Here's a recap of the past 24 hours. Pat's flight was originally scheduled to arrive at 9:40 p.m. Anyone attending the welcome home ceremony was told that they should arrive at the parking area 2 hours ahead of time to catch the buses to the hangar where the ceremony would take place. It was a good thing that right before I went to load the car up at 7:20 p.m. I checked the flight website. I found the arrival was pushed back to 11 p.m. I had strategically planned Ryan's schedule to accommodate the 9:40 arrival, so now with it pushed back there was a wrench in the works. While I was figuring out what to do with Ryan to keep him up late, the flight was pushed back again to 11:50 p.m. Eventually I put Ryan to bed for about an hour before I had to wake him up at 9:30 to travel to the parking area. My poor little boy was so tired. While we were riding the bus to the hangar, Ryan just cuddled into my chest. We arrived at the hangar around 10:15 and found our friend to sit with. Shortly after we arrived they announced "great news" that the flight was only 1 hour 45 minutes away. The hangar was buzzing with excitement and children running around. Ryan was no longer tired and was quickly getting restless sitting with his mommy. Since we had so long to wait, I let Ryan walk around. My silly little boy walks around like a drunken sailor, and he had absolutely no fear of leaving me behind. He just walked around and around looking at all the people and children. Finally they announced that the plane was 15 minutes out, and we should go to the flight-line to see it land. I bundled us both up and headed outside. After a few minutes people started pointing in the air saying, "there it is!". I didn't see anything. Eventually you could see a moving light in the sky. While this was exciting, it seemed to be coming in so slowly. The wind was whipping outside, and I knew Ryan was unhappy. We waited and saw the plane land at 12:10 a.m., but I knew Ryan couldn't take anymore of the cold so I headed in before they started to deplane. Ryan and I went back to our seats and started to warm up. I gave him some yogurt melts, and by a stroke of luck he was sitting peacefully in my lap. About 5 minutes later the crowd started coming back in. I was pleasantly surprised when only a few minutes later they announced our Soldiers were coming in. They processed in, but I wasn't able to spot Pat. The ceremony was brief, and with all the sitting, standing, and singing, Ryan was entertained. When they released the Soldiers, I got out the bleachers and decided to wait where I was for Pat to find me. I waited and waited and found myself still alone with Ryan. At this point it seemed like everyone else had not only hugged and kissed their loved ones, but also had a five minute conversation. I was seriously beginning to think Pat wasn't there. Finally I saw him approaching. He was really smart and prepared because he had his camera out and ready. When he got to us, the most amazing thing happened. Ryan definitely seemed to remember his Daddy. He reached out to go to Pat. I grabbed the camera and started snapping away. Ryan was smiling and seemed so content in Pat's arms. I couldn't believe what a great reaction Pat was getting from Ryan. All of a sudden Ryan started hugging Pat. Anyone that has met Ryan knows he's shy around new people. It usually takes him a few minutes to warm up to people before he'll even smile at them. I could not have asked for a better reunion. We got 15 minutes with our Soldiers before they had to go board buses to turn in weapons. We returned to our buses and were taken back to our cars. From there we drove to the outdoor tents to await our loved ones. At this point Ryan was so tired that nothing was making him happy. I ended up strolling him down the narrow rows between chairs while waiting. Finally they finished their turn in and safety briefing and arrived by bus to the tent to pick up their gear. Pat spotted us right away and we headed straight to the car. We arrived home around 3 a.m. completely exhausted but happy. I let the dogs down to greet Pat and got Ryan to bed. We slept about 4 hours before starting the day. Ryan had to get his flu shot booster. We spent the rest of the day trying to get Ryan some rest and back onto his routine while Pat took in all the cute things Ryan does during a typical day. I made Pat his favorite dinner tonight. Pat went to bed around 8 p.m. to try to catch up on his sleep before reporting for reintegration tomorrow morning.
I cannot describe what it is like to have Pat home. It is so wonderful, but also the feelings are very complicated. I feel like we are returning to a "normal" that I have been missing for much more than 8.5 months. The year prior to this deployment was probably one of the most stressful for me and definitely took a toll on us. In many ways I feel like we haven't been able to relax and enjoy ourselves for more like a year and 8.5 months. I can almost not remember what it is like to have the peace of just being together without serious things to worry about. We are slowly falling into our places and routines. I am looking forward to finally being able to sit back and enjoy our family and the life we have.
Although last night was quite a long production, I couldn't be happier about how it went. These are memories I will hold onto forever.