A Santee student got the sweetest surprise this week at preschool: a long-awaited hug from her mom, a U.S. Army service member who had been deployed for more than a year.
“I missed momma,” Addison Thomas, 4, said clinging to her mother, Army Corporal Brittnee Tiffin, minutes after they were reunited.
The heartwarming homecoming happened Monday morning at Addison’s daycare and church, Faith Trolley Preschool on Mission Gorge Road, as the girl and her fellow students took part in their Monday chapel service.
Tiffin stood outside the preschool before the reunion. The soldier was a bundle of nerves, so excited for the moment when she’d finally get to hug her child.
Tiffin told NBC 7 she hoped Addison would be happy to see her and maybe cry tears of joy. She joked that Addison might just tell her, “I’m going home with Yaya, bye!”
Yaya is Addison’s grandmother. The preschooler has been living with her grandparents during Tiffin’s deployment.
The girl’s grandfather, Kevin Tiffin, said the year with his granddaughter has been a blessing but, also, it has been difficult to have his daughter so far away.
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Watching his girls finally come together again was deeply emotional for him and his family.
“I’m blessed to see my daughter come home,” the grandpa said, fighting back tears. “I’m happy; full circle. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Faith Trolley had decked out its church with American flags, streamers and red, white, and blue balloons for Addison’s big surprise.
A teacher played guitar and led the kids in a song – “I’m in the Lord’s Army” – and asked Addison if she wanted to go on stage with a friend to sing along and dance.
Addison happily hopped on stage. Mid-song, as the little girl marched and sang, came her surprise.
Tiffin walked down the aisle of the church, in uniform.
“Momma!” Addison screamed, running off the stage and into her mom’s arms.
“Hi!” Tiffin said, dropping to her knees and opening her arms wide.
And then, that hug.
That long overdue, blissful hug.
Tiffin cried as she closed her eyes and held her daughter. At one point, the mom and daughter pulled back a bit to look at each other, face to face.
“Hi,” Tiffin repeated, slowly. “Hi.”
“Are we going to move to our new house?” Addison asked Tiffin.
“Yeah,” the Army mom said. “Are you happy?”
As Addison smiled from ear-to-ear, the director of the school, Karin Turner, got on the microphone to explain to the students what was happening. Turner told the kids that Addison’s mommy had been “gone for a long, long time” but that now, she was home.
Turner led the kids in a chant, their little voices saying in unison, “Welcome home, Corporal Tiffin.”
Addison was still clutching her mom. And, then, in true 4-year-old fashion, she said exactly what was on her mind.
Turning to her grandpa, Addison said, “Bye, bye, Papa.”
And the room laughed. And the military family smiled.