Amber Haney is preparing for a long holiday journey.
She’s packing up her three kids and their two dogs – yes, the dogs are flying too – and will shepherd everyone from a family visit in Deatsville, Alabama to her home in Fairbanks, Alaska by way of Montgomery, Atlanta, and Seattle.
Once in Fairbanks they’ll reunite with Amber’s husband, Sgt. Christopher Haney, a 19D Cavalry Scout currently stationed at Fort Wainwright. They haven’t seen him since October.
“Woo hoo!” Amber crows. “I’m so proud of him. And we’re so excited to be together for Christmas!”
In the field but still in touch
Being a military spouse means learning to live with sporadic contact and celebrate small moments.
Christopher’s work as a reconnaissance specialist takes him into the field for 6 to 12 weeks at a time. Cell service and Wi-Fi can be spotty and for security’s sake, he sometimes can’t carry a personal phone.
So Amber makes sure that Christopher doesn’t miss out on what’s happening at home.
“Even if he can’t contact me, Christopher can watch our Polos,” she says, ticking off some of the sweet milestones and lighthearted moments she’s recorded and shared during their time apart: their tiny son eating solids for the first time, their middle daughter’s first steps, their older daughter’s first piano recital.
“Sharing these moments balances the sadness we sometimes feel about being apart for long stretches,” she says.
When he’s back online at the base, Christopher captures his days with Marco Polo, too. In one of Amber’s favorite Polos, Christopher’s booted foot dominates the foreground as he assembles a loose formation of men.
“He has his guys lined up doing jumping jacks while he shouts orders in this exaggerated drill sergeant voice. ONE! TWO! It’s classic,” Amber laughs. “Those quick, silly moments can make our day. They let us know that he loves us and he’s thinking about us.”
The night before Christmas
Amber counts herself lucky to be able to spend Christmas with Christopher, particularly because he’ll head out on another mission in early January. She wouldn’t trade their time together for anything. But thinking about the crew back in Alabama makes the holiday bittersweet.
“Growing up, Christmas Eve was a major deal in my family,” she says, tearing up a little. “We all went over to my Papa and MeMaw’s house to drink cider and eggnog, exchange gifts, and sing carols. Then my MeMaw would get out the family Bible and read the story of Christmas. After she passed away, my uncle took over the tradition.”
For six years, Amber hasn’t made the gathering in person. Which is part of why, as soon as she downloaded Marco Polo and shared it with her mom and sisters, they created a Christmas Eve group. And with it, a new tradition.
“Every year since then, they record highlights from the family party for me, along with my uncle’s reading of the Christmas story. And then I jump on to send love to everyone in person.”
If they can’t Polo in real time, then she and the kids snuggle up on the couch and watch later with their own cider and eggnog.
“We see their faces, feel their warmth, and get to feel like we were really there,” Amber says. “It’s magic.”
Want to create your own group to stay in touch with the people who matter most to you? Check out this article.