Jacob Garcia's class award for Improvement in Reading was nice, but the surprise waiting for the second-grader at back of the school auditorium Friday morning was even better.
His mother, stationed with U.S. Navy in Italy, flew home for a visit earlier this week so she could surprise her son for the holidays at Longden Elementary School.
"I missed you so much," Jacob told his mother, planting a kiss on her cheek and hugging her around the neck.
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Yesenia Garcia's surprise holiday visit required precision coordination with school staff members, who kept her return a secret until the emotional moment Friday when Jacob stepped forward to receive his reading award. After receiving his award, Jacob was asked to turn toward the back of the auditorium -- filled with staff members and classmates -- so he could receive another reward.
His mother appeared at the back of the auditorium, and Jacob sprinted down the aisle into her arms. Cue the tears and cheers.
Garcia has been stationed in Italy since August.
"It was a huge secret, and it was hard to not share with Jacob because he kept telling his teacher all he wanted for Christmas was to have his mom home," said Judy Schmidt, school counselor.
After the 16-hour flight from Italy, Garcia waited at a friend's house so she could surprise her son at the ceremony. The anticpation was almost unbearable, she said.
"I was very excited," said Garcia. "I couldn't sleep at all last night."
She will be flying back to Italy in January. Some of Garcia's shipmates gave up leave so she could return home for the holidays.