The siblings, front-row center in the gathering of kindergartners and second-graders, never saw her coming.
“I didn’t even see your boots,” Anthony Sutton, the 6-year-old, squealed excitedly to his mom.
“I saw your boots,” 8-year-old Isabella Sutton said. “I thought they looked familiar.”
The two had assembled with classmates midday Friday in the Charlton Heights Elementary School library, ostensibly for a program. It was all a ruse organized by staff to surprise the Sutton children with a guest: Air Force Staff Sgt. Heather Sutton, aka mom, returning home from a year’s deployment at the DMZ in South Korea a day earlier than the kids had expected.
The children could not see their mother in her camo uniform enter and walk though the library with her husband Richard Sutton until she emerged from behind a pull-down screen that almost went to the floor. The screen blocked the kids’ view of her entrance — except for the boots.
When mom emerged, the two children merely gaped for a moment.
“I thought it would take a second to recognize me,” the 31-year-old communications specialist said. “Seeing the shocked looks on their faces … ”
Two quick intakes of breath, exclamations of “Mommy!” and a mad dash followed. The two bolted toward mom for hugs a year in the making. Anthony briefly peeled off to give dad a hug, too.
“I surprised you. I came home early,” Heather Sutton, kneeling, told her daughter as she stroked her hair.
Anthony motored back to his mother, getting a bear hug that lifted him off the ground.
Heather Sutton, originally from Detroit, and St. Johnsville native Richard Sutton met in the Air Force. Both were deployed to Iraq in 2004 — he went to Baghdad, she to Tikrit.
Heather Sutton, who enlisted in 2000, initially joined the armed forces on a hitch-by-hitch basis; now she realizes this is her career.
“I’m just so thankful of the support system [the children] had here,” she said. “I’m grateful to the family, teachers [and] staff … for taking that mother role with me being gone.”
After the school year, the family that has relocated several times will be on the move again, to Colorado and her next deployment. She hopes her recent tour in a hostile area is her last.
Although the family Skyped several times a week in mom’s absence, the kids hurriedly tried to catch her up on the past year.
“I got a doll now,” Isabella said. “I sleep with it.”
“Daddy got a new apartment and a new car — because the old one was too messy,” Anthony said.
The other students and teachers, some who wiped away tears during the reunion, had filed out, leaving the two kids to excitedly deliver a river of news.
“I made a gift for you,” the son said. “I’m not telling you what it is.”
Isabella agreed: “It’s not Mother’s Day yet.”
No, but Friday was close enough.