Hoven, South Dakota
As the old saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder. But try telling that to a parent who hasn't seen her child in nearly a year.
Even though Mothers' Day is a few weeks away, one South Dakota military mom is getting her present a bit early, and her son, the surprise of a lifetime.
Chief Tara Mayes of the U.S. Navy started planning her surprise road trip months ago, and it was a secret a whole town had to keep.
“My sisters planned the whole thing,” she said.
Mayes has been in the Navy for almost 13 years, and with that job comes some hard trade-offs.
“It's been so long since I've been able to hug my child that it's all I can think about,” she said.
Mayes works on a destroyer, cruising on the high seas thousands of miles away. She has been to Greece, Bahrain and Dubai, among other places.
But she hasn't been home – and hasn't seen her son since May.
“There are days when you feel like, ‘Oh, I'm a terrible parent because of this,' but when I re-enlisted I asked him, 'Are you OK with me staying in the military?' he said, “Yeah, I can do that…we can handle it.'”
But she was still “pretty nervous” about seeing her son, who is now 10.
“I'm afraid he's going to be bigger than me,” she said.
Zach Mayes was led to believe the day was a special day to honor members of the military and had no idea his mother was only a few feet away.
“it's one of those things you really can't explain to anybody unless they've been through it. You go so long without being able to touch your children,” she said. “It's amazing and nerve-wracking at the same time.”
“It's very exciting – very exciting and sad because I really missed her,” Zach said.
Mayes said she was deeply appreciative of all her town had done to help.
“I seriously wouldn't have been able to do it without his teachers and family. You've really got to know that people are taking care of your kid,” she said.
In May, she will be stationed in Mississippi for shore duty over the next three years and Zach will come with her.