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Home for the Holidays: Surprise at Mid Rivers Mall reunites local family

By DeAnne LeBlanc

Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.– Oliver Wendell Holmes

hugsTwo local girls got the surprise of their lives while getting their picture taken with Santa at Mid Rivers Mall last weekend. But this was not just any surprise, it was bigger than Santa himself.

Their father, Ryan Kositzke, has been stationed in the Middle East since April. His leave is limited – just a few months each year. Three-year-old Leah had never experienced Christmas or even her birthday with her daddy. Her 18-year-old sister, Madison, usually has to settle for hearing Ryan’s voice on the phone when what she really wants to do is hear and see him face-to-face. As a family, they keep their connection close by using Skype, calling often and sending letters along with the many pictures Leah draws for him.

This year, as the busy holiday season inched closer, mom, Michelle, planned a day for her daughters that will be cherished for years to come.

Throughout months of planning, the special secret took shape.

Leah and Madison expected that their annual trip to see Santa would be routine. This year, their requests were identical – they simply wanted their dad to come home for Christmas. But what the girls didnt know, as they made their requests, was that Ryan was just a few feet away, listening to every word and waiting with anticipation to see them.

family_reunion2As he walked toward his girls, their squeals and cries were heard throughout the crowded mall. Madison immediately sprang to her feet and cried as she embraced her father in a giant hug. Leah couldnt believe her eyes and kept repeating, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!!It seemed as though she needed to say it out loud, to believe that he was really there in front of her. She continued screaming Daddyas she ran to him and wrapped her little arms around his neck while he held her close.

Ryan said he was surprised at how tall and grown Leah looked since he had last seen her.

They have both changed so much,” he said.

Madison was in complete shock.

When I saw my dad I couldn’t believe it. It was the ultimate surprise. I’ve always seen the videos on Facebook about families coming home and wishing I could have an experience like that. When I did, I couldn’t believe it was happening,” she said. “I thought it was a dream and then when I hugged him, it brought me back to reality and it was real.

Many who witnessed the beautiful moment were brought to tears. After all, Madison’s and Leah’s Christmas wish was surely the fulfillment of many whispered prayers and wishes from past years.

Now that Ryan is home, the plan is pretty simple – to just spend time together.

We purposely did not make any plans on Christmas to go anywhere,” Michelle said. “We want to have a nice, quiet family Christmas with just us.

Ryan hopefully will be in the states for a month and for the first time in Leahs life, he will be able to attend her birthday party in January.

The memorable reunion gave the family a gift far greater than any they could have found under the tree.

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