Last week I have the most amazing opportunity to join some fellow press (yes, fully fledged press here!) to preview the White House Christmas decorations for 2013. As with many years past many of the decorations reflected support and honor to military members and their families; so it seemed only natural to invite some military families to view those decorations as the official first tour. The administration has done an amazing job at bringing military families to the forefront, and showing us that they are willing to do what they can to improve certain aspects of our life. With the Joining Forces Initiative and Operation Honor Cards, it is clear that this is something here to stay. As a military-connected person that means a lot to me. Sure I went as press, but being there meant something more. To take the time to really look at the ornaments, to speak with some of the other military-connected people that were there as part of the Christmas Decoration Volunteers was an honor.
The trees of the East Landing and the Blue Room were specifically designed to honor those who serve, as well as those who wait. Those walking through the tour come to the Gold Star Tree. Volunteers, including a Gold Star Mother, made star ornaments with woven gold stars in the middle. Ornaments representing each of the five branches. Here visitors can sign postcards that will be sent to our service members overseas; and they can also sign Operation Honor Cards to pledge volunteer hours. This room was difficult for me. I got the chance to speak with one of the volunteers who worked on this tree. She decorated it for her son, Capt Josh Byers, US Army, who gave the ultimate sacrifice in 2003. She proudly wore his picture on a dogtag around her neck, and lovingly rubbed it against her heart as she spoke to me. I’m not ashamed to say I cried, right then and there. She pointed to the ornament with his name on it, and I noticed there were many others on the tree just like his. A stark reminder of the realities of war, mixed with the hope and joy a Christmas Tree brings. They are the reason we are here, that our trees are up and decorated; that the stockings are hung by the fireplaces; and the reason I get to experience the joy with my children. That’s something I don’t take lightly.
The official tree of the White House, located in the Blue Room, is also dedicated to military families. It is adorned with more than 2,000 ornaments, many created by children on bases across the country. They created greeting cards featuring their favorite holiday memories. Photos of homecomings also hung from the branches of the tree. This was probably my most favorite part of the tree. In each smiling face I could see that of my own and my children. There is nothing quite like a homecoming. I don’t want anyone to ever experience a deployment, but the feeling of a homecoming is beautiful and priceless. Fabric ornaments with each state and territory, and one with all of them on there, to me expressed unity. Our country is united in this, in the fact that we are all in this together. Paper mache hearts and hand woven ribbons, each embroidered by volunteers from each state and territory, complete this beautiful tree. I came back to this tree several times, trying not to get in the way of my fellow press peeps. I just wanted to stand there and take it all in, look at every ornament and see every picture.
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It was such an amazing day, an honor and privilege to have been there. On top of all that I mentioned above I had a little fan moment when I met Ari Shapiro, White House Correspondent for NPR, and when a suspicious package was thrown over the fence and I got stuck in the Briefing Room.
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Being in the military sometimes has it’s perks….one of the perks is of course a direct line to Santa. So this year, since Daddy will be working hard Santa is making a special trip to our house this Saturday. When you’re in the military you do what you have do. It took me a little bit of thinking to decide what to do. At first I thought we’d just go with the flow and do Christmas on Christmas and it would just be whatever. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve had to just do what we had to do. But I realized since he will be here sort of close to the actual Christmas, the kids are still pretty young, and Brian will not be returning to school after our celebration before the winter break we decided to just go with it early. It’s more important that he be here to celebrate with us. Truthfully my little heart probably couldn’t take not celebrating with him. This particular Christmas seems to of particular importance because its our first one away from our families and closest family friends. December has been quite rough – a virus for Christopher and I, stomach flu for all of us, pretty bad colds for the kids and I. There’s so much I haven’t done that I wanted to. It’s important that I listen to my husband. The kids are young and probably won’t remember everything. At this point I’m doing this for me because I feel like I need to for them. I’m running myself ragged because I feel this need to for myself, to make up for the fact that things are different now. We got our tree late, the decorating didn’t go so well and the kids started melting down/falling asleep, hubbs has been working a ridiculous amount and its just not what I had in mind. However I must remember to take a deep breath. Too high of expectations only sets me up for disappointment. It is not like anything bad has happened, but I think expectations were too high and when things came up that were out of my control, it was difficult to handle.
I must remember to concentrate on all the amazing and wonderful things that have happened. The kids and I were able to visit the White House, all decked out for Christmas none the less. Daddy WAS able to go with us to get a tree and decorated it. We put our lights up, decorations are up, we got to see Santa and be blessed by the amazing people at Operation Homefront, which we never have been able to do before. So cheers to the good things. Christmas is not about what happens to us. It’s about giving, which is ridiculously cliched I know. Imparting upon my children the true meaning of Christmas is more important than any of that other stuff.