Charlotte Johnson was so focused on her math classwork that she didn’t notice her mother, Christian, standing next to her desk.
“Mommy!” she gasped when Christian tapped her on the shoulder. Then mother and daughter held each other tightly in a lengthy hug while nearly everyone else in the room, even the other third graders, wiped away tears.
It was the first time Charlotte had seen her mother, an Air Force Master Sergeant, since she left in January for a four-month deployment supporting the NATO mission in Baghdad.
Christian Johnson surprised Charlotte, 9, and her son Cameron, 6, in their classrooms at Park Ridge Elementary on Friday afternoon.
Her husband, Chris, picked her up at the airport late on Thursday night, and she was actually sleeping in the guest bedroom when Chris got the kids ready for school Friday morning.
“You were hiding!” Cameron exclaimed delightedly when he learned his mom had been in the house that morning.
Cameron and his kindergarten classmates were gathered on the story rug listening to their teacher, Emily Meranda, read when Christian snuck up behind him.
The boy hugged his mom and then saluted his dad, who is retired from military service, when he saw that Chris Johnson was also in the room.
Meranda asked how many in the class either have parents who currently serve or have retired from service, and the majority raised their hands. She then asked how many have had parents leave for deployment.
“You have to be really brave, right?” Meranda said. “You have to take care of your family and we have to take care of you.”
To Christian Johnson, Meranda said, “He was so brave.”
The recent deployment was Johnson’s fifth, but the first since her children were born.
It was tough, but “they didn’t skip a beat,” she said.
The family would video chat every evening and cross off a day on a calendar counting down the days until they’d be reunited.
A self-described stickler about sweets, Johnson relaxed her rules so the kids could have a piece of chocolate every time they crossed off a day.
“They made videos for me of how their days went,” Johnson said. “Charlotte would read and Cameron would dance.”
She said she knew her children were in good hands with her husband and the teachers and staff at Park Ridge.
“They’ve been incredibly supportive,” Johnson said.
As Charlotte packed up her belongings to go home for the day, school principal Keana Butler called out, “We love you, Charlotte!”
In the school hallway, the family answered questions from reporters.
Asked what their plans for the afternoon were, Cameron said, “Snuggle with my mom!”
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