The goodbye at the airport was hard. I cried. I hadn’t expected to cry, which is ridiculous because I cry at everything. (Whenever I try to appear tough Ian reminds me of movies where I was weeping before the opening credits were done rolling.)
The whole trip to Madison felt unreal. I picked the girls up from
school, stopped at home just long enough for a potty break and for the
kids to grab any blankets or toys they wanted to sleep with, and we
headed west. All three kids wanted to cram together in the back of the
minivan to watch a DVD, which worked out well since Ian had asked me to
bring a ginormous army box from the basement that filled up the middle
row of seats. I couldn’t really see my kids. I drove for ninety
minutes with only the GPS to talk to and incredibly depressing news
about the war on the radio.
We arrived in time for dinner. That was fun. Ella’s Deli is this
crazy place to eat in Madison with a carousel outside and hundreds of
moving toys on the ceiling. Our table was one of those games with iron
filings under glass that you can drag a magnet over and put beards or
hair on the people drawn underneath. The kids were thrilled with
dragging the magnet all over the table and there’s no better place for
an ‘eye spy’ game than Ella’s. We took the kids out to ride the
carousel while our food was being made, even though it was incredibly
windy and cold outsdie. It was nice to all be together.
When I came out, she was calmer and playing with some of her toys. I
told her again I was sorry about the suit and this time she said, “It’s
okay. Everyone makes mistakes.” Then she started to cry again. I
asked her if there was anything that would help, and she decided she
wanted to talk with one of her friends. It was only about 8:30, so I
went ahead and dialed the number. The friend’s mom was sympathetic and
tried to wake her daughter up to talk to Aden, but she was too far into
dreamland to be coaxed into a phone conversation. Aden talked to her
friend’s mom instead, and it helped. Aden doesn’t have any friends who
really understand what she’s going through, but I’m grateful that so
many of them try.
Mona and Quinn came back from the pool happy, and Aden finally
decided she wanted to go, too, even if it meant wearing my suit like
Mona had. Ian really didn’t want to go back to the pool. I know he
wanted time with me, but there’s just no way to relax together with all
the kids in the same room, so it made more sense for him to concentrate
on them. He agreed to go with Aden to the pool and she lit up. It was
nice to see after such a difficult evening. I know Ian enjoyed that
last bit of playtime with all of his kids.
Then we suffered a very long night. Quinn was fussy and would only
rest next to me. Once he fell asleep and we moved him to the other bed,
he started to cough and thrash and bump into Aden. Aden kept having
to shift around. Mona fell off her side of the bed at three in the
morning and howled. She ended up in the middle of our bed next to me
until I decided I had to move next to Quinn to keep him still, and Aden
ended up at my feet somehow. By the time we got up at five I was wiped
out. We nebulized all the kids, packed up, grabbed a little breakfast
in the lobby (which had a do-it-yourself waffle station–pretty cool) and
headed to the airport.
It was nice to see the other people in Ian’s group. When he was
working with the unit in Texas last time, I never met anyone or got to
be there for any of the sendoffs or welcomes home. (I think that must
have been very lonely to arrive back from Iraq and see everyone else get
to hug their families when they got off the plane. I hate that no one
was there to greet Ian. I’m already looking forward to welcoming him
back next year.) There are eight people in his group. Three of them
were women, and one I talked to was leaving behind three kids of her
own, the youngest of whom was one year old. I’m glad I’m not the one
who has to say goodbye to my kids for a year. I can’t imagine.
We had passes to be able to go with Ian all the way to his gate. We
went through security–lots of little shoes off and back on–and then
waited for the plane. It wasn’t what you might expect. Waiting for a
plane is boring, even when it’s part of a significant moment. The kids
all got squirrely, and I sat with my husband but there wasn’t much to
say. ‘I love you’ is nice, but how many times can you say it in fifteen
minutes before it loses any sense of feeling? A couple of the other
families asked if they could get a picture of us all together, and I
just couldn’t do it. I was so disheveled and my eyes were so puffy and
Quinn was uncooperative…. I just couldn’t. The other families seemed
better at this. They were smiling and seemed to be making the most of
their time there. I didn’t see anyone else cry besides myself and Aden,
but maybe I missed it. It’s hard to be observant of others when you’re
sad because it’s such a myopic emotion.
After about a minute I pulled myself together and we headed out. I
told the kids they should try to nap on the ride, but none of them did.
When we arrived at their school at about ten in the morning, the girls
were so discombobulated that they didn’t know what to make of the
deserted playground. At first they thought school was over and everyone
was gone. When I told them, no, it was not even lunchtime, they asked
if they’d beaten everyone there and school hadn’t started yet.
Beginning of the day, end of the day–I could have told them it was
bedtime and it would have seemed plausible to them. I walked the girls
into the building and helped them get late passes. Quinn and I went
upstairs to talk to the art teacher about good days for volunteering,
then went to the violin store for a few hours. We ate lunch. We picked
up the girls in the afternoon. We made dinner and practiced violin and
did baths and went about our lives as if we hadn’t woken up in
Madison. As if Ian would walk in the back door any minute. As if
nothing had changed even though life is now different.
The photographs Chris Kraco took of our family last week are lovely.
I’ll post some of the other ones soon, but here is the last picture of
our family all together for awhile.
My goal now is to keep things running smoothly and look on the bright
side wherever I can find it. It’s easy to point Mona and Quinn toward
the positive. They want to laugh and run and they are distracted by
small pleasures. Aden clutches sadness to her in a way that concerns me
sometimes. I don’t plan on seeking out the counseling services the
Army provides for children in her situation, but I’m not ruling it out,
either. We’ll see. If I can keep her occupied and focused on things
she can do (such as writing letters and helping bake cookies to send and
trying hard in school) and not let her feel helpless, we should be
And I have to work at keeping my own spirits up. Because I know some
of the sadness I see in Aden is merely a reflection of my own.