One single Build-a-Bear is currently making thousands of people across the internet cry. It’s not just any teddy bear, mind you. It’s one Vanessa and David Villegas Jr. made for their daughter Ellianna’s fifth birthday, dressed in fatigues and featuring a recording David made as he was boarding his plane bound for Army basic training.
“Hey, baby. Daddy loves you and misses you so much! I can’t wait for you to be in my arms again. I love you!” the bear’s recording says.
“Oh, my God, that’s Daddy!” Ellianna squeals in the video, which has more than 43,000 retweets and 96,000 likes since Ellianna’s aunt posted it on Wednesday. Build-a-Bear certainly couldn’t buy this kind of publicity.
Happy 5th birthday to the worlds cutest little girl EVER. Since my brother in law is deployed we planned this out & her reaction was priceless pic.twitter.com/HupSXgCxst
— Mia. (@Mnveee) October 11, 2017
If it makes you tear up upon watching, think about what it’s been like for Vanessa.
“I’ve been a big emotional wreck over here too,” the San Antonio, Texas, mom tells Yahoo, referring both to seeing her daughter’s video go viral and to missing her husband. “We’ve been together since I was 17 years old in 2010. We got married in August on our seventh anniversary. We’ve never spent a day apart. When he got his orders, he only had three weeks left to be with us.”
During his nine weeks of training, David gets to call home for only a few minutes every few weeks, she says, and he hasn’t yet been able to speak to his daughter.
“She’s just been having a really hard time,” Vanessa says. “She had a breakdown last night. We watched [her video on] the news, and she was so excited. Then we went into the room and she started crying. She said, ‘Mom, but I don’t want my teddy bear to be my dad. I want my real dad in real life.'”
Though it’s been difficult to be apart from David, Vanessa said she pushed him to pursue the military career he’s been dreaming of for years. “I said, ‘You’re going to do what you want in life; being a parent is not going to stop you,'” she recalls. “I was 20 years old when we had Ellie. We wanted to show Ellie that just because you’re young and made a choice to have a baby, it doesn’t always mean that your life ends. It’s going to make it harder, but you still gotta reach your goals and dreams.”
They’ll be reunited with David when he graduates training in November, but the next day he’ll be off to six more months of advanced individual training so that he can serve as a Black Hawk helicopter mechanic. After that, Vanessa is bracing herself to follow him to his station, despite never having left Texas before. In her first month of being a military spouse, she’s grateful for how much support she’s suddenly getting from strangers through this viral video.
“You’re a stranger and you’re crying for my daughter — it’s crazy!” she marvels. “People really do have hearts. With everything so negative on the news and on social media, you kind of lose hope. I gained it all right back. It’s awesome to see so much love and support out there — not only for my daughter and for our situation, but for all the troops. My family certainly isn’t the only one.”
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