“Hunt the good stuff” is an often-used phrase in today’s Army – encouraging members of the force to recognize the positive aspects of their situation rather than dwelling on and getting discouraged by personal and professional hardships.
The “good stuff” can even be found in a world consumed by the stresses, fears and tragedies of COVID-19. At Fort Lee, for example, one young military family is seizing the silver lining of a stay-at-home order for non-mission-essential personnel in a very heartwarming way. They are experiencing the love and laughter of their children unlike ever before.
Sergeants Jaylin Heath and Melanie Galindo are mortuary affairs specialists who have been married since 2017. They also are the parents of toddlers who have lived with relatives in New York City nearly since birth for various reasons. When home isolation was implemented around the beginning of March, they opted to retrieve the children so all of them could be together at their Petersburg residence.
“It sucks to know what’s happening on the outside,” Heath said of the pandemic. “However, it is really positive that we’re getting the time to spend with our kids. I have to attend an accountability formation at the start of each day, but that’s nothing compared to being at work from 0630 to 1700 (hours) on my previous duty schedule. I am able to spend time with them and see what they’re into – like my oldest son who went from liking horses to dinosaurs. My youngest son is everywhere … if you say, ‘dinosaur,’ he lets out a little roar and raises his hands. It’s really cute seeing how they develop and how their personalities change.”
Prior to the children’s return home, Heath and Galindo were saddled with holding a family together through computer-sterilized Facetime chats and lengthy East Coast drives over holiday weekends. On occasion, they took leave to bring the children to Virginia. They realized it wasn’t the ideal definition of “family,” but it was the best they could do under the circumstances.
“It was pretty hard,” said 23-year-old Heath, assigned to the 111th Quartermaster Company, 11th Transportation Battalion, 7th Trans. Brigade (Expeditionary). “We tried to crunch the numbers (and military commitments) as best as we could to try to make a way for them to stay with us. We ultimately had to (give them stability) ... I kind of felt like a failure, honestly, because I couldn’t provide. It seemed like I couldn’t fulfill my duties as a father.”
In New York, the kids lived with Galindo’s mom and dad. She said it gave them peace of mind knowing they were being cared for in a safe, loving environment while she and her husband fulfilled their duties as Soldiers in units that maintain a constant state of deployment readiness.
“My priority was making sure they had the love and affection I couldn’t provide at all times,” said Galindo, a 54th QM Co., 11th Trans. Bn., Soldier. “I know who my mother and father are … so I knew they were going to be in good hands if I sent them there. I didn’t want to leave them with strangers, and I knew (my over-the-top expectations) were not going to be helpful at a daycare because I would put them first for everything. I know to some extent they are ‘spoiled’ and others may not have the same patience as I would. I just wanted to make sure they were in good hands at all times.”
As COVID-19 cases began the rapid slope upward in New York during late February, Galindo and Heath were due to deploy with their units in support of relief efforts, but neither did because Galindo was discovered to be pregnant. Her parents assessed the situation and told them it was a good time to relocate the tots. Her father, especially, said he did not want to put his grandchildren at risk of getting sick.
“He works at a restaurant and has a couple of friends who passed away (as a result of the coronavirus),” said 22-year-old Galindo. “He said he didn’t want to come home and expose them. He was really concerned because he heads out (to work as a chef) every single day. He was scared.”
Galindo is appreciative of her father’s gentle but thoughtful nudge. Picking them up previously for the purpose of bringing them to Petersburg sometimes created a somewhat awkward situation with her mother and father.
“In the past when I told them I’m coming home to pick up my babies … they’d really get sad and sentimental,” she said. “The fact (her father) said he was really concerned with what’s going on (conveyed the seriousness), and I didn’t have to feel guilty in taking my babies away from my parents.”
When the toddlers arrived in Petersburg roughly four weeks ago, it was a reunion worthy of a special section in the Heath-Galindo scrapbook. It represented true family wholeness for the first time in their marriage.
“They ran straight to us and wouldn’t let go,” she remembered with a proud smile. “I couldn’t let them go, either. It’s been like that every single day.”
Heath further reflected on “the good stuff” that has transpired over the past several weeks. For one thing, he has noticed how the pace of life has slowed to a tortoise’s crawl for many, providing opportunities for family members to discover one another. He has found joy and fulfillment in the everyday episodes of fatherhood, despite the fact it is markedly more exhaustive than a long day on duty.
“I’m definitely taking out the trash a lot more with their diapers,” he said with a bit of a chuckle. “I’ve been reacquainted with making bottles, being up throughout the night and getting kicked out of the bed because they want to sleep with mom. It’s a change because they’re little balls of energy. There aren’t many opportunities to sit and relax, but I think it’s wonderful. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Neither would Galindo.
“I just can’t stop smiling even when I’m tired and exhausted,” she said of the motherhood tribulations. “I feel such joy getting (out of bed) knowing they need me, and I need them. It’s even wonderful hearing them scream, or getting mad and fighting with each other. I just feel such pride that I have my babies here with me. They are my everything.”
The prospect of returning to routine military duties hovers over the family like an ominous cloud. It would mean an end to stay-at-home orders, working remotely and having two rambunctious toddlers storming through the house. On the other hand, it would mean sickness and death are on the wane, providing the country with a much-needed dose of relief and hope.
Heath and Galindo understand the reality of one day having to send their children back to Manhattan. That is a road they have traveled before. This time, however, they seem to be more cognizant of time being a precious commodity – something that should not be wasted by looking too far ahead when the loves of their lives are right before them.
“I know it’s not going to last, but I’m really grateful for the ‘right now’ of having them here,” Galindo said. “I feel truly blessed to have time with my babies.”
A maternalistic statement to be sure but made with complete comprehension of the world within her household and the one surrounding it.