Just as we had following our previous tour in Chisinau, D had suggested we leave the kids with our parents for part of our home leave, but S nixed the idea. Junebug turned one just as we returned home and S was not ready for an extended separation. Six months later, the demands of resettling taking their toll and S’s head swimming from studying Tagalog, she was ready. Her mom kindly agreed to take care of the kids while we took our first trip alone — just the two of us — in two years.
Of course, we could not have envisioned the government shutdown when we settled on the Southwest as the destination for our vacation. All we knew is that no leave is allowed during long-term training, the week between Christmas and New Year’s being the sole exception to the rule. We had envisioned a warm break from the bleak DC weather — spending the week in Puerto Rico, Florida, or the Caribbean — but by the time D received approval to take time off, flights to those destinations were prohibitively expensive.
Instead we decided to head to the Southwest, an area of the United States we have grown to love more the more we have explored it, and which also promised considerably milder weather than the faux winter in DC. The first few days, this promise was fulfilled. The temperatures in the desert dipped down at night, but in the daytime we enjoyed t-shirt weather while hiking close to our nation’s southern border.
Toward the end of the trip, however, as we headed north into the mountains of New Mexico and Arizona, the temperatures plummeted. “This might be the only way we’ll have a white Christmas,” S joked while we wandered around the White Sands National Monument on Christmas Eve. Not so, it turns out. We hiked above the snow line the next day, and nearly got snowed in in Santa Fe the day after.
Initially, S thought we would be able to call home and Skype with the kids during our travels. However, being two hours behind East Coast time and staying out on the trail until dark most days made this impossible. S checked in with her mom in the evenings to see how she was doing, but missed the kids something fierce.
Our best way of maintaining contact, it turned out, was through Fred the dinosaur, whom Munchkin insisted D take with us. Reprising his travels with Pinocch in South Africa, D took scores of photos of Fred throughout our travels. Each evening, as we sat down to dinner, D sent the pictures to S’s mom, adding little descriptions and informative blurbs about the places we had visited and the things we had seen. Munchkin loved these daily updates and sometimes texted back. He does not yet know how to read, but he knows his letters and would ask nana how to spell things, typing out his responses in a curious mix of lowercase and capital letters.
It was great to have a break from all of our adult responsibilities and it was nice to be able to maintain contact with Munchkin while we traveled, but neither feeling approached the joy of reuniting with our little ones. D even asked S to hang back when we returned and let him greet the kids first because he knew they would cling to her as soon as they saw their mama. Junebug, who still does not talk, giggled with happiness when she saw us. From the way S clutched her, with tears in her eyes adorning her smile, there was little doubt that the feeling of wordless joy was mutual.