This is a picture of my son-in-law, Jason, taken on the night he deployed to Afghanistan last spring. He is holding his then six year-old daughter, Lexi. Jason was leaving for his third Afghanistan deployment.
Tonight or tomorrow, there will be a similar photo, I hope, but this one will be of an arrival home, not of a farewell.
This past year, while Jason was away training and then deployed, my husband and I spent a lot of time in Jason's home, helping to look after his lovely daughter. The experience made me painfully aware of what our military men and women miss while they are away, working long, dangerous hours in service to our country.
Here is just a small sample:
Jason missed seeing Lexi learn to ride a bike.
He was away when she lost her first tooth.
He wasn't able to attend her first dance recital.
He didn't get to share those magic first moments when Lexi truly fell in love with reading and good books.
Jason couldn't attend Lexi's kindergarten awards assembly, couldn't take her to her first swimming lessons, or celebrate at her 7th birthday party .
Recently, I said to my daughter that I felt for her, for how tough it has been this past year to be on her own a lot, essentially a single mom with a busy army work schedule of her own. (Even at home, an army work day is a long one; she leaves the house by 5:10 a.m. for early morning physical training.)
But Molly's response was this: That no matter how hard it had been for her, it didn't come close to being as hard as what a deployed soldier in a war zone was going through on a daily basis.
Well, with luck, Jason will be back tonight. There will be many more "firsts" ahead for Lexi and Jason will be there to share them.
Still, in my opinion, the price of repeated deployments is high, even for those who come home physically unharmed. Each time that I was the one to see Lexi win an award or learn something new, I felt like a thief, like I was stealing something special that could never be given back.
Welcome home, Jason. You won't be seeing me for quite a while. I figure that the best gift a mother-in-law can offer at this time is her complete absence. But hey, don't forget to send pictures of those new Lexi milestones that are going to be coming along. You know, the ones that you're going to be there for from now on.
Love you guys!