. Like a couple of weeks ago when my mother was shopping with me for my nieces and I would hold up the perfect gift and my mother would shake her head in vigorous agreement. I imagine this feeling is magnified 100 times when parents share this joy together.

Yesterday, I had the girls. Among other things, (playing Polly Pockets and Dr. Seuss) we baked Christmas cookies and the girls decorated them with the frosting, decorative icing and sprinkles that I had bought for the occasion. We delivered some cookies to neighbors, and saved the rest for mom and dad. The kids were so excited to show their parents the cookies they had designed.Ithought how wonderful it must be for all of them to share a Christmas together this year.

I have a newfound respect for moms and dads who do this type of thing while their husband or wife is overseas. They do it without whining or complaining, but still, I know it's not always easy. I've often thought about the challenges that being separated over the holidays bring. I've been there myself. But I've mostly thought about it from an emotional point of view, and nota practical one. As in, logistically how hard it must be to find the time away from the kids, particularly if one works, and find time (and opportunity) to hide, wrap and then bring out all the gifts on Christmas day. I actuallyfelt a little ashamed that I hadn't volunteered to keep the kids at some point, instead of waiting to be asked.I knew this family had spent more time apart than together since the kids were born. What was I thinking... I'm going todo better, though. Ithink the perfect Christmas gift for mom and dad would be a certificate for a sleep-over. They could probably usea kid-free eveningsometime.

It's funny how sometimesI think I know everything there is to know about military life, and then something comes along to make me see things from a new perspective.

As a funny postscript, when mom and dad arrived at the house, they had downloaded and tucked away all of the gifts they bought - except one. There it sat in the back row of the van andthe girls saw it and got all excited. I saw the horrified look on my friend's face as we loaded the kids in the van.I knew what had happened and I said, "Oh, did you find one? You didn't tell me that, my sisterwill be so excited. My niece is going to love it. How much do I owe you?" Out it came from the van and into our garage, while the girls were watching. The oldest girl, who is nine, was trying to decide what was going on. Were we conning her or not? Was this for her sister or my niece? She finally decided she was onto us. During the day, I had told her that she is the age of one of my nephews. She yelled out from the van, "That's not for your niece, you said your niece was a he."Ha.

So, sitting in my garage is an "Our Generation Wardrobe with Vanity and Stool."I get the feeling this gift won't befrom Santa, but from mom and dad....

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