BBQ and 3 day weekend? Not for this family

Labor day: that day we all get off to celebrate social and economic successes of American workers. Generally spent shopping, at a festival or on vacation. Enjoying family and avoiding working on a Monday.

What about the people who can’t get the day off? Gas stations need staffed, grocery and department stores have more sales and military, police and rescue crews are always protecting us. While we often remember these groups, we often forget about the families. “well, they chose that life.” I always thought about military families. They don’t HAVE to.

This week, I saw firsthand how this is more of a sacrifice and less of a choIce. My cousin, whom is in the army, was transferred to a base in Germany. Problem is, he has a wife. Two toddlers and three cats. The little girls don’t understand where their beloved daddy went. He went over first to get the ball rolling on their new life. Mom, kids and pets moved into grandma’s house, which turned into a double edged sword. While mom loved the help and the kids were spoiled from playing with grandma, it made this week’s departure much more difficult.

Mom, Melissa, had the harrowing task of wrapping up family affairs, arranging for homes for pets and packing. She left this week for an eight hour flight, with 2 small children and almost 30 suitcases. The culmination of 10 yrs of marriage and 2 birth, baby clothes, family photos, Dora dolls and Disney princess pj’s, all packed into a series of cases, to be shipped to the new house

Having moved several times with a child, I fully appreciate the logistics of moving. However, a move of this magnitude takes an amazing amount of planning and stress. The hardest part is rocking a sobbing child at night because they miss grandma or their kitty. There’s little one mother can do to make children fully grasp what a move entails. The children had no idea that when they hugged grandma at airport security, that after eating breakfast with her for months, that they won’t see her for perhaps a year. A lot happens in a year. Next year, the oldest will be in kindergarten, the youngest, learning to scrawl her name at the bottom of a picture, to be sent to beloved grandma.

I walked into this family’s former home in north Carolina, just days after the departure. The aftermath of the haste of leaving was hard to comprehend. A half of a box of Kix on top of the fridge. Glitter nail polish, baby sunscreen, boxes of fruit snacks and cans of diet coKe on the counter. There are sippy cups in the sink and unexpired soy milk and Kraft singles in the fridge. In the bathroom, the blow dryer is still plugged in and princess bath toys litter the floor. The kiddy pool is still out front, next to the sandbox with purple plastic shovels inside. At night, nightlights, which once guided a potty-trained 4 yr old, come on at dusk. A pink blanket is folded neatly in the crib.

It looks more like an average day in an average house, where I dragged my son to preschool, trying not to be late to class myself. But that morning, a family said goodbye to the life they knew, beloved kitties and a doting grandma, to board a plane for the unknown in a foreign land. I can only imagine the stress and panic a mother felt as she pulled the front door shut and backed out of the drive one last time, praying she remembered passports and necessary toys, extra diapers and snacks.

When they come home, in a projected three years, the baby will be 4, too big for the crib. Someone will have cleaned the cans out of the cupboards and the condiments out of the fridge, likely Grandma, with tears in her eyes as she throws out old baby yogurt and forgotten leftovers. She’s taking care of the kitties, too, and will pack up the pool toys and tuck away single baby socks, the mates likely thousands of miles away, waiting on her babies to return. She’ll spend sleepless nights thinking about them and will trip over Candyland at 3 am.

While other families spend time together this labor day, this family will be apart. This was certainly a sobering experience to the uninitiated bystander. For military families, it’s more than free college with the GI bill and camos. It’s more than deserts and blown up humvees. Its families, just like ours who are sucked in, as well.

All I can say: thank you.

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