Clothes have exploded around me - diaper boxes, plastic bins, hangers, and socks have taken over the boys' bedroom. I have just over an hour. One hour to sort through the piles of clothes and baby gear that has taken over this room. So many sizes - newborn to 4T. So much to refold, to relabel, to repack. I hold onto the tiniest ones, the preemie sizes, the newborns and I see the bright red letters as I pull out the next one. There it is - the one he wore that last day. "I love Dad" written on the chest. Size 0-3 months. So very small.
My littlest one - Eli - began taking two or three steps at a time a little over a month ago. This child moves faster, climbs higher, and has more strength than I have ever seen in a child of his size. And his size is what gets me - because with everything that he can do (climb book shelves, swing between the slats of his crib, scale the side of his pack n' play) he is still only the size of a 6-month-old. And so I think of him as a little baby. He cuddles, he clings to his momma, he is just still so very, very sweet and so very, very small.
But really, Eli is almost a year old and C is constantly reminding me of that.
I have mentally prepared myself for when my boys see their daddy for the first time. I know Logan is going to be okay - I honestly believe he will run into his arms like no time has passed. I do not even doubt that Eli will put his arms to him once he sees Logan do so. He loves to do whatever his big brother does. He may run to C simply because he will be chasing behind Logan. I worry about my boys' reaction less and less as the days go by and as their resiliency becomes more and more apparent.
But, every day, as I begin to understand how much they have changed, as people who have not seen them in 6 months or longer comment on how big Logan has gotten and how much Eli is moving, I realize that my worry lies in C. We do not have Skype - we do not have any video communication. And I don't think that people realize that many of our troops do not get to communicate with their families in that manner. We have a satellite phone that sometimes works great and sometimes gives only 30 seconds or so of communication. So my boys have not seen their daddy's face, I have not seen my husband, in several months. And that is what I have thought about - that they haven't seen him. My focus has been so very much on my children that I have rarely considered that he hasn't seen them either.
He has not seen the several inches Logan has grown since he hugged him goodbye so long ago. He hasn't seen the two clothing sizes he has gone through in that same time period. Eli was in the tiniest clothes when he left him. He started small - in some preemie clothing - and had barely made it into the "0-3 months" size when C kissed his forehead last summer.
Eli was just beginning to roll - and C only saw it a few times. He is beginning to walk now. He is babbling, saying "uh-oh", smiling and saying "momma". We are chasing after him as he tries to chase the dog around the house or climb the chairs up to the table. This baby - while I get to see the gradual changes, the moments over a span of time - will not be the child C knows. And we don't really notice it, because everything just runs into one, everything seems gradual, subtle. But when he gets off that plane and looks for the family he left when he boarded the last one - he will see me standing beside a much bigger boy while holding onto the hand of a standing, barely-talking toddler. What will go through his mind?
I wish for a moment, I could go into his head and heart and know everything that he will feel in this moment. The joy, the relief, the confusion, the sadness because there must be so much that he will be feeling. There will be so much that he will try to process in the few short moments between when our eyes meet and when that much bigger boy leaps into his arms. I want more than anything to make it okay - to relay to him in those few short, precious moments everything that occurred between when we left him for his flight and when we will greet him after this one. I want it to not hit him in the chest and knock the breath out of him the way I so heartbreakingly know that it will. I want him to see it through my eyes - to know the tiny babbles, the sweet eyes, the quiet peace of watching his littlest son sleep. I want him to know everything and it just broke me to realize that my worry and my fear has been wholly consumed with how my boys will be.
But when it comes down to it, the moment they see him no time would have passed. He will be the same daddy, he will be the same hero, he will be the same strong hands that have held them, and loved them, and protected them. He will be the same man. He will be the same most wonderful, caring, strong man that has done nothing but loved his family.
And in the two weeks that he gets to come home to us for his R&R, he will cling onto every moment, wishing so badly that he could have known the many, many months that passed without him. And that is simply the reality - the harsh, oh-so-difficult, hard-to-even-comprehend reality.
I miss him. My heart hurts to know what his heart is carrying, what it will carry when he comes home to us, the great weight it will hold when he leaves us again.
And today I know it, today completely reaffirms what I have said before. I am not tougher than him, what I do is not harder than what he does. To live this life without him here is not more difficult than him living this life without being with us. I have gotten to watch our children grow, I have watched Eli's first year, I have heard the "momma" babbled on his little lips. I have held him and felt his hands lightly brush against my cheeks and seen his bright-eyed smile as he looks up, inches from my own face. I have known this child - our child.
With the littlest steps, he has grown up before me. With the littlest steps he will approach his daddy. With the littlest steps they will grow to know each other and with the littlest steps, we will begin again.
"A soldier doesn't fight because he hates what is in front of him. A soldier fights because he loves what he left behind." - unknown
"God is our refuge and strength. He will protect us and make us strong" (ps 46:1). For those who will fly today, for those who are there now, and for those who will soon join the fight, Lord, shield them from all evil, strengthen their hearts, and bring them home safely.