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His head rested against my breasts, the weight of his body heavy on mine. Nearly two months had passed since I’d last held him. I was home again. I expected a quick return to the routine, a fast track back to normalcy.

I brushed back his dishwater blond hair. Our chests rose and fell in unison.

“You know something, Mommy? I’ve been alive for seven years and you’ve been gone for five of those.”

My shock was genuine. What child comes up with that kind of statement?

You celebrated your first birthday with a loving father and capable nanny as I surged into a zone 1900 kilometers away. You were nearly four when I shakily telephoned my parents to ask them to drive 1300 kilometers to pick you up and keep you for a few weeks just hours after events in New York, Shanksville and Washington, D.C. changed the world. You were six when I set foot in the sandbox for the first of three deployments. I had a drop-dead departure date my second time in because I needed to return to register you for school and after-hours care.

I’d believed the long stretches at home – carving out time from a demanding schedule, subscribing faithfully to the idea that quality trumps quantity – made up for scattered weeks- or months-long absences. We frequented parks and playgrounds. We visited farmers’ markets, county fairs and pumpkin patches. We made the rounds of museums and car shows (and, oh, how you loved cars!). We picked out plants, made apple cider and maple syrup, and trekked downtown to trick-or-treat or sip cocoa at the zoo. We spent hours reading in bookstores, sewing stuffed animals and cuddling on the sofa.

Time was incongruous. Mine was absolute, yours was relative.

I wasn’t thinking like a seven-year-old.

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