Since their father has been deployed overseas for the past year, four-year-old Noelle and two-year-old Natalie have adopted a new routine: They begin their days by eating breakfast with a framed photo of their dad.
"Noelle will say, 'Daddy's away with the big Army'," their mom, Megan Healey, who is Press Secretary for Pennsylvania House Democrats, told TODAY Parents. "He'll be home when he's done helping people and protecting our country."
What Healey and her daughters face as members of a military family is not unique: In fact, according to a White House proclamation in honor of Month of the Military Child, which takes place in April, over two million children have parents who are service members.
But while many children and spouses of military members know what it's like to go long stretches of time without the physical presence of one parent, so many of us have no idea what it's like, and a viral video of Noelle and Natalie is giving us some perspective.
In the video, Healey and Natalie talk about how much the toddler misses her dad—and the mom tells Natalie that her daddy is coming home soon. Natalie's reaction is adorable: After Healey asks her daughter if she's going to give her daddy "a big hug" when she sees him, Natalie immediately grabs the photo and hugs it.
It's more than just a sweet video—it's a symbol of what so many families face. And it's a testament to how strong the children of military parents are.
"They're the true heroes of all of this," Healey told TODAY Parents. "When you're pushing toward the year mark, everyone is more than ready for life to resume."
Of course, military families are facing even more during the pandemic, as they can't rely on the help of their villages during these times. "If there was no pandemic, the whole village would have come and helped, but you don't have that in a pandemic," Healey said. "I lived with a lump in my throat and constant fear that myself or one of my children was going to become ill or seriously ill while he was gone."
Fortunately, this family will be reunited soon—though not soon enough, according to Noelle. "She has been saying 'When is daddy coming home? It's just taking so long,'" Healey said. "She looks at the deployment app on my phone, which is a pie chart and the red is the part he has left. She asks if we can eat the pizza slice, because she wants it gone."