FAIRFAX, Va., March 23 (UPI) — The boys and I sit on the sofa in the family room glued to the TV. No one argues about controlling the remote. The last time I sat on the sofa with my kids to watch something as intensely as we are today was 14 years ago when we watched the complete series of Thomas the Tank Engine.

They’ve grown up and times have changed. Now we watch a war. Their dad, UPI reporter Richard Tomkins, is one of some 500 international journalists embedded with U.S. military forces somewhere in Iraq.

“We learned about the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers last year,” my youngest son commented after we watched a replay of a firefight between some recalcitrant Iraqi forces and our Marines.

Our older son is more introspective but absorbs more than I think he does sometimes. He’s 17 after all. “Power is an amazing thing,” he said after we watched a brief biography of Saddam Hussein. “He’ll never leave, we’re going to have to blow him out of the water.”

The phone rings constantly from early morning into the late night hours. The calls are always from family, spread all over the world, and friends anxiously calling to see if my husband is OK.

I worry about Rick this time, more than ever before. I hear about British and Australian journalists already killed in action, some other journalists still missing.

Modern warfare is very different from the battles Rick has covered in the past. He calls whenever he can, which is infrequently. Sometimes you can hear yelling, the odd bang. I ask “is everything OK?” He laughs and says “stop worrying, I’m fine.” I shouldn’t worry but gosh darn it, I do. This war is being brought into our living rooms in a way it never has before. I’ve become obsessed with TV. I know all the correspondents. I worry as much about them as I do about my own husband. They’ve become family. I know CNN’s Martin Savidge is embedded with a unit somewhere near Rick, so I pay particular attention to his reports. I hope he keeps his helmut on. However, there is always an upside to every situation. Because of Saddam Hussein I made a new friend last week. Someone I’d probably never have come into contact with apart from the fact that our husbands are sharing foxholes somewhere in the Iraqi desert. Tule Dillow, whose husband Gordon Dillow is a columnist for the Orange County Register in California, called me on Tuesday morning. Her husband had called to ask her to pass on a message from Rick. His satellite phone battery was low, he’d call me tomorrow. Since then, Tule and I have spoken several times, sharing our experiences, our concerns and most of all, our pride in what our husbands, the other reporters and the military are accomplishing in Iraq. I can’t imagine my grandmother getting this stressed out. I wonder if she’d be disappointed in my lack of resilience? After all, she was left alone for two years in the latter part of the war when my grandfather was sent to Europe to help liberate the French during World War II. My grandmother kept the family to their normal routine. No breaking news reports from the front to disrupt that. My mother and her sister and brother went to school, did their homework, talked about Hitler and wondered when it would all end. Just like normal. In the evenings, they listened to radio reports on the war for an hour and went to bed. No other updates until the next evening. Boy what a difference 50 years makes. Routine, schmoutine. We’ve been eating pizza for a week. Soda bottles fill the recycling bin. I’ve probably put on 10 pounds. But I feel as long as Rick is over there, the least I can do is stay glued to the TV, read the newspapers and follow this war, minute by minute.

Maybe when the stations start cutting to commercial breaks I’ll throw a couple of loads in the washing machine.

Copyright 2003 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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