At long last, the first week of March, the detachment was due back in the States. They were to fly into North Carolina and spend several days at Camp Lejeune before returning to base in D.C. and then home.
I couldn't wait. So on a Monday, I jumped in the car with a 3-year-old, a newborn and a ridiculous amount of gear and headed south. Judah emailed that they were about to leave Kyrgyzstan, and I reported that we'd hit a freak snowstorm in Virginia but had made it to North Carolina.
The next morning, March 6, I learned that the detachment's flight had been delayed, making that day the longest of the entire deployment. Or so it seemed to me, even though I wasn't the one who had crossed so many time zones that it had actually been a 35-hour day.
Waiting, I took the boys to the base exchange to eat and shop. Isaac, surrounded by Marines in uniform, revealed himself as a reservist's kid, asking constantly, "Is that my Daddy? Is that my Daddy?" about each Marine he saw. "No, not yet," I told him again and again. But the time was inching closer.
"Just landed!" Judah emailed me from Cherry Point, N.C., a while later, after we'd gathered with other families from the detachment. Still, their gear had to be retrieved and accounted for, their weapons checked in at the armory.
Time might as well have been standing still. Isaac played with other kids while I endeavored to keep Aaron from spitting up on his onesie, made for the occasion, which said, "I've been waiting my whole life to meet you."
Finally, the bus rolled up, and the Marines started pouring off.
"Is that my Daddy?" Isaac asked again. This time, I could say yes, pointing Judah out among the camouflage-wearing crowd. He sprinted up to his dad and they hugged — Isaac now 100 percent kid and 0 percent baby, but with the same look of adoration for his father he'd worn at their goodbye in the summertime.
"I missed you so much, Daddy!" Isaac said.
"I missed you so much, too," Judah replied, hugging him even tighter.
"Am I so much taller?" Isaac asked.
Judah laughed, eyeballed him, and agreed that yes, he was.
Judah and I locked eyes, and I said something silly like, "I have someone I'd like you to meet."
He took Aaron in his arms, and I looked at them looking at each other. Aaron, nearly 10 weeks old, gazed at his dad, then burst into tears; the bus had arrived at mealtime. I passed over a bottle, and Judah took over feeding duties for a few minutes until Aaron relaxed. Judah didn't want to let him go. And besides, it was his turn.
That night, in our room at the Lejeune Inn, Judah read Isaac a bedtime story while I fed Aaron, and soon enough, all three of them were passed out, all in a row.
Things were as they should be.
And I finally exhaled.
Editor's note: Sarah, Judah, Isaac and Aaron live in Columbia.