When a Soldier Comes Home for Christmas: A Mother’s Confession

This week the “Mebane Enterprise” posted a touching article about my nephew, Ryan Redner, who with his wife and daughter Bella (whom he adopted when he married her mom) made a surprise visit to my sister’s home this year for Christmas. You can read the article here.

On the second page, my sister wrote a special “Letter to the Editor,” which she gave me permission to adapt here.

There’s a commercial on the air right now for a certain brand of coffee. A young man comes home for Christmas where he is greeted by his anxiously awaiting sister. He hands her a gift, and she takes the bow off and plants it on his chest with a quiet declaration: “You’re my present this year.” It makes me cry. Every single time.

This is the time of year that my husband asks what I want for Christmas. As in years past, his look implores me to give him a specific list of easily identifiable objects that one might obtain from any reasonably stocked store within the first ten feet of the entrance. And as in years past, I tell him I don’t want anything — and he shorts, “Yeah, right.”

What my husband doesn’t know is that this year I mean it. Nothing could possibly compare with what is already headed my way: Our son Ryan along with his wife Misty and daughter Bella. If my husband knew that they were coming, he’d feel just the way I do. But you see … he doesn’t know yet. Ryan’s arrival is a closely guarded surprise. Which makes my Christmas just a little more magical.

The calendar says it’s December 20, but I’ve been celebrating Christmas for weeks already, ever since I heard the magic words, “Yeah, we’re coming home. But only for a few days.” A few days? Santa’s reindeer never flew so high as the cloud I was on after hearing the news. Baking, cleaning, decorating . . . Christmas was in full throttle with the help of our daughter, Holly.

A seasoned military friend cautioned me against getting too excited. He knows that in the military, plans can fall apart at the last minute. They have before. As always, his caution falls on deaf ears. My boy is coming home, and it’s time to celebrate.

It’s been nearly a year since we’ve seen our son. When Ryan frst announced his intention to join the Army, I was torn between apprehension, pride, and a sense of loss. My baby had grown up. I learned rather quickly that this was the permanent state of emotion for an Army mom. While recruits are given basic training, there is no such luxury for Army moms. Once they deploy, you breathe in and out and go about your day. You stop watching the news and avoid some movies altogether.

Holidays and birthdays? You just get through them, somehow. You send packages. You wait. When they return from deployment, you wait some more. Particularly if your soldier is also a husband and father. Army moms take a back seat to Army wives, as they should. But that doesn’t mean we like it.

Ryan completed his first tour of Iraq in November 2009, and arrived back at Fort Hood the day before Thanksgiving this past year. Sergeatn Redner faces his second deployment to Iraq sometime between January 31 and February 9, 2011.

And although I know there are long days of waiting ahead, for us in North Carolina and for his wife and young daughter in Texas, I also know this Christmas is one I’ll never forget. For a few precious days, Sergeant Redner will be simply “Ryan” again, and I will just be “Mom.” I plan to spend a lot of time freezing his crooked grin in my memory, taking in the sound of my granddaughter’s giggles, and spend time reacquainting myself with my extraordinary daughter-in-law.

Ryan, you all are my present this year, and you’re more than I could ever ask for. And I’ll bet, for once, your Daddy will agree that I’m right.

Now that you’ve read this, I hope you will join me in a prayer for peace. May God grant that the war will come to a timely end!