Pearl Harbor Homecoming pic from Theodoresworld.net
*I share these thoughts so others may relate. Remember, homecomings come in many forms. Just because I didn’t talk about it, doesn’t mean it isn’t real to you.
The first time I saw a “Homecoming” show on television I was moved and felt frustrated all at once. At first,
my eyes swelled with tears I bawled when the little girl saw her Dad in his dress uniform walking into her school, unbeknown to her and she jumped into his arms after months of separation. I went through an entire box of tissues when I watched a Sailor hold his 6 month old baby for the first time while he looked at his wife with such pride, heartache, love, sorrow, happiness, and joy all in one tear-filled glance. Everyone is happy. There are onlookers cheering and there are signs, balloons, and streamers. Yes, these shows are moving, but they portray a very unreal almost “Hollywood” dramatization of what homecoming is really like.
The truth is, homecomings are incredible moments in their own right, but they are also complicated, difficult, scary, and just hard. It doesn’t matter if the deployment was 3 months or 13 months. Time passes, life has gone on and we are constantly growing and changing. It’s inevitable that you and your spouse will be different people the moment you embrace at homecoming.
The build-up to the special day.
“Hurry up and Wait” is the universal saying military life has taught me and it applies to just about everything in our Milspouse world. One of the trickiest parts about homecoming is that you really don’t know when it is. We have dates and/or approximate time frames given to us, but what most new to this life don’t know is that those are big fat guesstimates. When my children were little, I had to sneak out after bedtime and add paper circles to our “Homecoming Countdown Chain”. They wouldn’t understand Dad was “extended”. A 2 and 5-year-old can’t comprehend “unforeseen circumstances” or “missions extensions.” They get frustrated when Elmo doesn’t respond on TV!
Is it time yet? Oh, I forgot…Hurry up and wait.
I have been called within a 24 hour window to tell me my Husband is coming home only to be called 4 hours later to say, “never mind, change of plans, stand by for more info.” That’s all. You hang up the phone and think, “What just happened?” You carry on as best you can, carrying your phone with you, like into a meeting, in church…even the shower. No one wants to miss, “the call”.
I have a few crazy delayed homecoming stories. It’s important to remember there are many variables and labeling blame is not going to get them home faster. But, they do eventually get to us from boats, ships, planes, submarines, buses, etc. And then it’s magical, right? Sorta.
But, heels make me look ah-mazing!
What? No heels?
Let me quickly simplify. You can wear just about anything you want to homecoming, but for many homecomings there can be rules or strong suggestions. (Check with the base/command/ombudsman/key person) A great example is if your homecoming is on a small, crowded pier with lines and equipment, I’d skip the heels. BUT, do whatever you feel best in and bring back up. Back up is the sweater, flats, and hair clip you will probably need, but the outfit doesn’t want. Years ago I thought the women who weren’t in heels and a new dress just weren’t into looking nice for their husbands. Then, I became that wife. I still do my hair and make-up, but I wear clothes that I would wear anyway. I want to look “like myself” for him. It’s what my husband wants. He is coming home to me, not a temporarily improved version of myself. I could also be standing somewhere for hours. I need to be comfortable! So, if dressing up is your thing, do it. Just remember that the girl in jeans and a tee next to you is wearing her ‘outfit’ for a reason too.
Location, location, location.
Homecomings are not always in ideal places. I have had them at airports, parking lots, piers, halls, and my personal favorite, the bowling alley. Yes, the men were bused to the base bowling alley where we met them after months of separation. Behind us the, “Spring Men’s Bowling League” practiced and vacuums were being run under tables at the concession. At least we had nachos while we waited. Nothing screams romance like blinking turkeys and dancing bowling pins on jumbo screens.
Stating the obvious. The first embrace/kiss.
Maybe some women fall into their well dressed, perfectly groomed Husband’s arms and embrace into a kiss that could be on the cover of a risqué love novel. But, not me. My first homecoming was romantic in a nervous/inelegant kind of way. I didn’t know anything about anything. It was freezing and I was bundled from head to toe on a waterfront pier fidgeting with my long hair that looked like a cyclone circling my head. My husband hadn’t slept in days, and came off a submarine smelling like “a submarine” exhausted and disheveled. It was amazing to see him, but it was also very awkward. I hadn’t been held, kissed, or even touched, unless you counted my two small children that climbed all over me daily. When he kissed me, I wasn’t taken back to where we left off. I was taken back to when we first met…when we were teenagers and he kissed me after our first date. It wasn’t old and familiar, it was new and different. It was abnormally…odd. I was more interested in looking at him…his face, his features. I ran my hand over his cheek and his chest. It was like I had forgotten and was remembering who he was. I was happy, but nervous.
This is when I warn that these are “Confessions” and though they are real, they are going to be very, very honest. So, if you are someone screaming “TMI!!” when a friend shares details of an intimate moment, I suggest you stop reading or scan down a bit.
For some of us, homecoming nights are spent alone. Yes, you read right. A.L.O.N.E.
As a submariner wife, I have waited on the pier for hours only for my Husband to come off, kiss me, and literally spend 10 minutes with the kids and I before returning to the Submarine for the night because there is work to do. And as a Sub Wife, we don’t get to talk during deployments (only a few scattered irregular emails) so, these 10 mins are spent saying things like, “What happen to Kay’s (our daughter) head?” And I explain how she tripped outside and required stitches…completely skipping over all the blood and my panicking, because who needs to hear all that? Then we exchange kisses and decide a plan for me to pick him up the next day, but he has no idea when he will be done. (Hurry up and wait moment). Aaaand our time is up. I go home and anxiously await the phone to ring and *try* to sleep when I know my husband is minutes away, but I can’t see him.
Great Sex, Awkward Encounters and Hey, let’s start with, “Hi, my name is. . .”
Now, when he does come home, there are so, so many outcomes. For us, it really does depend on just how long he has been gone and what kind of deployment he has had. We have had the TV version Homecomings where we barely make it home, clothes are flying (don’t worry, the kids were in school) and passion doesn’t even begin to describe the experience. Fireworks and earth moving would be a start.
Then there are the awkward ones…when we don’t even know what to say to each other, let alone, how to touch each other. We are like fumbling first timers, bumping into each other, nervous and it doesn’t always feel good. It’s just been soooo long. Those nights, we have learned to laugh at ourselves and instead end up snuggling up together and just talking.
At the end of really long separations, just starting from the beginning, like a date and moving slow is easiest and best. If you rush it, you may be disappointed and feel unprepared. There isn’t a rush, he’s home and will hopefully be there tomorrow and the day after and so on for at least a few weeks.
There are also the evenings that last forever. With children, they of course want all of Dad’s attention and have months of moments to share the first night. There are also phones ringing, schedules to keep up, and unavoidable events that *could* be skipped, but you’ve missed so many things due to other reasons you feel obligated to attend. Flirtatious looks fill the night. Hopeful smiles are exchanged. But, the night runs on forever and by the time you are alone with your husband, you just collapse into bed and smile knowing he is there. Sometimes it takes days or even weeks to regain the comfort level with intimacy. And that is ok.
Life after Deployment is something I’ve written about and will repost next. To sum it up, life is constantly changing. People grow…we evolve and adapt.
There are a lot of emotions that come before, during, and after a Homecoming. It can be exhausting. There are highs and lows. Sometimes within minutes of each other. Expectations have changed. The reality that existed when your Husband deployed, doesn’t exist now, but he doesn’t always know that. Decisions were made without him, life went on, families grew, and you survived without him. This is a hard thing for him to accept. Knowing that you “did it all”, as ungraceful as it may have been, can still make him feel unneeded. He has to transition back into a world that ran without him and you have to transition back into sharing responsibilities and the world you created without him.
Sounds easy? It’s not. It’s more than your husband taking out the trash every week and fixing the washing machine instead of you handling it. It’s about finances and parenting. What you were doing during a deployment may have worked, but that doesn’t mean he agrees. Compromises have to be made. You are a team again. When he chimes in as Dad and contradicts something you have worked so hard to establish, such as a rule or behavior, it can cause you to feel frustrated and undermined, but he is just trying to be “Dad” again. This is the time that communication is key. My husband and I started setting aside time to talk every night to go over any thoughts, feelings, or concerns about the day. It helped us immensely. Going to talk to a marriage counselor that is familiar with deployments and military life is also something we have done and it is well worth the time and effort when needed. Sometimes you need a third set of eyes to see the “other side”. I give credit to all of this for the amazing and sometimes crazy 13 years with my Husband.
Homecomings are not what we want them to be. In a perfect world, our service members would arrive home rested and happy to see us and we would be dipped into kisses that give the Time Magazine picture a run for it’s money. Flags would wave, music would play, and we would go home to enjoy family time and reconnect as couples. We would be able to pick up just where we left off. We could go back to being “normal”.
But, in reality, military families have an ever changing and evolving form of “normal.” Nothing is ever the same when our service members return as it was when they left. We age, we live, and go through experiences that forever change who we are. All we can do is take the opportunity to reconnect and make the time to fall in love all over again. Military couples have a very special relationship. We have a foundation of the years that have passed, but we are constantly starting over and creating new relationships with our partners after every homecoming no matter how exhausting it may be.