Playing now: life without father Holiday: Tina Boers' dad is in Bosnia, and this Christmas is the first in her 10 1/2 years that she will spend without him.

December 12, 1997|By Lisa Pollak | Lisa Pollak,SUN STAFF

Tina Boers is 10 1/2 , and you can tell by the way she says it that the half means a lot to her. And why not? Half a year is a long time when you've only been around a decade, time enough to change from a fourth-grader who gets picked up by Mom after school to a fifth-grader with a house key who walks home by herself.

Wait until her father sees her.

Half a year is also how long Tina's dad, Staff Sgt. Chuck Boers of the 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera) is expected to be in Bosnia as part of the peacekeeping mission Operation Joint Guard. Boers, an Army photographer stationed at Fort Meade, went overseas in August, which means Tina and her dad will be apart this Christmas for the first time in 10 1/2 years.

Tina knows she and her mother will still celebrate the holiday, just the two of them, but what will that be like? They know it won't be the same, not without her dad's last-minute flurry of shopping, gifts wrapped in oversized boxes to disguise their shapes and so much tape -- seems like a roll per gift -- that you have to struggle to get the paper off. Dad is the one who shakes a wrapped gift near your ear, tempting you to guess what's inside; who gets up at 4 a.m. to make coffee on Christmas morning; who breaks the tie if Tina and Mom can't agree what movie to see on Christmas Day, a family tradition.

Last year's winner? "Mars Attacks," a Tina-and-dad movie if ever there was one. They also love "Star Wars," the science fiction channel, comic books and fishing. He uses food coloring to make her green eggs and ham; he calls her "princess" and "monster," depending on her disposition. For Christmas, among other things, Tina wants black Army boots, like her father's.

No, this Christmas won't be the same. The family ornaments and 6-foot tree will stay packed away this year; setting it up is usually her father's job. But a tabletop tree stands in its place, thanks to a neighbor, and Tina has already decorated it with pipe-cleaner stars and paper snowflakes. It's the Christmas season, after all, and there's plenty to be thankful for. E-mail, for starters, to fill Dad in on everything he's missing. A band concert. A tae kwon do test. An appointment to get braces.

"We try not to whine too much," says Tenica Boers, Tina's mother. "We know how much he misses us and loves us. Tina and I are actually doing really well, considering that he's gone. We're both aware that we're really lucky. We've had lots of Christmases, and we'll have lots more."

One in particular they'll never forget. Tina was in second grade, living in California with her mother; her dad was working here at Fort Meade. He wouldn't be home for Christmas. Or so Tina thought.

On the last day of school before holiday break, Tina's teacher summoned her. She was needed to help out in another classroom. A few minutes later, when Tina came back in the room, her father was sitting at her desk.

This year, Tina's dad isn't due home until mid-February. Tenica Boers tells herself March; that way, she can't be disappointed.

As for Tina, all she knows is that her dad is supposed to be home in time for her birthday, March 30, which also happens to be the date of his next scheduled deployment: to Disney World.

That, say Tina and her mom, is an order.

Pub Date: 12/12/97

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