Upon arriving at Fort Campbell, I expected to deploy immediately to Europe. As soon as I found out this was going to be delayed by two months, I communicated with the girls’ mother to have them visit the week before school started. Not only were they extremely happy to see their Dad again and setup their new rooms, but they were very excited to see the Fort Campbell area, where they would be living in a year’s time.
After spending a miserable night in the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (it was very cold and an alarm was blaring the entire night), it was all worth it once the girls arrived. As always, they had the windows rolled down when they pulled up, screaming “Daddy!” as I approached the vehicle. After checking in, getting through security, and finding our gate, the girls made a beeline for one of the Sprinkles Cupcakes ATMs.
As is tradition with their mother, they always get a cupcake from one of the machines, and they seem to enjoy it a little too much. Before I tried to go to sleep for the night, I found out exactly why. While you are waiting for your cupcake, the machine plays a very loud, embarrassing song that you just have to endure as everyone stares at you (“Yes, I am a 42-year old man who absolutely loves vanilla cupcakes with sprinkles! Deal with it!”). By this point, I was no longer embarrassed by it, but the girls had a good laugh anyways before Elaina scarfed down half of the confection.
It was a smooth flight back to Nashville and a quick car ride back to the house. I had so many stops and activities planned for the hour-long trip, but the girls just wanted to get to their new home.
They immediately rushed to their rooms to open up their Mini-Brand and LOL Surprise toys I got them, before I gave them a full tour of the house. While they played, I began hanging frames, mirrors, and religious items (from their great-grandmother) on their walls, with their input of course; it was very important for all of us that they had a say in what their rooms looked like. After a few hours of this, we were starting to get hungry, so we headed into town for some food.
Since I was trying to get the girls excited about Clarksville (one of the three towns immediately outside of Fort Campbell), I decided that we were going to eat pho for lunch, as it is one of the few eateries we can all agree on (on their turns to choose, Gabriella always picks Chipotle and Elaina always picks Panda Express). After going through all the pho restaurants with funny names, including Pho King (which I accidentally said out loud without realizing it), we went with Pho Real. And we loved it. So after our first meal, we had already found our new pho restaurant (goodbye, Indochine.. we miss you).
After we got back to the house, the girls wanted to meet the neighborhood kids, so it was cafe-building time. Just for this occasion, I had kept all the boxes from our move. Together we assembled a full-size restaurant so that they could play pretend. And it worked like a charm. Suddenly, groups of kids started flocking to meet the new girls in the neighborhood, which was great for me too, as I was able to talk to their parents as well. The girls had a great time serving “food” and playing with our neighbors for the next couple hours.
After a little bit of gaming, first video, then board, and later some cards, we got on our bikes to tour the rest of the area around our house.
We ended up at the nearby elementary school, where the girls were drawn to the giant playground. We ran around and climbed for a good hour before the sun started going down and the mosquitos started coming out. We rode back home and went straight into Family Movie Night; less than 24 hours at their new home and we were already back to our routine. Perfect.
After letting me sleep in, the girls and I got up, grabbed some breakfast, and headed to DEFY Clarksville to jump on some trampolines.
This was one of the activities that the girls were really excited about. The trampoline park in Tucson was more than an hour’s drive from our house in Arizona, so the girls were stoked that the one in Clarksville was so close. It also meant we might get memberships if they enjoyed it, as we could go a lot more often.
While they did not think it was as exciting as the one in Tucson (that one is a little bigger and has a junior ninja warrior course), this one had a rock wall and a slide, the latter of which they certainly got their money’s worth.
We were pretty tired though after we left, so we had obviously been jumping the entire time. By the end, they were disappointed we had to leave, so it gives them another activity to look forward to upon their return.
After hitting up a Freddy’s Frozen Custard restaurant (they were just amazed at all the places we no longer have to drive an hour to get to), we headed to downtown Clarksville to get some ice cream and visit the farmer’s market. While the ice cream parlor was unfortunately closed, the girls were happy to stroll around the farmer’s market, where they each got homemade necklaces and chocolate chip cookies.
Continuing with our search for the perfect playground, we stopped by the one in our housing area. We live in a pretty safe, secluded part of Fort Campbell, and the girls were pretty excited that in the future they could go over to the park unaccompanied, as it is only a couple hundred yards from our house. We stayed until it started to get dark, then headed back for dinner.
The final full day with the girls was kind of a blur, as we were so busy with activities. We started out by going to Baldonado Pool, but two things disrupted our good time. First, it was cloudy, so it was very cold every time we got out of the pool. Second, even though there were multiple slides at the pool, the girls had to take a swim test to use them. After an hour and a half, we were all freezing, and did not want to wait the extra 30 minutes to see if they could pass the test (they would have been fine, but were not confident in themselves). We then headed back home to warm up.
Obviously, that meant change into my clothes and run around the house like crazy people. It was like a fashion show, but completely with my civilian clothes and military uniforms. It was hilarious and we all had a pretty fun time. Sometimes being a good parent means you have to put away your pride and embrace the silliness.
Not wanting to spend time away from them to cook, we opted for pizza, breadsticks, and, begrudgingly, ramen noodles. Not the healthiest option, I know, but they were only out for the weekend, so I let the rules slide a little. After another movie and some nail polishing (mine too… again, things we do for our children), we headed to bed a little early.
After a decent night’s sleep, we all got up well before dawn in order to catch our flight to Dallas-Fort Worth, then to Killeen. While I usually sleep on the plane, I could not help but stay awake this time, as I was not going to see them in person again for another eight or nine months. Always just trying to stretch out that time with them a little bit longer, especially now. Their stepfather picked them up from the airport and the girls and I said our tearful goodbyes. Every time the girls and I part ways, we all end up with tears in our eyes; this time was no different.
This is going to be a tough year for us, easily the most difficult since their mother and I divorced. Since then, we have never been apart for more than two months, and even then, it has just been over the summer until they restarted school. While overseas, I will continue to write them letters and call when I can, just to let them know how I am doing and when they can expect me home. Anything to keep their spirits up and to remind them that I love them more than anything in the world. It is going to be rough year, but we are going to make it through. We always do.
Thanks for checking in on us.