La Vista, NE - A face on a monitor. For five months, the White family communicated through face-time as Jennifer White served her country on the other side of the world. Friday, the months of emotional goodbyes over the phone came to an end when Jennifer arrived home.
The anxious mother quietly smiled as the principal of Papillion-La Vista junior high school tricked her daughter, Samantha, into thinking she was in trouble. The principal called her out of class to discuss tardies. As they walked the hallways together, he threatened to contact her parents. That's when Samantha saw her mom standing in the commons. She had no idea her mom was coming home.
"Mommy!" The elated 12-year-old ran into her mother's arms. It's their third reunion but the homecomings have never been a surprise before. "Is this a good surprise?" Jennifer whispers to her crying daughter. Overwhelmed, Samantha could only smile and nod.
The tears didn't stop in the halls of the junior high. The reunion wasn't over. The next destination, Hickory Hills elementary, where Jennifer's five and 7-year-old children attend school.
Every child gazed upon the giant wrapped cardboard box sitting in front of them. Questions filled the gym, "why are the news people here?, what's in the box?" Hickory Hills also had a cover story.
"The news is here because we told them how well behaved you all are," a teacher addressed the confused children politely staring ahead.
After nearly ten minutes of announcements, the principal turned attention towards the giant present. "How many of you had summer birthdays?" Dozens of little hands shot into the air. "Hmm, Victoria, why don't you come up here, when was your birthday?" The seven year old celebrated two days earlier.
For her birthday wish, she wanted her mom to come home. With the help of her younger brother, and the entire school counting down from three, the two ripped open the box.
The gym filled with cheering students, tearing teachers and two stunned children. Victoria and her brother Dean were speechless as their mother simultaneously held them. In the back of the room, their dad smiled in relief. He's no longer a single parent, at least for now. "Is this a good birthday present?" The gift she thought she would wait months for, was only belated by days.