MSM Editor – Melissa Rayworth at www.baseguide.com
by Erin Whitehead, Marine Corps spouse
We all love seeing the videos of a surprise homecoming on You Tube. Our eyes fill with tears when we watch those shows featuring service members being welcomed home by their loved ones. And who could resist a picture of a dad in uniform holding his baby for the very first time? But those of us who have actually been on the other side of the camera know that while homecomings are amazing in their own right, they can also present some unique, and often times surprising challenges.
I remember that very first homecoming. It was the first time I had been away from my husband for that length of time, and it had been an incredibly stressful deployment. My husband was in one of the first groups to enter Iraq when the war started, and it was a totally different experience than the deployments we have experienced since. There was no Skype, phone calls were scarce, and we were all terrified because this was so new to everyone and we had no idea what to expect. So when the time finally came, I thought “thank goodness this horrible experience is over and we can get back to our normal lives”.
It would be years later when I first heard these very wise words: “Normal is just a setting on your washing machine.”
The things I didn’t realize about homecoming, that no one told me… well, it’s a list a mile long. There are some really important ones though, and ones that I really wish I knew before he stepped off that bus and into my arms.
5) Never shave your legs until you know that boots are on the ground.
The U S. Military is the best in the world. They complete their missions with accuracy and precision. They can be called upon at a moments notice to take care of the most impossible situations if they arise. But for some reason, no unit that has ever returned home in the history of deployments… has ever arrived home on their original return date. At least that’s how it feels. It’s just something you have to accept: Never plan on the original return date. Then, when you finally get a firm date, the time will get pushed back… about four or five hundred times. So, girls, don’t shave until you know for sure. In fact, just to be safe bring the razor with you and just shave those legs when you see that first white bus on the horizon.
4) You might need to save that Marvin Gaye CD for the second night your spouse is home.
Ok, so you’ve been separated from your spouse for many months. As the homecoming date gets closer, you might be flirting a little bit more during phone calls in anticipation of re-kindling the romance in your relationship. You have missed that touch, those kisses, and so much more. Certainly the very minute you all get in the house and put the children to bed, you will be in the throws of passion for the next four or five days, right? The reality is often times much different. More than likely your spouse has been traveling to get home for several days. He or she is sleep deprived, and hasn’t showered since they started the journey. And the kids are not interested in going to bed anytime soon, because they finally have mom or dad home! It’s OK if the magic doesn’t happen that first night. Nothing’s wrong. In fact, some people need a little bit of time before they are comfortable being intimate again. Do not let the “story” of your friend, the one who was locked in the bedroom for 72 hours with her spouse acting like newlyweds, make you feel bad if it doesn’t happen right away.
3) You could wear a black trash bag and heels to homecoming. Honestly, he’s not going to care.
Okay, before we go any further, please don’t wear this get-up. The Internet is sometimes a cruel place, and there is a camera phone around every corner. So please don’t be the “Homecoming Trash Bag Girl” that goes viral on Facebook… your kids will thank you one day. But the point is, after months of being apart, your sweetheart really doesn’t care what you wear. They just want to see you. Now, that’s not going to stop you or me or anyone else from spending countless days fretting over the perfect outfit, cruising Pinterest for the perfect hairstyle, or obsessing over how good our legs look in 20 different pairs of heels. Just don’t get hurt if your spouse is so glad to be home that they don’t notice your manicure. And for our male spouses out there, I have no idea if you all worry about this as much as we do. But, inquiring minds want to know… please share!
2) Homecoming is the hardest part of any deployment.
This isn’t the case for everyone, but it has proven true in my experience. For some people, readjusting to having your spouse at home can be hard, and there can be a lot of guilt for those who struggle with it. You may think “I should just be so grateful that they are home, we shouldn’t be having any problems.” Or “There are people who still don’t have their loved ones home, I don’t have the right to be aggravated by him, or not be able to cherish every moment of being re-united.” You may assume that things should just fall back into place, like they were before he or she left. It took me a long time to get past that expectation and the guilt. But I realized that, like it or not, my husband and I had both changed. We had both been forced to tackle new challenges, or situations. We had new experiences, and we were not able to physically share those experiences with each other. It was not reasonable to expect either one of us to just turn back the clock and go back to “normal.” It would take some time to learn about these changes, adjust to them, and see how they fit into our life moving forward. Don’t get me wrong, these changes are, for the most part positive. But they are changes, and they take some time to get used to. Give yourself that time.
1) While hard, homecomings can also be a chance to fall in love with your spouse… all over again.
There are plenty of things to complain and be upset about when you are married to the military. Certainly “multiple deployments” is high on that list. Everyone needs to vent, scream, and cry on occasion. But at some point you have to look for a positive. For me, that positive has been falling in love with my husband over and over again, thanks to the many separations we have experienced. With each deployment, we improve our communication skills through letters and e-mails. Every time he’s at a lengthy training exercise, I am reminded of all the things I love the most about him, which is sometimes hard when we are in our daily grind. And even when he is just gone for the night because of duty… my heart really does grow fonder due to absence.
Those are the things I wish I knew as I waited for my husband to get off that bus almost 10 years ago. Homecomings have honestly been more of a challenge than I ever imagined… but they can be a positive part of military life, even if they don’t live up to a Hollywood version meant for the big screen. Be flexible, keep your expectations in check, communicate with your spouse, and ask for help if you don’t feel like you and your spouse are adjusting well.
What are the things that you wish you knew before you welcomed your spouse home for the first time?