I’m a mother of three, but I am raising a one year old for the very first time. How is that possible?
I remember the moment when I was pregnant with Mia and found out my unit would be deploying to Afghanistan. It’s a raw memory and I can still hear the ringing in my ears drowning out everything around me as my brain tried to reconcile what I was hearing.
I was four months pregnant with my firstborn child, standing in formation surrounded by my brothers and sisters in arms. We were being notified that in a year we would be deploying to Afghanistan for a year. No one knew I was pregnant at that time, it still felt too soon to share the happy news. Standing there in formation with nothing but tunnel vision and white noise, carrying this secret spark of life…I nearly fainted. It already felt like the life I had imagined for us was fading away before it even had a chance to begin.
As a soldier, deploying is a right of passage. It isn’t something we run away from, it’s something we run towards.
Imagine an athlete who trains for the Olympics their entire life and then never gets to go. All the blood, sweat, tears, and dedication for nothing.
We were hard-wired that way.
To always be prepared to charge towards the battle.
I was proud to fulfill my duty to my country. Yet I found my life pulling me in two directions. On the one hand I was a young mother needing to nurture her child and on the other I was a warrior being called to duty.
They were polar opposite demands.
I spent the remainder of my pregnancy carrying the knowledge that I would soon be leaving my unborn child and the guilt ate a hole in me.
When Mia finally made her big debut she was 7 lbs and 7 ounces of pure perfection. New motherhood with this tiny girl brought me the greatest joy. I finally understood the meaning of true love. But that time was tainted by the ever ticking clock of my impending departure.
Six weeks after Mia was born I started a regimen of hard physical conditioning to prepare my body and mind for the journey ahead. The next eight months were spent with my unit ceaselessly training, spending a ton of time away, and trying to run away from the reality of what I couldn’t escape.
In many ways I began to emotionally distance myself from Mia and her father in advance of my departure. It was a heavy burden to bear and if I let myself feel the weight of the sorrow it would have consumed me. It was easier to take all those feelings and tuck them away neatly in a little box in my mind. Seal it closed and never open it.
The day before I left, Mia took her first little steps at only 9 months old. It was as if she new change was coming and wanted to bestow upon me a parting gift to treasure. Something to carry me through.
The next day I stood on a tarmac to board a plane to the other side of the world and kissed my sweet girl for the last time. Walking away that day was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Each step felt weighted in concrete and my every instinct as a mother was to turn around and run back to her.
Goodbye, little angel.
Compartmentalizing. Soldiers are good at that. There’s no room for distraction on the battlefield. There’s no time for regrets. There is only the mission before you and the comrades at your side that depend on you.
The first week became a month. One month became two.
Each day that passed was another day behind me that I started losing the details of her face. The feeling of her tiny hand in mine.
Mommy will be home soon.
Rip another page off the calendar.
Fast forward and I’m sitting on a plane on that same tarmac returning home. Mia is now 18 months old and I’m wondering if she will even know who I am when she sees me again.
I had picked her up a little teddy bear along our travels and was clutching it in my hands, twisting the fur and anxiously waiting for disembarking.
The tarmac was filled with people.
Parents greeting their children.
Spouses holding their loved one.
Bright colors on banners.
The energy of the crowd was overwhelming and I picked my way through clusters of families trying to find my own.
Then I saw her.
She wasn’t a baby anymore.
She was a tiny person.
With pig tails sticking straight up in the air and the most inquisitive eyes you’ve ever seen. She was searching the crowd too. I held my breathe and steadied myself for the inevitable devastation when she didn‘t know me.
It was my fault.
I had left her.
But that was behind us now and there was nothing I could do to change it.
One step forward.
When I reached for her for the first time in what felt like a millennia Mia lifted her little arms and reached for me too. I could see the recognition in her eyes.
She knew me!
I was her mother, ofcourse she knew me!
We could be separated for a lifetime, but we would always find one another because I would move mountains to be with her.
I remember the lavender smell of her hair that day.
I remember the feeling that opened up in my chest of every emotion I had buried and the joy bled into the sorrow and back again.
I could have been nothing more than a puddle with her in my arms.
I remember the feeling of her chubby fingers holding my cheek. I remember the sound of her laughter when I gave her the stuffed bear. His name is Maxwell and she sleeps with him every night, to this very day.
We were united at last and I vowed to us both that day that we would always be together from that moment forward. I have kept that promise and been blessed with a million precious memories together.
I had the pleasure of being promoted to Bonus Mom shortly after returning home from Afghanistan. The love story of my husband and I began and our oldest daughter, Taylor, was 8 years old at the time.
Taylor and her father came blasting into our lives so unexpectedly, but it felt like we had always been a family of four. Taylor, who was once my little string bean, has now morphed into a poised young woman at the age of 15.
How did we get here???
*enter giant globs of tears*
I wish I could have been there when Taylor was a tiny rascal, to see her grow and teach her so many things, but alas the universe had not yet contrived a way for us to find each other just yet.
Our youngest daughter Norah just turned one and I am blessed with the pure joy of raising a one year old for the very first time and it’s like magic. ~ Nicole