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DEPLOYMENT TO IRAQ BRINGS FAMILY CLOSER

I took our two daughters, Lauren, 4, and Lily, 17 months, to lunch the other day. We ate at Lauren's favorite restaurant on Elmwood Avenue. There were many parents out strolling with their children in this trendy, pedestrian-friendly area.

As we watched a number of young families go by, I mentioned to Lauren that her daddy and I had lived in this area for a number of years. I asked her if she thought this would be a nice place to live someday. She answered very quickly and firmly that she liked our current street.

Surprised by how adamant she was, I asked what her one favorite thing was about the house we live in. Her answer was simple -- in that voice that toddlers have that says what other answer could there possibly be. "It's the house that daddy comes home to," she said.

There has been such a vacancy in our home this past year. My husband, David, was deployed in May 2004 for an 18-month commitment in Iraq. When a soldier receives "orders," the family dynamic changes.

Soon after we first received notification that David would be leaving, I decided we would continue our daily routine even if that meant that my husband's absence was more noticeable.

Some parts of each day are more difficult than others, with dinner time being the hardest. We all miss being together to share the evening and discuss daily events.

While it would be easy to concentrate on what is lacking from our lives, we have instead become thankful for everything that enriches it. Nothing has had a more profound effect on me than the kindness of those around us. While we might be missing one person at our dinner table, we now are fortunate to share meals with neighbors. These meals are an easy, relaxed time. The girls and I are lucky to be living in a neighborhood where people still take time to look out for each other.

We also are fortunate that we have relatives who have adjusted their schedules to become a great part of our weekly routine. It's given our extended family a chance to deeply connect, and I am grateful that the girls are developing such close relationships with their cousins and grandparents.

Although nothing could replace the time that we usually spend with David, this past year has gone faster just by trying to make each day rewarding.

I have also come to terms with the moments that we are just simply sad. At those times, I speak to the girls about how important it is that daddy is helping people and that we remember he will be returning home to us soon.

As a member of the Judge Advocate General's Corps for the New York State National Guard, we never thought that my husband's duty would have included time overseas. We did not go into this situation prepared emotionally. One can never know what to expect. What I do know is that we have become a closer family.

Not long ago, Lauren's preschool had a fund-raiser. One of the staff came over and told Lauren how great it was that she brought her mommy and her little sister. She went on to say it was nice to see the three of us.

Without missing a beat, Lauren said to her, "We are a good family of three . . . but my daddy will be home soon. We are even better with four."

Karen State lives in Buffalo.