By Melissa Blanco
It began as any other day. I woke up late, having just enough time to brush my teeth and pull my hair back into a ponytail. I woke the kids, gave them breakfast, and helped them get dressed. While they watch Playhouse Disney on television, I went to assist my husband in getting ready for work.
He wore his desert uniform and tan colored boots. He adjusted his dog tags around his neck, as he double-checked his overly packed rucksack. I placed his toiletries in a bag, remembering to smell his deodorant and shaving cream for the final time, in hopes that his scent would stay with me long after he had gone. I watched him talk to our children as he tied his boots, and wondered if they knew how different things would be for us now. I knew that he would miss kissing them goodnight as much as they would miss being tickled by him on the living room floor.
I had to turn away so that they wouldn’t see the tears filling my eyes, “be strong, Melissa, be strong,” I quietly repeated to myself. I glanced at the clock, as my husband stood up, signaling that it was time to go.
“The sooner I leave,” he kept saying, “the sooner I get to come home.”
I held our one-year-old son, Peyton, in my arms, as my husband held our three-year-old daughter Madison’s hand. He bent down and gave Madison a kiss and hug goodbye, like he did each morning as he left for work. He lifted Peyton into the air, smiling as Peyton laughed, before kissing him goodbye. Lastly, he embraced me and kissed me on my forehead.
“Please, come home safe.” I said.
“I will, I promise.” He answered.
Then my husband, a Captain in the Washington State National Guard, turned and waved goodbye, for a yearlong deployment to Iraq. When my husband joined the National Guard after college, as a 2nd Lieutenant, I never thought that he would actually go to war. I envisioned that he would serve one weekend a month, a couple of weeks out of the summer, and potentially help with a forest fire or other natural disaster. It never occurred to me that I would someday have a yellow, “Keep Daddy Safe” magnet on the back of my van, or that he would be a daily target for rocket and mortar attacks. As the weeks passed, my children began to wonder: Where is my Daddy, and why isn’t he coming home?
“Madison, you need to go back to bed now.” I said one night, as she walked into the living room, ten minutes after I had kissed her goodnight.
“But, I miss my Daddy.” She answered.
“Honey, I know you do. He misses you too.”
“But I need my Daddy. Iraq is far away.” She answered.
“I know. How about tomorrow, we go find you a special toy that you can hold every time you miss Daddy?”
“Can I get a princess toy?”
“We’ll see.” I answered. “Now go back to bed please.”
The following day, I took Madison and Peyton to the mall to find that special toy they could hug each time they wanted their Dad. Our expedition led us to the Hallmark store where we found a stuffed teddy bear, wearing an army uniform. It was soft enough to sleep with, sturdy enough to play with, and cuddly enough to squeeze when we were really sad.
“Peyton, what are you going to name your bear?” I asked.
“Buzz Lightyear.” He answered.
“That sounds good, Peyton.”
“Madison, what are you going to name your bear?” I asked.
“Daddy Bear.” She answered, giving her bear a kiss.
“Daddy Bear,” I repeated, “That’s really nice.”
From that moment forward, Daddy Bear went everywhere with us. He attended my brother’s wedding in Montana, went camping, and joined us on a vacation to Colorado Springs. He slept with Madison, waited in the van while she attended preschool and soccer practices, sat quietly in the pew at Church, and celebrated birthdays and holidays with us.
Daddy Bear liked to play with princess toys, he was an exceptional student while Madison played school, and he was an efficient block tower builder. Most importantly, Daddy Bear was full of love, and provided comfort to a girl who didn’t know how much she was sacrificing, so her Dad could help people whom she didn’t know and would never meet.
Madison and Peyton, guess who is coming home tomorrow?” I asked. “Daddy!”
“My Daddy’s a hero.” Madison told her Daddy Bear.
“Like Buzz Lightyear?” Peyton asked.
“Yes, he’s a hero, just like Buzz Lightyear.” I answered, smiling.
The day started out as any other typical day would have. I fed Madison and Peyton breakfast, and we drove to Starbucks for my morning latte. We played in the yard, cleaned up toys, and had time-outs. It was a regular day; except for one very special occurrence…Daddy came home.
It would be a while before Madison and Peyton would go to their Dad when they had a scraped knee, it would also take time for him to discipline them again. A lot had happened in the year he was in Iraq. He had experienced a war, and would never quite be the same as he was before. We had experienced life without him, and would never be the same as we were before. We would try to pick up from where we left off and rejoice in the fact that we were together again, and that he had come home safely.
As I walked through the living room, I noticed that Daddy Bear was sitting alone on the couch. I picked him up and headed toward Madison’s room. I saw my husband sitting on the bed, with Madison on his left and Peyton on his right. They pointed to the pictures of the book he was reading and laughed. He smiled and kissed each of them on their foreheads.
I turned and walked back into the living room. “Thanks Daddy Bear,” I said, hugging him, before placing him on the couch and walking back into the bedroom to join my family.