This is how I feel today. I feel like Snow White and her Dwarfs. I got on a plane on the evening of February 27th and left my babies. I felt like I was wondering into the woods lost again. I know once I get back to Afghanistan I will be back in my routine, but it was so hard to leave again. I had a little taste of being home and it is very difficult to let it go again. I know it’s only four months this time instead of nine, but it just felt so right to be home and be a mom and wife again and its terrible having to give that up again.
We spent most of my time home on vacation. I am so glad we decided to take a big trip. Vacation was awesome and I didn’t get the chance to really get into a routine at home and disrupt what they have working there. If we had stayed home I think I would have gotten too comfortable and it would have been even harder to leave. Instead we spent most of my time home having fun and enjoying each other not at our house. I think this was extra important because I was not coming home for good, it was just a visit. The visit called for a vacation to celebrate time together and energize all of us for the next few months until I am home permanently.
I did do some writing as I was traveling and I’m going to start there and work my way to home and then back to Afghanistan.
On February 10th I took a shuttle from the Army Base in Kuwait to the Kuwait International Airport. Now remember for the last nine months I lived on a little postage stamp of a base and I haven’t gone or done anything outside of that little space. When they dropped us off at the airport and said get out see you in a few weeks, I was completely overwhelmed. First of all I’m in an Arab country and many of the women are in full burqas. There are people everywhere, which really is a new feeling for me. I walked up to the counter to check in for my flight, mind you they dropped me off at 4pm for a 10:30pm flight, but I was told I could not check in until 7pm. I was anxious to drop off my checked luggage and get my tickets, but now I’m stuck outside an airport for three hours. I certainly felt like an outsider. Here I am wearing my hair down in a country where the majority of the women are covered and many of them only show their eyes. I found a frozen yogurt shop and ordered pomegranate and mango froyo with Nutella. I ended up staying in the froyo shop for two and a half hours reading and hoping not to get kicked out. At seven I proceeded to check in and now the check in area is super crowded. Again I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. Also what I’m finding is everyone is very rude. I can’t tell if they are rude because I’m an American, a female, or this is just how they are, but I’m going to assume it’s a combination of the three. I get checked in and proceed through security. Of course I do that like an American. As in, I take off my shoes, take out my liquids, and laptop. What I find out is I didn’t need to do anything but take out my laptop and turn it on. Through security I had 2 hours before boarding. I found a pizza place and enjoyed a veggie pizza while just watching. What I observed were some universal truths. 1. No one’s kids listen, they throw fits and run around like crazy people. They do this even for women covered from head to toe, including the little girls. 2. Everyone takes selfies, even women in full burqas.
After a two-hour flight I landed in Abu Dhabi to connect to my flight to O-Hare. I had a little over two hours between flights, but that time was quickly consumed by customs. I was unaware, but some countries have US Customs in their countries. You clear US Customs before boarding your plane to the States. This is really nice, because when you land all you have to do is de-plane and get your luggage. I spent most of those two hours clearing US Customs and finding my gate. I had just enough time to use the rest room, grab some water, and send a few messages to TJ letting him know I’m about to board and my flight was on time. Now all that stood between myself and home was a 16 hour flight.
After watching four movies, eating a few times, and as much sleep as I could manage; I landed in Chicago. I was flying on Ethid Airways, which made the food interesting. After eating Army food for nine months it was a welcome change, but when I bit into one of the meals I ate something so spicy it burned all the way to my stomach.
TJ met me in the terminal and we waited together for my luggage. It was so great to see him. It was seriously like we never skipped a beat. Everything felt natural and completely normal. We spent that first day at a hotel near the airport. TJ brought me a couple of my favorite donuts, Ube donuts from Gurnee donuts. I enjoyed every bite with a great cup of coffee. We ate an early dinner. Then we went back to the hotel and watched a few episodes of This is Us. Now, This is Us fans don’t spoil the ending of season 2, we only watched three episodes and will have to finish the rest sometime this summer.
Timyra had mentioned earlier that she wished I was coming home for good in June and not July so I could surprise her at school. I love surprises, so I decided to surprise her this time. All the kids thought I was coming home a week later on February 19th. I couldn’t go get the kids until they were at school so TJ and I had until about 10 before we could go home. So I decided to visit my co-workers at Life Fitness for a morning workout and bagels. We had a really great time and I miss working with them. Thank you Life Fitness for all the support and I am truly looking forward to the fall when I can be permanently reunited with my Work Family!
The most amazing part of my entire trip home was picking up the kids for the first time. They all reacted in their own ways and each were true to their personalities. For Timyra we had to wait in the office for her teacher to bring her down. I did contact her teacher ahead of time, first of all to let her know I would be taking her out of school for two and a half weeks, but also to let her know I was coming to school to surprise her. The moment she saw me was priceless. She cried tears of joy and there was not a dry eye in the office. Timyra’s teacher took pictures and was very touched (this was the first time I met her) and the school was very supportive of me keeping her home. They just wanted to know when she would be back. Then we went over to Goddard School to pick up Timothy and Taylyn. We went to Timothy first, anticipating Taylyn would get very clingy. Timothy was very surprised and didn’t say a word he just gave me a hug and held on so tight and wouldn’t let go. When we went to Taylyn. When we first went in the room she ran and then just stopped, because she was so confused. She did walk up to me and touched my face to make sure I was real and not just a screen. She was still confused and gave Timyra a hug instead. Once she got over the confusion she warmed up and proceeded to hold onto me for most of the rest of the time I was home.
We spent the rest of the day at home enjoying each other. My mom made my favorite, lasagna, and my sister and her family came over for dinner. By 7pm I was exhausted and ready for bed. February 12th was probably the most emotional day of my life.
The following day, Tuesday, TJ and I went to see Hamilton. We left a little early so we could stop and get me fitted for my new bike and then we were off to our only date night for the year. Dinner was awesome and so was the show. I did find it funny that as we were trying to enter the theater there were so many people outside taking selfies we had to fight our way through the selfie mob to get in. All things I don’t see in Afghanistan (although selfies are taken, just not in mob format). TJ wore a sport coat I had made for him in Afghanistan and I wore a dress I had made. It was great to get out and enjoy each other! I loved every moment back with my partner. Life is just better when we’re together!
I did wake up the day after the show not feeling the best. I thought it was the food, I’m just not used to it anymore. I spent most of Wednesday in the bathroom, but tried really hard to pretend I felt fine. We had to pack and get ready for vacation and I was not going to waste even a second of my time at home. At this point the kids knew where we were going and were getting really excited. After packing and putting everyone to bed, I took an epsom salt bath and went to bed early. I woke up Thursday like a new person, but unfortunately now TJ had whatever I had the day before. He did a great job faking it like I did the day before. Of course as we’re driving to the airport, thank goodness we left a little early, we realize we left the tickets at home. We turned around and still made it to the airport with plenty of time. That is the beauty of flying out of Milwaukee, everything is quick. The flights went smoothly with no issues and we landed in Orlando at 8pm. We did have a transfer in Minneapolis. While we were waiting for our flight my kids found two other children to play with and they made up some game and passed the time playing with each other. While they were doing that, another family came into the seating area, they had 4 boys ranging in ages from approximately 18 months to twelve. The three older boys were walking through the airport with headphones attached to Ipads and were playing games or watching TV. My kids may have been making a little noise, but I was so happy to see them making friends, making up games, and not being literally tied to an Ipad. As a matter of fact, we brought the Ipad, but not once did we use it. Not even on the flights.
We spent the following nine days in Orlando. We were fortunate enough to stay at Shades of Green, the miliary Disney Resort that is part of the Magic Kingdom Resorts. The first night we did have to stay at the La Quinta by the airport, and I’ve been sleeping in some shady places over the last year, but this place was nasty. We told the kids to stay on the bed and not move. If you walked around with no shoes your feet turned black. We slept there, got up early and made our way to Shades of Green. So as not to bore you with details over the week we went to Blizzard Beach 3 days, one day each at Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Universal Studios. Our favorites were Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Both were not super crowded, we maximized our fast passes, stayed busy all day going from on thing to the next with little to no waiting, and we could all enjoy everything. This was my first time to Disney and I was impressed by how clean everything was. Overall it was an amazing week and a trip of a life time for all of us. The kids were over the moon and it was so special to get to spend the time together. It felt natural and just right to be there with them. Not once did we have a huge meltdown, everything just went smoothly, and we all enjoyed our well deserved vacation and recharge.
We flew back really late Friday night the 23rd and arrived in Milwaukee at midnight. Thankfully we all slept on the plane and it was only a two-hour flight with no layovers. When we got home everyone stayed sleeping. We were all exhausted from a week of vacation. On Saturday we had a few people over for lunch. It was nice to see a small sample of the people I’m missing this year. I apologize again if we didn’t get a chance to catch up. Be watching for an invite to a Celebration of Family and Friends Take II, which will be on September 2nd. If you’re reading this you’re invited! I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to the day I come home and don’t have to leave again. It was comforting when I was home knowing that next year I won’t miss Christmas, Thanksgiving, and birthdays. I know these next four months won’t be easy, and they may even be harder than the last nine, but the feeling of when I’m home again will make it all worth it.
TJ, my mom, and the kids are doing well and it was nice to see they have a routine and stability. I want to share something from the first night I was home. TJ and I were putting the kids to bed and they were saying their prayers. I always said prayers with the kids before bed, but TJ has taken it to another level. I was just so touched by what they say and the time they take each night to say thier prayers. Also Buddy has now turned into the resident prayer leader and he leads the meal prayers every night. I’m very proud of my family and what they are doing to stay strong.
On my last morning the weather was amazing. We took out the double jogging stroller for me and bikes for TJ’s and Timyra’s to go on a family run. We covered five and quarter miles stopping at two different parks along the way to play. The moment was so bittersweet. Those family moments are the most special to me. It was hard knowing it will be at least four months before we get to do it again. At least we were able to make that memory and we have that to hold onto until we are together again.
As I write this I am sitting in London’s Heathrow airport on a ten-hour layover waiting to fly to Kuwait. I was back Facebook chatting with the family and it almost started to feel like it did before. There were still a few tears, but I know once I’m back in Afghanistan the time will start to once again move quickly. I will be back with my friends there that helped me through the first nine months and busy getting ready for the Ironman.