Let’s just come clean about something. I have four kids, which means that my idea of a vacation is me sitting behind a locked bathroom door pretending not to hear the little people on the other side (or see their little fingers wiggling under the door).
So I get overly excited about travel to destinations that wouldn’t hit most folks’ radar. Like e-v-e-r-y heaven-forsaken place where the Army has sent my husband for pre-mobilization before deployment. Tell me that my husband has a short pass before he leaves the country, and I’m all over that.
This is how I found myself in the air longer than in my husband’s arms to negotiate precious time at Fort Bliss, Texas, this Fourth of July weekend. The logical route from New Jersey to Texas, it seems, is to take a detour to Arizona, then head back to the center of this great nation of ours. When I said I’d travel across the country and back for a second with him, apparently I meant it literally. But this wasn’t just a two-day pass; it was a birthday celebration — my husband was born on the Fourth of July.
I’ll pause in my story so you can make the prerequisite jokes about how “he entered the world with a bang” (never heard that one) or comment on the irony of such an awesome soldier sharing his birthday with our nation (yep, that one’s original, too).
So that we could have every possible moment together, I booked my flight home for the last one before my husband was due to report back — thinking about the value of those minutes and not the heartbreak of saying goodbye on any day, let alone his birthday.
July 4 is a day that would “normally” (when the military allows) be spent watching Daddy march in the morning parade, hanging poolside until the sun starts to set, then snuggling with the little ones on blankets to enjoy the fireworks under a clear night’s sky.
And when a deployment “claims” him on his birthday, it’s a day Mommy spends feigning enthusiasm about a parade and the pool and the fireworks so that things are as normal as possible in his absence.
I wasn’t prepared to choke down the ugly cry threatening to erupt in wailing sobs as he and I blew kisses and waved to each other the entire walkway to the boarding ramp. I kept my game face on long enough to clear his line of sight. But I could barely shove my carry-on bag into the overheard compartment and curl up in my seat in a good impression of the fetal position before I lost the battle with composure.
Night fell quickly as I stared out the plane’s window. Heading back across the country, passing through time zones and across state lines, I watched beautiful bursts of color fill the sky, celebrating our country and those who defend it. Almost like watching a birthday cake in the shape of our nation, aglow with the light of thousands of candles.
Happy birthday, my love — from a grateful nation and the world’s luckiest wife.