Sunday, January 1, 2012

A year of challenge and celebration

Happy New Year!  2011 has been one of the more challenging and joyful years in our little family.  We kicked off 2011 watching the ball drop from a little hospital room after our baby boy was born.  January 1st, we brought our first child, Landon, home.  We were overcome with love for our little guy and quickly adjusted to parenthood with a smile, despite the looming deployment over our heads.  My husband, Chris, had been permitted to stay for our baby's birth; but the countdown to his departure began once the little guy arrived.  Still, nothing can take away the joy of having a new baby at home.  Who knew God could make a little being so perfect in every way! 

Hours turned into days, days turned into weeks, and the time came to say goodbye.  The night before Chris was leaving for Afghanistan I entered the room to see him playing with our little one month old Landon.

I lost it.

I should mention that I pride myself on being the one who holds it together during goodbyes and cracks some lame joke to lighten the mood and end the tears.  What the hell happened to me?!  I'm a pretty independent gal and I KNEW that I would be ok.  My heart broke for Landon.  For the first 9 months of his life Daddy wouldn't be here.  We dropped Chris off the next day and I pretty much cried the whole day into night, every time I looked at Landon.  The next morning I woke up, put my big girl panties on, and got on with life.  This was our first deployment, but I knew one day I would look back on it with a chuckle.  There are much bigger things that people have to deal with on a daily basis.  Not to mention THOUSANDS of military spouses are dealing with the same feelings all the time.  I am not alone!  Besides, I had the most adorable little boy to take care of!

A couple of months passed with visitors to our home in New York and my first roadtrip with baby down to Virginia where both my parents & inlaws live.  Soon after my Virginia trip, I received horrible news.  Chris's Dad had been diagnosed with Cancer.  I had just been visiting with him and he seemed perfectly healthy.  Family and friends rallied around his father and he began the fight of his life.  As I tried my best communicating all that was happening to Chris in Afghanistan, I wondered - where's the manuel for this situation?  When a loved one deploys you worry about their safety and well being.  You worry about keeping their children connected to them.  You worry about passing the time and cooking for one.  You don't worry about how to deliver this sort of news.  I worried constantly.  I wanted to keep him informed every step of the way, but cancer can be a rollercoaster ride.  I wanted Chris to be informed, not worried.  Three long months later Chris was advised by his Dad's doctor that he should come home, now.  Less than a week later I picked him up from the airport and we were on our way to Virginia.  Not exactly the military homecoming you see on tv, but we had more important family matters on our mind. (On a sidenote, my heart smiled when Landon went straight to Chris and seemed to know exactly who he was despite six months of seperation!  Those video & audio books absolutely work!)  Shortly after we arrived in Virginia, my father-in-law took a turn for the worse and was put on hospice care.  We spent every moment of the next three weeks at his house by his side, surrounded by family and friends.  I tried to be excited to have my soldier back, but given the circumstances it felt selfish.  Unfortunately, duty calls and Chris had to return to Afghanistan.  There are no words to describle watching the love of your life say goodbye to his father, knowing he will not see him again.  The day he arrived back in Afghanistan I had to deliver the bad news that we both knew was coming and he was back on a plane again, headed home for his father's funeral.  We mourned, we laughed, we remembered.

The day after the funeral our moods moved to celebration.  A benefit had been planned a couple of months earlier by the local Fire Department (my Father-in-law was President) to assist the family with medical costs.  It turned into a celebration of his life and was a wonderful evening with a few hundred of our closest friends (and a few hundred complete strangers too!)  A few days passed and Chris, Landon and I were driving back to New York.  This time Chris was permitted to stay stateside as his unit's deployment was soon coming to an end.  I would say I jumped for joy but there seemed to be very little to celebrate when my husband just lost his Father.  I know he would give anything to back in Afghanistan and have his Dad here.

When we arrived back to our home in New York we spent the fall months focusing on our little family being together again.  Landon was crawling, climbing, and getting into everything!  We put locks on our kitchen cabinets, began the fun of table foods, & laughed out loud at the interactions of baby and dogs.  We traveled back home to Virginia for Christmas (the first time since 2009) and celebrated Landon's First Birthday before making it back to New York just in time to celebrate the ending of our first year as our little family.

The phrase, "I wouldn't change a thing" doesn't fit 2011 for me at all.  It is a year that has shown me the strength and courage I didn't know I had and grew family bonds more than I could imagine.  I am thankful for every family member & friend who visited, encouraged me to get out of the house, listened and talked, and in general was just there even when if you didn't realize you were.

It is the little things that make this life count.

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