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Mercedes Williams makes the most of her meal while eating breakfast. Her mother, Cindy, is playing both mom and dad while husband, Andrew, is deployed with the USS Kitty Hawk.

Mercedes Williams makes the most of her meal while eating breakfast. Her mother, Cindy, is playing both mom and dad while husband, Andrew, is deployed with the USS Kitty Hawk. (Doug Huddy / S&S)

Mercedes Williams makes the most of her meal while eating breakfast. Her mother, Cindy, is playing both mom and dad while husband, Andrew, is deployed with the USS Kitty Hawk.

Mercedes Williams makes the most of her meal while eating breakfast. Her mother, Cindy, is playing both mom and dad while husband, Andrew, is deployed with the USS Kitty Hawk. (Doug Huddy / S&S)

Cindy Williams prepares a care package for her husband, Andrew, who is serving aboard the USS Kitty Hawk supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Cindy Williams prepares a care package for her husband, Andrew, who is serving aboard the USS Kitty Hawk supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. (Doug Huddy / S&S)

Cindy Williams keeps in touch with her husband through e-mail messages. Andrew Williams is serving aboard the USS Kitty Hawk supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Cindy Williams keeps in touch with her husband through e-mail messages. Andrew Williams is serving aboard the USS Kitty Hawk supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. (Doug Huddy / S&S)

Cindy Williams does dishes while her children eat breakfast.

Cindy Williams does dishes while her children eat breakfast. (Doug Huddy / S&S)

At 8 a.m., an inaudible garbled voice came through the baby monitor in Cindy Williams’ living room.

“That’s Mercedes,” Cindy says, running upstairs to see to the just-waking 2-year-old.

Moments later, Cindy carries the toddler, still pajama-clad, downstairs.

This is the official start of Cindy’s workday.

She is the wife of USS Kitty Hawk sailor Andrew Williams, a petty officer second class who spends much of his time away from the family.

He has to because his country needs him.

But that need leaves Cindy — and thousands of other spouses just like her — to play both mom and dad in a temporary one-parent home.

Her husband has been gone since Jan. 20. His ship supported Operation Iraqi Freedom in the Persian Gulf and now is heading home.

Neither she nor her husband knows exactly when he’ll be back. “You just plan for the worst and hope for the best,” she said.

Aboard the carrier, Andrew echoes Cindy’s concerns.

On this deployment, the goodbye “was more emotional because of what’s going on,” Andrew says, interviewed while under way. “She always worries.”

Coffee and e-mails

Cindy’s workload doubles in minutes as her 4-year-old daughter, Miranda, gets up. They are two young kids with two empty bellies, and Cindy means to take care of that. But first, they both give mom a good-morning kiss.

While she fixes biscuits with butter and jelly for breakfast, Tracy Johnson and her 14-month-old daughter, Arielle, ring the doorbell. They are the first of many ship spouses Cindy will see throughout the day — planned or unplanned.

Tracy is dropping off “Kitty Hawk Welcome Baskets” for Cindy to distribute to newly arrived spouses. Cindy takes the packages with a smile and waves goodbye.

She serves up the morning chow; the kids sit for breakfast. This also gives Cindy time to enjoy her French vanilla coffee and jump on the Internet; her husband may have written.

“We get to e-mail each other a couple times a day,” she says. The night before, the two were online at the same time. “It was almost like a conversation.”

Andrew says he e-mails as often as he can — but it all depends on when the ship’s server is working. And all the e-mails he receives, he saves on disk.

Even toddler Mercedes gets typing time, he says. “She just bangs away at the keyboard. It looks like the Tasmanian Devil talking.”

This morning, it’s Miranda who sends a message to Daddy. It’s a special day, she knows — his birthday.

He’s turning 35, Cindy says, but it’s just another of many significant personal events that duty and deployments have forced him to miss.

“Out of seven years of marriage,” she says, “he’s missed maybe three anniversaries.” If he can make it home by May 18, he won’t have to miss a fourth.

“I miss my daughters, their attention,” Andrew says quietly, looking down. “Mercedes runs up to me, grabs my leg, kisses it, turns around and runs off. I miss my wife’s support, just her words of encouragement.”

The couple has no regrets about Andrew joining the Navy. Actually, it was Cindy’s choice; she put him in the Navy because his job at Auto Zone had him on the road Monday through Friday.

“My wife got tired of it, so she went and talked to the detailer and I had an appointment the Saturday I got back. She did everything but sign the paperwork,” Andrew says, smiling.

Back in the Yokosuka home, Cindy grabs the day’s chore list. It resembles a grocery list. “If I don’t write ’em down, I’ll forget,” she says.

The chores

The day’s first stop is Ikego Housing’s MWR office, where Cindy wants to sign up Miranda for the next soccer season.

Next stop is Ikego’s post office, where Cindy is sending a care package to Andrew.

“This is about the 10th one,” she says.

With Mercedes in one arm, the box in the other — and her ID clenched between her teeth — Cindy hands the postal clerk her husband’s latest slice of home.

In the package, she’s packed all the things she knows he misses. “He doesn’t like the galley food too much,” she says, “so I send him Pop Tarts. And he also can’t get his favorite coffee, so I send him that, too.” Tucked in the box is a package of Millstone’s French vanilla.

“I don’t like boat coffee,” Andrew says. Cindy probably wouldn’t be too happy to know Andrew usually works out instead of eating lunch; he usually eats only once a day. Along with the snacks she sends Dean Koontz books and non-chocolate candy; chocolate melts while sitting in boxes in the Middle East.

A recent package had photos of Cindy and the girls.

“I feel like I’m missing a lot with my daughters growing up. I miss my girls so much,” Andrew said, looking at the photos. “They look older, more mature. The baby’s always had a personality — now it looks like she just has character.”

Andrew had been worried that Mercedes wouldn’t remember him. Then Cindy told him about how one day she walked downstairs in his T-shirt and Mercedes ran to her saying, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!”

“It makes me want to cry,” he said.

With the latest box on its way, the day’s schedule will bring mother and children to Yokosuka’s main base Navy Federal Credit Union — and to McDonald’s for an early lunch — before Cindy has to stop at the hospital at 12:45 p.m. for an eye exam.

Cindy doesn’t have a baby sitter, so the kids accompany her — and rend the air in the clinic lobby with screeches, yelps and tears, always followed by stern instructions from their mother. Cindy chases down a screeching Mercedes and calms Miranda with a stuffed toy puppy, before herding them into the examination room.

Behind her, in the lobby, a front-desk clerk whispers to himself: “She should have left her kids at home.”

Cindy didn’t hear the comment but told about it later, she was visibly bothered.

“Who’s going to watch them?” she asks. “The ship’s gone. I’m here by myself.” After thinking about it for a moment more, she offered another suggestion: “Tell you what: You find me a baby sitter — and you pay ... and I’ll leave them at home. But I sure can’t afford it.”

Planned surprises

Next stop: the Navy Lodge. Cindy is dropping off the welcome baskets to new families just arriving.

As the kids are put back into the car, she announces some unexpected news: “We’re going to the NEX,” she tells them. “I’ve got a surprise for you.”

Fifteen minutes later, the family is in front of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream counter; Miranda orders rainbow sherbet.

Cindy said it was a surprise, but the visit comes during a lull in activities — which raises questions about how unplanned the ice cream stop is.

“I’ve got to study,” Cindy says as she pulled a folder from her bag.

She’s taking English 101 and speech classes and hoping to get an associate’s degree in accounting. For a test tonight, she has to memorize a 2½-minute poem.

That’s an example of the multi-tasking she’s learned to do while Andrew is away. “When he’s here, our schedules mesh,” she said. But when he’s not, she’s learned how to make a stop for ice cream double as study time.

“If I didn’t multi-task,” she says, “things would take two to three times longer; I just don’t have time for that.”

At the food court, she runs into Sharon Lakin and her toddler son, Jacob. They’re taking an ice-cream break, too, that’s doubled as a photo pickup.

Lending a hand

After reading through the poem a few times — and cleaning strawberry ice cream from Mercedes’ face — Cindy packs her things to meet with Tanya Astorga, another ship wife who will watch the kids while Cindy is in class.

“Most Navy spouses are very independent,” Cindy says. “You learn to do things for yourself and how to make the day work.”

Andrew says he’s noticed how his wife’s character helps her deal with the separation. “My wife is a strong person,” he says. “I don’t worry about her very much.”

However, Cindy says, other Navy spouses certainly lend support — help that allows Cindy to concentrate on college classes despite her husband’s absence.

Later, she says she thinks she did well on her poem test. Her grade: a 90.

After collecting the kids from Tanya’s house, Cindy puts them to bed at home around 10:45 — leaving her time to check her e-mail in-box once more before hitting the sack.

Andrew has written.

It’s a nice send-off for an average day in the life of Cindy Williams.

At 1 a.m., she turns out the lights.

Thinking of home

Thousands of miles away, from his temporary home on a floating city with 5,500 others, Andrew is at work in a chilly room, repairing the laser-guidance system for bombs on F/A-18 Hornets. The aviation electronics technician goes to the nonsmoking area a few times a day to see the sunlight and get a break from his 12-hour workday.

“Every once in awhile I see sea tortoises, dolphins, lots of jellyfish,” he said.

They’re welcome surprises to his routine of sleeping, working and exercising.

By 10 p.m., he’s asleep in a berthing area with 200 other sailors.

But before closing his eyes he speaks to the dozen or so photos of his family in his rack.

“I say, ‘Love you, miss you,’” he says, “and I pretend they can hear me.”


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