364 Days Until My War in Iraq is Over

Our youngest, 5-year-old Ainsley, snuck into our bedroom last night, threw her arms around her daddy and said, "I don't want you to die in Baghdad, daddy."
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He left this morning.

It's been six months since we learned that the State Department planned on sending my husband Bart to Baghdad for a yearlong tour of duty, leaving the kids and me behind here in Amman, Jordan, where we are living for the next twelve months.

This morning, it was finally time for him to leave.

Our friends, Mr. and Mrs. P, who have worked with us in Amman these past three years, came by at 7 a.m. to take him to the airport. (They were headed that way themselves and it seemed like a better idea to send him with them rather than loading our four young kids into the car straight from bed and forcing them to endure a tearful-but-quick airport goodbye.)

Yes, there were plenty of tears in our house this morning. And that was just from Mrs. P!

Our youngest child, 5-year-old Ainsley, has taken it the hardest. She snuck into our bedroom last night, as per usual, threw her arms around her daddy and said, "I don't want you to die in Baghdad, daddy."

What the what? She's 5. Let me tell you, neither of us was quite sure how to respond to that small trauma. We didn't think she even understood that he was leaving, let alone sophisticated enough to process the fact that we're sending him into harm's way. We knew it was going to be hard on our sons, who are 13 and almost 10, and who know exactly what's going on in Iraq and in the region. We figured our 7-year-old daughter might have some questions for us: After all, she's still traumatized by the duck-and-cover that we lived through here at the Embassy in Jordan just two years ago. But Ainsley? We didn't even try to explain it to her.

Explain to the other kids, yes. They all know their daddy is a policeman of sorts -- a federal agent with the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service. They usually see him in a suit and tie, but they've also seen him dressed in his federal agent gear. They've seen his office, with its cool gadgets and photos of him and his colleagues at work. They've eavesdropped on many a dinner conversation and phone call, when riots and shootings and all manner of bad guys are discussed. And of course they've seen him run out the door in a hurry when some emergency crops up. So, they know what he does for a living, and they are proud of his work. But I didn't realize, not until that late night comment from my baby, that even she understands the risks he is about to face because of his job.

We all waved goodbye this morning as the Embassy vehicle pulled away from the curb with him in it and then, together, we trudged silently back into our suddenly empty house. There were his house keys, his car keys, his phone, all on the table where he'd left them, along with the usual handful of change and a couple of scraps of paper. Like he would be coming back at any minute. I stared at those keys for awhile, just thinking my own private thoughts.

The dirty t-shirt in the laundry room. The toothbrush in the bathroom. The closet, still full of his clothes and shoes. I was torn between feeling as though it was all a dream, and he'd be coming right back -- he'll need his toothbrush, after all -- and feeling as though he'd suddenly died -- his toothbrush is still on the counter, but he's somewhere else somehow.

It was hard.

Luckily for us, this morning was the first morning of summer camp, so the youngest three had to rush to get ready. No time to mope. Me? I'm too busy to think about it. The Secretary of State is planning another visit to Jordan any day now, and there is much work to be done in my office before his arrival -- no time for wallowing in sad thoughts.

I had two back-to-back meetings in the morning. I muddled through both somehow before deciding to order a bagel and coffee from the cafeteria. As I walked to pick them up, I got a text from Mrs. P -- he's at the airport, he's OK -- and another -- thinking of you -- from my friend Trixie, a military spouse who has done this half a dozen times already. Marveling at my luck in choosing friends, I paid for my food, paid for my coffee and walked all the way back to my office before realizing I'd left my coffee in the cafeteria, next to the cash register.

Clearly, I am a bit out of it.

But it is done. We have started down this path after months of planning. And now that we've started, we can finish. Just 364 days to go.

Our friend Mike, another special agent who served with us here in Amman and is currently finishing up his sentence at Embassy Baghdad, far from his own wife and kids, emailed me a few hours ago to let me know that Bart arrived safely at the Embassy via helicopter. I imagine I'll hear from Bart himself once he gets settled and Internet-ed. And I will let you all know what he has to say.

The boy needs his own blog, don't you think? I imagine he'll be having all sorts of crazy-scary adventures over there, just a couple hours' flight away from us, and I wonder how many stories I'll get to hear. From what I understand, they tend to keep the scariest, most stressful stories to themselves until they return safely home.

Meanwhile, I'm home in Jordan tonight, just me and the kids and one snoring dog. Jordan is a tiny country, wedged uncomfortably between Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Israel. I tell my parents it's all OK over here, despite the troubling news out of Syria these days. It's a rough neighborhood, to be sure, but I feel safe here, and I feel closer to my husband than I would have had we chosen to return to the States for the year. I ordered takeout for dinner (hey, there are some pluses to this single mom gig, right?) and I know he won't be able to call tonight, but still, I'm listening for the sound of my phone, just in case he finds a way. The boys are playing video games together. The girls are drawing pictures and writing letters to their daddy. Ainsley has asked three times already if he'll be back "tonight or tomorrow? Which, mommy?"


Just 364 days to go.

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