METHUEN — A run-of-the-mill assembly Wednesday quickly turned into the surprise of a lifetime for two Timony Grammar School youngsters, who were reunited with their military mom after seven months apart.
Tyler and Jacob Cobb hadn’t seen their mother, U.S. Army National Guard PFC. Kelli Davidson, since she left for basic training at the end of April. And as far as they knew, they wouldn’t be seeing her again until after Thanksgiving.
It was all a ruse, though, much to the boys’ delight. Minutes into the assembly — called under the guise of reflecting on Veterans Day — Davidson, clad in Army fatigues, walked onstage with open arms to envelop her shocked sons in a three-way hug.
“I’m so happy,” said 8-year-old Jacob, leaning against his mother’s side. “It means a lot. I haven’t seen her for six or seven months, and now I can.”
Davidson was equally thrilled by the long-awaited reunion.
“It feels unreal,” she said. “The whole time I was gone, you think about this moment. When it comes, there’s no words to describe it.”
Davidson enlisted in the National Guard for tuition assistance as she goes through nursing school. The Methuen native joined her brother and her husband, Brandon Davidson, in the service.
She headed south on April 30 for two rounds of training, first at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, then at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. She spent just more than 10 weeks in basic training, followed by 17 weeks of annual training, her husband said.
Davidson kept in touch with her family, which also includes 3-year-old Logan Davidson, first through letters and then through telephone calls and FaceTime video chats. The boys still felt her absence, though, as spring turned to summer and summer to fall, and Tyler’s 12th birthday came and went.
“It’s been tough for the kids, not having their mom the past seven months,” Brandon Davidson said.
But in true military fashion, he said, the family “made sacrifices to take care of each other.”
Kelli Davidson also kept up email correspondence with Jacob’s third-grade teacher, Kerri Martin, to check in on how he was doing in the classroom and beyond. They talked about surprising the boys when Davidson returned home from training, but weren’t sure when it would happen.
“It’s nice for the kids to see, and it’s a real-world connection,” Martin said.
The moment they were waiting for came with little notice. With her husband’s help, Davidson sneaked back home Tuesday night after her boys were asleep. She hid in a bedroom Wednesday morning as they got ready for school.
“It was really, really hard to not go out and tell them I was there,” she said.
Martin and supervising Principal Timothy Miller hastily called the assembly for third- and sixth-graders that morning. The students filed in shortly after noon, none-the-wiser as to what was about to occur.
In the spirit of Veterans Day, Martin had her students write letters to soldiers thanking them for their service. She called Jacob on stage to talk about his, then brought up Tyler as well.
Then she told the students the soldiers had sent one back.
“Would you like to read what they wrote?” she said, glancing conspiratorially toward the side of the stage.
Davidson rounded the corner. The students gasped and cheered. Tyler realized who it was first, running across the stage and all but jumping into his mother’s arms, Jacob close behind.
“I thought it was just some military person walking around,” Jacob said, adding. “I was going to say hi. But then when I saw it was my mom I just gave her a hug, like a really, really big hug.”
“Nobody let me in on the secret,” his brother chimed in.
It was OK, though. Having his mom home was “awesome.”
“I’m still shocked that she’s here right now,” the sixth-grader said.
The homecoming continued backstage, mother and sons catching up on the important — how much Jacob had grown — and the frivolous — like the upcoming opening of Chick-fil-A. Davidson set down her bouquet of flowers, her sons clutched teddy bears in Army fatigues just like their mom’s. The smiles never left their faces.
Davidson, classified by the National Guard as a mental health specialist, will be stationed out of Natick, her husband said. He’s stationed out of Methuen with the 101st Engineer Battalion.
She’ll attend training once a month while pursuing a nursing degree and working in the surgical unit at Lawrence General Hospital.
That’s all in the future, though. All that mattered at present was that Davidson was back with her family, and in time for the holidays no less.
“It’s bigger than Christmas morning,” she said.
Follow Lisa Kashinsky on Twitter @lisakashinsky.
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