Daddy's Girl

She's only 11, but Alyssa Kreinschroeder already knows life's uncertainty. It arrives in times of peace, and in times of war.

Over Here

Clarksville, Tenn.

March 27, 2003|By Larry Bingham

On the day Alyssa Kreinschroeder's father told her he was being deployed to the Persian Gulf, he said he could be gone for a year. A year is a long time for a girl of 11 to imagine being away from her father, so Alyssa asked him: Was there any chance he'd come home sooner?

Alyssa, the oldest of four kids, has always known she could ask her dad anything, and he'd tell her the truth. He'd been honest when her twin brothers were born prematurely, when doctors discovered her grandmother's heart problems, and when her mother, who is 30, was diagnosed last summer with a fast-moving cervical cancer that spread to her pelvis, her spine, her lungs and her brain.

After so much uncertainty, Alyssa thought she was ready for whatever her dad had to say.

Until he said no.

Claus Kreinschroeder, who is 31, is not Alyssa's biological father, but he's the dad she has known since she was 3. Her mother, Kris, says God meant for Claus and Alyssa to be together. Six months into Kris and Claus' courtship, Alyssa was calling him daddy - to his delight and Kris' worry it would scare him away.

It didn't. And they married when he finished basic training.

Last month, when Claus said he'd be away for at least 12 months, Alyssa didn't cry. She didn't want to make her dad feel bad, so she simply said, OK.

He had talked to her weeks earlier about the possibility of war. She knew the difference between a dictator and a president, and she'd asked for her dad's opinion: Did he think American soldiers should go to Iraq?

He told her his opinion didn't matter. He said being a soldier in the Army - in the 327th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division - was his job. President George W. Bush was his boss, and if President Bush said they were going to war, he'd leave their home in Clarksville, Tenn., and go.

Alyssa's dad didn't tell her that he would miss her cheerleading competitions or that he would not be in the back yard to spot her backward handsprings - at least, not for a long time. And she didn't ask if he'd be expected to kill people - or worse, if there was a strong chance he could be killed.

Back when Alyssa was a toddler, her dad used to throw her into the air. He tossed her so high her mom would make nervous jokes. Alyssa never cried the way the twins do when he throws them, or the way her 5-year-old sister, Madeline, screams when he tosses her. Alyssa always had faith that her dad would be there to catch her.

On the night the twins were born, Alyssa's dad called her from the hospital at Fort Carson, Colo. Only 25 weeks into her pregnancy, Alyssa's mom had gone into labor. The doctors had stopped the labor for seven weeks. Yet the twins still arrived eight weeks early. They each weighed just 4 1/2 pounds.

Hayden, Alyssa's dad told her, was born first and appeared to be doing fine. But Mathias had stopped breathing three times. Alyssa's dad warned her that her baby brothers might not come home.

Alyssa was 8 then. She never believed the twins would die. The way she saw it, "God would not put them on this Earth and just take them away. I just didn't think that would happen."

When her dad brought her to the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit, Alyssa did not gasp the way adult visitors did at the sight of the two small boys and the tangle of tubes and machines. She didn't hesitate to touch them, either. She walked to the incubator that held her brothers and sang a lullaby as she stroked their tiny backs.

Three years later, she helps care for the twins while their father is away. Hayden swings from the refrigerator door one day, pretending he's Spider-Man. Another day, he is sitting inside the washing machine with the lid closed. Hayden is the one who took GI Joe swimming in the toilet and clogged the commode, and Mathias is the one who ran around the gym during cheerleading practice, peeling up tape from the mats. When they get to be too much - so much that Alyssa's mom locks herself in the bathroom - Alyssa knows it's time to take charge. She baby-sits so her mom can go to the bookstore alone.

On March 1, the day their dad left, Alyssa did not go to the ceremony at Fort Campbell to say goodbye. Growing up a child of the Army, she has developed methods for dealing with uncertainty. In eight years, she has moved five times. She has lived in Wisconsin, Colorado, Georgia and Tennessee. She has cried when leaving old friends, and cried at the thought of having to make new ones.

The day her dad left for Iraq, she did not want to see him get on an airplane. She thought it would be easier to imagine him coming home if she only watched him leave their brick ranch house. As if he were backing out of the driveway like any other day. As if he were going to work and would come home soon.

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