Communication with our son overseas was a dramatically different experience than when I served as a full-time missionary. Back then Mom wrote faithfully every week. I also wrote to the family every week. But the process of asking and answering a specific question took two to four weeks.
For the past two years I have started emailing back and forth with our son around 4 am every Monday. Although email is an asynchronous form of communication, it is immediate enough to address many questions in real time. We have learned much about our son's mission experiences through this process. I wonder what kind of communication method my kids will use with their kids a generation from now.
Our current family dynamics put us in a busy phase of life. I am told that time seems to pass more quickly when you're busy. My wife insists that our son's two-year absence went pretty rapidly for her. Besides being a busy mom, another part of that could be because our son was away at school for a year before he left and had previously spent summers working at scout camp in a remote region of the Tetons. We got used to him being gone. For me the time seemed to pass more piecemeal.
My lovely wife is a fantastic mother, although, she sometimes frets that when it comes to dealing with our Asperger Syndrome child everything she does seems to go wrong. (That's a topic that deserves its own post.) She does amazing work helping prepare for important functions and events in our family and in the life of each child.
So a couple of days before our son's return, my wife obtained a welcome home banner. She also plotted out a homemade welcome home sign to be built by plugging plastic cups into a chain link fence. The day before the blessed event, we spent family home evening committing an act of public vandalism by putting up our plastic cup sign on a freeway overpass under which we would drive on our way home from the airport. (Don't worry, we cleaned it up about 48 hours later.) We then drove up the freeway and took a photo of our work.
Given that our son was traveling from the other side of the world, I was prepared to be flexible about his travel. Flight connections don't always work out as planned. But this time around it went better than planned. Modern tools allow real time tracking of flights. We assumed that we'd hear if a connection was missed. Consequently, we arrived at the airport a little early because the airline's website said that the final leg of our son's flight was ahead of schedule.
We were among several families awaiting the return of a missionary, all of which were arriving on different flights. Our son had been awake for about 22 hours by the time we saw him walking into the luggage claim area. We held up the welcome sign and exchanged hugs and greetings. The reunion was brief and almost anticlimactic.
Before long we were on our way through rush hour traffic as my son and me exchanged comments in foreign tongues. (I speak a language that is close enough to his mission language that we can get along talking to each other.) At our son's request we went to a pizza restaurant for "real American pizza." He had gotten tired of "Muslim flatbread pizza."
On the way home we passed under our plastic cup sign. It was a good thing we had taken a photo of it because someone had tweaked the sign somewhat to also apply to someone else. What can you expect? It was on public property.
Before long some of our son's friends dropped by the house. But they didn't stay until extremely late like they used to back in the day. As our son approached his 26th hour of being awake he started to get pretty groggy. He was fine the following morning.
Yesterday morning our son gave a brief mission report to the high council. He later spoke at greater length in our ward sacrament meeting. Ever proud of his scholarly vocabulary, congregants had to pay close attention to what he was saying to understand what he was talking about. My wife leaned over and said that while she thought our son always had mumbled when speaking, she thought it had gotten worse. I reminded her that he had just come from two years of speaking a language that sounds like a mumbled and slurred version of one of the foreign languages I speak.
Following the meeting, family members gathered in the shade of our large silver maple tree to eat, welcome our son home, and enjoy rubbing shoulders with each other. The last of our son's friends left many hours later in the evening. But it was a good day.
As a father I am pleased to see my son's development. He seems to be well on his way to being a fine man and contributor to society. It is good to have him home. But he won't be around for long. He and his brother will soon be going away to college. Life changes, as it must and should.