Taylor Estrella talks about her Mom, Dania Bandas on first dates. “I say you’re my role model. You always come off as really strong and really confident. She’ s such a huge part of my life it’ s hard not to talk about her.” Taylor moved to Fort Drum to help her Mom with her Mom’s four-year-old son while Dania’s husband is deployed. They work together as a team, and they said they’ve seen each other at some pretty low points. At the end of a long day sometimes they just sit and look at each other, and they know what the other is thinking. This is the fourth deployment that Dania has been through with her husband, and Taylor has seen them all.
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Fort Drum is home to the 10th Mountain Divison, one of the most deployed units in the Army. Stories often cover the big stress that deployment can be for families back at home. Here’s a story about deployment actually bringing a family together. Warning: You might want to call your mom after hearing this.
Dania and Stefan Bandas met when they were both in the Army. They fell in love playing a video game. Dania already had a young daughter when they met, Taylor Estrella. Stefan acted like her father right away. “That sort of cinched the deal for me,” Dania said as she described the weekends Stefan would drive to take Taylor to movies and ice cream while she was still in Germany.
Stefan is now in Kuwait serving his fourth deployment. Dania and their four year old son, Nikolai, are at Fort Drum until he gets back this summer.
Taylor lived the deployments as a child, but now she’s older herself, just 21. Dania needed help with Nikolai, and Taylor moved back home to be with them. They were both actually excited about it. “We’re like deployment buddies. That has helped she and I become even closer just because we’re on our own, we’re our own team when he’s gone,” Dania said.
Taylor and Dania are close, sometimes freakishly close. They’re not ashamed of this, either. Taylor admitted, between laughs, that she talks about her mom on first dates. “I take a lot of cues from her and we’re very much the same person,” Taylor said in defense. They know this mother-daughter being best friends thing is special. “Definitely, absolutely. 100 percent” said Dania. “We talk about it all the time.”
Their rhythm is so in sync, they don’t often have to talk. “Sometimes it’s tough, because she and I develop such a rhythm, especially with Nikolai. The first time he came back it was kind of hard to invite someone else back into our rhythm, mostly,” Taylor said. “Like we take turns, and we have an unspoken thing we can do, like, I’ll just know where I’m needed and she’ll just know what to do. And sometimes him coming back disrupts that. And then when Stefan comes back he doesn’t quite know the routine; he doesn’t know what we’re doing, or he doesn’t know how we all leave the house, because he’s been in a totally different mode himself for so long.”
When Stefan gets home they ask him to take a back seat for a while. “When you first come home you need to be a gentle presence. Be the fun parent, still let me be leader for a while,” Dania said, describing what she often says to her husband.
The stress of deployment and being a single parent might be enough to put two people on edge. Taylor and Dania weren’t always in a good place. ”Taylor has seen me have some major meltdowns,” Dania admitted. Taylor agrees she’s had some, too. “When you see each other more vulnerable I feel like that brings you closer,” Dania said. They joke that they have telepathic powers. Sometimes at night after a long day they just look at each other and acknowledge how hard the day as been. They don’t even need to speak about it.
There’s something though that recharges their batteries, that keeps their relationship close when there’s a lot working to pull them apart. Car rides. “We always have good talks on car rides sometimes we’ll go five hour car rides without realizing we’ve turned on the radio or anything,” Taylor said.
These car rides are a chance for them to catch up and get away from everyone else that’s pulling their attention away from each other.
Most twenty-one-year olds are actively trying to get away from their parents. But these two have future plans. “Sometimes I think that if Taylor and I had to live alone later together that we could totally swing it,” Dania said. “We could totally swing it,” Taylor admitted, laughing uncontrollably.
And while Stefan is in Kuwait this relationship, the two of them, is everything. Dania said, “Stefan is my partner, but Taylor’s my partner, too.”