It's the little things that Ernie Law will notice when he comes home from war.
When Maj. Ernest Edwin Law of the 531st Army Reserve Medical Detachment left his home in Northwest Baltimore for Saudi Arabia on Dec. 9, his sons were a little shorter, his sister-in-law had not realized the full measure of his importance and his wife didn't know how independent she could be.
"You have to keep everything going by yourself," said Julia Law, a civilian employee at Fort Meade who said she has never been more tired in her life than in the last three months. "The laundry, the grocery, the kitchen and bathroom that need painting -- you're it. The war really drove it home what it's like to be a single parent."
Said Charlotte McDowell, Mrs. Law's sister: "He means more to us than we ever knew."
The last three months have been "a roller coaster with a lot of loops in between, a super-duper, up-and-down ride," said Mrs. Law.
Major Law, the head of the social work department at thBaltimore City Jail, is assigned to a psychiatric unit with the 531st.
He has called home a few times, and he has written man letters, using his new-found experience the same way he used just about everything that turned up back home: to educate Omar and Kemar, his twin 10-year-old sons.
He has sent home Saudi money (if you hold it up to the light, he wrote, you can see the watermark), cut-up Saudi pineapple juice and chocolate milk cartons, and a hand-printed glossary of Saudi numbers and symbols.
"In one of the letters he told Omar how much he loved him and that he had a job to do in Saudi Arabia and Omar had a job too -- to keep up with his homework and to help around the house," said Mrs. Law. "Omar had some of the biggest crocodile tears you'd ever want to see."
While the gunfire in the desert has stopped, Mrs. Law continues to petition God to bring her husband home safely.
And when he does, she expects him to pick up where he left off with his job at the jail, with his sons' Boy Scout troop, and doing things like walking in the annual March of Dimes walk-a-thon and making barbecued spare ribs and cooking up pots of pig feet and rice for family get-togethers.
That's the normal routine for the Law family, but Mrs. Law isn't entirely sure that the family will go on unchanged when the reunion comes.
"Maybe families never go back to normal after something like this, whatever normal is," she said.
"I knew when the war started that some people were going to come back and some weren't. I never expected all of them to come back. That's life, and I don't know how to explain that."