Johnny sat in his play room mulling morning activities at pre-school appointment. He liked school. Miss Angie was his most favourite teacher and she took a personal interest in each of the children under her care. There were other teachers in pre-school, and they were OK but Angie had fixed his hurt leg once when he fell over and she’d comforted him when some of the other children ganged up on him during recess. He liked the warmth of Angie’s embrace and was surprised when the serious woman in charge took Angie aside when she saw that and scolded her for embracing a child. She heard the serious lady explaining that there were new rules that had to be obeyed and teachers were not to have such contact unless other teachers were present to observe. Johnny didn’t understand why Miss Angie was being scolded when she was just being nice. He’d run over to comfort her when he saw her in tears after the scolding, but the serious woman ordered him back to his desk. The other children had paused to watch the interchange between Miss Angie and the serious lady trying to process what was happening. They were soon diverted by the interesting things they were drawing and colouring and forgot the incident.
But Johnny didn’t forget and as his habit was poured out the events of the morning when His Mom arrived to take him home from school. He was quite indignant as he reported on the exchange between the serious woman and Miss Angie. His Mom listened in silence and smiled to herself. How could she explain to her son why these rules were necessary in this day and age? The serious woman, as her son chose to refer to the head of the school was Miss Grundy. Maria knew her well. She was a good woman well respected in the community but not having been married and had children of her own probably didn’t understand how the minds of little people work as a mother does even though she’d been a teacher most of her life. Finally, she decided to attempt an explanation.
“Johnny the serious woman has a name, it’s Miss Grundy. She’s a very nice lady really and she is only trying to protect you and the rest of the children. You know you’re safe when your Mom and Dad hug you and Miss Angie is kind and safe too. Some adults who hug children are not safe and their hugs can hurt you and Miss Grundy is trying to teach the children not to let anyone hug them but their parents or those their parents approve. So, she’s trying to teach that lesson by not hugging in school. You can like your teachers without hugging them, can’t you?”
“But Mom, when I got a hurt leg, I wanted someone to hug me!”
“We all have to learn lessons and follow rules Johnny. You Dad is in the army. What if he said he hurt his leg and wanted a hug? What do you think the other soldiers would think of him?” She turned to see how Johnny reacted as they reached a stop sign at an intersection. The look on his face told her that was not a good illustration for a young child, and she sighed.
Both Maria and her son were silent as they processed the conversation. Maria remembered her own childhood. There’d been no need for these kind of rules in the society she grew up in. She could take her bicycle and visit the neighbour’s homes after school to play with the children and sometimes a few of the children would take their bikes out into the countryside to play and swim by the water hole. They were all good swimmers and had been taught survival skills by their parents. It was a natural way of rural life and there was no thought of danger from any in their community. Maria sighed again. Kids these days were underprivileged and the freedoms she grew up with now had to be curtailed by rules to keep children safe. Even safe adults were cautious about handling children now unless they were in a public place and among relatives and friends. There were times when she’d felt the need of a hug from an adult at that early age and it was part of her emotional stability as she grew to receive those hugs liberally from her community. She felt for her son who naturally wanted the same treatment.
Johnny had gone to his room silently and his Mom feeling for her son followed him in with a drink and some cookies and stook watching him play for a while. Then turned and headed back to the kitchen to prepare supper for the evening.
Maria missed her husband Ralph. She loved sharing with her Mother by phone whenever something was troubling her but there was an ache in her heart for Ralph. He’d been on a six-month assignment overseas and as it was a dangerous area of the world it was full on, not like some of his postings where a wife could stay on base and see him more often. Ralph was not a front liner but a technical support behind the scenes. These days you could sit in California and conduct a war thousands of miles away through the marvels of satellites and computers. Johnny was beginning his childhood learning experiences and needed a father full time.
Before this posting Ralph had decided to leave the army. He wanted to be part of his son’s growing up experience. The army had been his passion in his teens but now he had a child he wanted to be part of his daily life. Maria had suggested they should be planning for the second child they’d mutually decided to have. Who knows, maybe more? He’d applied for a discharge, but still had to complete one more year. His officers had promised him assignments closer to home in future and a training position at home if he could be persuaded to stay with them a bit longer. He was one of those technical whizzes they were unhappy to lose.
Maria had thought herself into a depressed state. She made finishing touches to table and called Johnny. “Supper’s ready does anybody want to eat?” Johnny came running and Maria picked him up and put him on the booster seat so he could reach his food. She smiled as she saw his enthusiasm viewing favourite food on the plate and her depression lifted.
Maria tucked him into bed after reading a story to make him sleepy. “Your school finishes for the year next week Johnny, what would you like to do during the holidays? We will be visiting Grandma for Christmas and meet all your cousins there. Is there any other special place you’d like to go?”
“Will Dad be there?”
Maria shook her head. “No Johnny, your Dad will not be able to make it home but I’m sure he’ll be able to make time to talk to us on the computer!”
Johnny pouted. “The kids at school say I don’t have a father anymore. Rick’s dad moved out of their house and he hasn’t seen him for a long time and Margaret said her father went away and she hasn’t seen him for a long time either. So, they said if I haven’t seen Dad for a long time then he isn’t coming home anymore.”
Maria exhaled in shock then responded angrily. “Johnny you can tell Rick and Margaret your Dad is not like that! He’s a good man and he’s told the soldiers he doesn’t want to work for them anymore because he has a son who he loves and wants to spend time with. We must be patient until the soldiers let him come home. Now off to sleep with you. You do have a father and he’s coming home when he can.” Johnny smiled happily and closed his eyes and was asleep before Maria turned the light off.
They were enjoying Christmas with Grandma and the rest of the extended family when one of the Uncles asked Johnny what he most wanted for a Christmas present. Johnny paused to glance at all the presents unopened under the tree and thought for a minute, then he spoke with conviction.
“I want to see Dad!” The Uncle who asked the question looked uncomfortable and Maria sprang to Johnny’s side to save the situation.
“Well we might see him on the computer when we get home from Grandma’s tomorrow Johnny. That will be the best Christmas present won’t it?” The rest of the adults busied themselves in conversation in sympathy with a little boy who missed his Dad at this festive time of the year when they were all celebrating.
And Johnny did get his wish. The army facilitated calls to family through carefully protected channels and Johnny was on a high for the rest of the day brief as the conversation had been. But the high ended soon enough. That call had just fed the longing in his heart for his Dad to be in the home. He had so much to tell him and Mom had promised Dad would take him to ball games like other father’s do, tell him stories and take him golfing. Mom did her best to take his mind of his father but seeing him yearn for a normal father son relationship almost broke her heart. She knew Ralph was doing his best to normalize their family relationship but found his absence increasingly depressing.
Days passed and a new year came crashing onto the horizon. The final days flew and soon it was New Years eve. There’d be celebrations. Johnny asked if he could stay awake to watch the fireworks signifying a new year had begun. Maria thought about it then agreed. But by 9pm that wait was just too much for him and he fell asleep on the couch. Maria picked him up and took him gently to bed where she tucked him in softly planting a kiss on his cheek. She was lonely and had no interest in the fireworks. It just reminded her of that New Year’s Eve long ago when Ralph turned and kissed her for the first time as the din of fireworks celebrated the occasion. That was then, this was now. She’d just prepared herself for bed when the door chimes sounded. She shook her head in irritation. Who on earth would call at this time of night? She’d go to the small window opposite the door and check out who it was in the night light over the door. If the person was not known to her, she’d not answer the door. She walked slowly to the window and peered out. Someone in army uniform. Her heart skipped a beat. Had something happened to Ralph? Surely not, he was not a front liner!
Opening the door apprehensively she gasped in surprise. Ralph? Ralph? He wrapped her in his arms silently while she sobbed softly. Then carried her inside.
“I’m so sorry to be this late. There was a glitch in the transport arrangements, and I’ve been on the road for almost a day to get here.”
Maria just snuggled in and held onto him with a vice like grip saying nothing. She slowly recovered.
“Oh Ralph, we’ve missed you so terribly.” She cried, but it was a cry of relief. All her depression fled as she grasped this was not a dream. “How long will you be home?”
“I have two weeks but won’t have to go back to that dangerous assignment. They are sending me on assignment to a place I’m not permitted to know yet, but they assure me it is not a war zone. My discharge has been agreed to, but I must serve my final six months and it will be travel but I’ll be home more frequently they tell me. I don’t know any more than that at present, I feel dirty so need to take a shower and get some rest.”
Maria nodded bustling to get extra towels into the bathroom and find his house pyjamas. She watched him shower pinching herself now and then to check this was not a dream. Then he fell into bed and slept from exhaustion. Maria sat in her chair watching him with satisfaction for a while, then took her rightful place beside him as he involuntarily placed his arm over her.
She was up early next morning pausing to check on her sleeping son. After showering she went into his room while he was beginning to stir as sun’s rays crept through his window. She shook him awake.
“Happy New Year son. What is the most important gift you’d like to have on this first day of the year?”
Johnny sleepily replied. “I’d like to have my Dad home!”
Maria could hardly contain herself with excitement. “Then come with me sonny!” Johnny followed wiping his eyes awake.
Ralph leaped out of bed as his training had taught him to do in an emergency, adrenalin pumping. But this time it was no emergency, just the happy cry of a surprised child. Johnny rushed into his father’s arms.
“Happy New Year son!” This was the best gift wish come true.
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