Deployment

Homecoming: The Terrible, Wonderful, No Good, Very Good Day

The terrible, wonderful, no good, very good day. Every Navy wife, Navy spouse, military spouse knows the one I’m talking about … Homecoming.

If you haven’t lived it, you probably think I’ve lost it. Homecoming? Seeing your sailor for the first time in months? Wonderful and very good, yes! Terrible and no good? What the hell?!?

Let me explain.

Homecoming is not what Hollywood would have you believe ... at least not for me.

Hollywood and the media would have you believe that “Homecoming” is one single day of pretty dresses and perfect red lipstick, happy children dressed in their red, white, and blue finest, and handsome sailors striding toward their families smiling broadly as they wrap muscled arms around a wife ever so tearfully grateful to see them, hold them once again.

Fade to black.

The end.

Hollywood and the media know nothing. Let me share.

Homecoming for me begins about two weeks before the proposed Big Day. It begins when I notice that the milk in my fridge will expire AFTER my sailor comes home. Unspoiled milk makes it real.

He’s coming home! He’s coming home! He’s coming home …

The list making begins in earnest. Entire household deep clean. Fantastic homecoming dress. Matching children. Happy children! Pull out the glitter, kids, we’re making homecoming signs!!!

Then the worry sets in … will he care that I haven’t lost the weight I swore I would lose when he left? Will he have lost more weight then me … AGAIN? Will he see that I cut my hair? Will he hate it? Love it? Notice?

Will he be different? Am I?

I spend 13 days of those two weeks in a panic. Is the house clean enough? Should I plan a dinner? Should I dress up or go comfortable for the inevitable hours long wait? Will it be weird seeing him again … sharing the bed, the remote …the bathroom.

The Big Day

He’s coming home today. There’s no turning back. Shower, shave, and beautify (as best I can). I decide to go comfortable but cute. I decide to let the kids dress themselves. I decide that the house is as good as its going to get, and I decide that he likes McDonald’s so that will do, too.

I decide these things because fear, self-consciousness, and LIFE have kept me too busy in the last two weeks to really spend much time shopping or tweezing or cooking more than the meals we have eaten. It’s amazing how life doesn’t stop because I want to plan the perfect homecoming.

[Tweet “It’s amazing how life doesn’t stop because I want to plan the perfect homecoming.”]

I still had to work. The kids still went to school. There were still grocery shopping trips, PTA meetings, laundry and dishes, boo-boos to kiss, bedtime stories to read, scholarship applications to proof, and homework to check.

Comfortable cute it is.

Enter Hollywood.

I am waiting anxiously. We do search a sea of faces for his. We do hug and kiss and cry and kiss some more. We do wave signs, and take him home with us …

And then the work of Homecoming begins.

He didn’t know we’d changed bedtimes. He yelled at the kids.

He didn’t know I’d rearranged the living room. He didn’t like his new seat.

He doesn’t like the new sheets; he missed the old ones.

He has grown accustomed to leading, to shouting, to people who just do what he says. I don’t “deal well” with following or being shouted at, and I’ve never been one to do as I’m told.

I missed cooking for him, but I didn’t know he’d eaten chicken every day for two months. I made chicken enchiladas on day 2.

I missed him, but I didn’t/don’t/won’t ever miss the “boat smell” that permeates the house for a few days.

I forgot how much less room there is in one bed with two people, one of whom has been sleeping in a confining rack for three months.

The kids fight for his time and attention as he adjusts to teenager huffs, toddler rambles, and four women of varying ages vying for his time.

To call it an adjustment is an understatement.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a whole lotta wonderful in those days.

Seeing his smile and the dimple in his chin that I’ve missed kissing.

Watching him read stories to the youngest and listen to teenager tales.

Sitting beside him on the couch I no longer have to sit on alone.

There is a lot of wonderful.

It’s just tempered by an equal amount of real.

 

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Deployment

It’s Okay … AT Homecoming

Airing My Dirty Laundry is one of my most favorite blogs, and the fact that she is a military spouse, too, is just the icing on the cake! I always enjoy her weekly series, “Hey, It’s Okay Tuesday!” and have enjoyed linking up every now and then. My “It’s Okay’s” tend to be Navy-wife-life related, but they are also sometimes just the random-ness of my overflowing brain, too. If you’d like to read more of them, just search “It’s Okay” in the form to the right.

  1. To dress to the nines … or to dress for comfort. I’m a comfort girl, and my sailor knows that. He might actually have a heart attack if I ever got all gussied up.
  2. To make a beautiful, clever, glittered up “Welcome Home” sign to wave around like the crazy person that you are on Homecoming Day … or to opt to keep your hands free when you see him …
  3. To make a big, beautiful dinner on his first night home … and then stick in the fridge for tomorrow because your sailor is just craving McDonald’s french fries.
  4. To have missed him sooo much and want nothing more than to be glued to his side as soon as he gets home … and after he takes a good hot shower because … boat smell.
  5. To make him drop ALL his gear, every single thing that he won’t need the very next day, in the garage because … again, boat smell.
  6. To also kind of LOVE boat smell (a mixture of chemicals, rotten eggs, and post-game locker room) … because the only time you ever smell it is when he comes home.
  7. To ignore anything and everyone outside of your home for a bit afterwards … enough said.

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Deployment, navy spouse

6 Tips for Homecoming Day

The time has come.

You’ve waited for him and longed for him. You’ve written emails and waited endlessly for replies. You’ve sent all your love and two pounds of candy in a gallon ziploc bag twice (if you were lucky), but now the waiting is over. It’s almost here. HE’S almost here, and here are 6 Tips for Homecoming Day.

6 Tips for Homecoming Day2

  1. Find out if your sailor has first-day duty. It’s no fun to show up, dressed to the nines and smiling like a lovesick fool, only to find out your sailor isn’t leaving the boat today. A lot of sailors have duty the first day because SOMEONE has to continue the work, and that could mean you won’t even SEE him until tomorrow. Find out ahead of time and avoid the disappointment.
  2. Dress to impress … and to wait. I’m a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl even for homecomings, but I’ve seen some beautiful spouses, fiance’s, and girlfriends dressed better for homecoming than I did my wedding! If that’s your thing then I say go for it, but remember you WILL be waiting. Possibly for a really, really long time, and DEFINITELY in a large crowd of families. Maybe wear flats, bring heels. Bring a sweater in case it’s cold (or to stay covered up) and supplies to touch up hair and make-up. It may be a long day, but if you’re prepared, you can stay pretty as picture until you see your sailor!
  3. Be prepared. This is NOT the day to skip breakfast. This is not the day to wear brand new (read: not broken in) high heels. This is not the day to forget to charge your phone. Be prepared. Did I say that twice? I meant to say it three times. Be prepared.
  4. Bring your camera (if you are permitted). I have been celebrating homecomings for thirteen years, and I have photos from exactly ONE of them. It breaks my heart that all those years, all those memories, are only just that … memories. As I get older the details will fade, and there will be no way for my kids to remember them. Snap away! (Again, if you are permitted. Follow the rules, people!)
  5. Pay attention to your kids. Homecoming can be such a great time, but it can also be confusing and difficult for the kids. I remember watching Sydney run out to bus after bus at our first homecoming on this boat. She ran to greet each one for over five hours, and it nearly broke me watching her little heart break each time. I know it’s been a long patrol for you, too, but you still need to be the strong one for one more day.
  6. Savor the moments, even the ones that aren’t yours. Homecomings are just beautiful. Sit back and really see them. First timers so filled with longing. Last timers ready to move on to their next chapter. First time seeing a pregnant belly, or first time holding a brand new life. These moments, these memories, are what we will take with us. These are the reasons we do this.

 Do you have a tip to share in the comments? Fill in the blank: I always ____________ for homecoming, and I will NEVER _______________ for homecoming again. I’d love to hear your homecoming stories in the comments!!!

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Deployment, navy spouse

Homecoming Memories – She Had Blue Hair

Josh and I have celebrated our fair share of homecomings during his time in the Navy. During the vast majority of them, no cameras were allowed so all those memories are stored in my wonky brain. (Scary!) Hopefully committing those memories here will preserve them forever. 

She had blue hair

I saw her across the room, and I disliked her immediately. She had blue hair

In my early 20’s I have a very clear vision of how things were supposed to be and how a person should act in any given situation. (It wasn’t until I hit my 30’s that I realized my “clear visions” were simply me being a complete bitch. True story.) A grown woman … a mother … dying her hair blue and showing up that way to a submarine homecoming certainly did not fit into those guidelines.

You’d think I would have had other, more important things to think about at Homecoming, but I sat there at my table stewing about her. How tacky to have blue hair at Homecoming! Her husband would be mortified … and pissed! Her kids must be so embarrassed! Why didn’t any of her friends tell her how ridiculous she looked?!?

She laughed with her friends and seemed to thoroughly enjoy the long afternoon of waiting for our men to come home. I laughed and talked with my own friends a bit, but I was very preoccupied with that blue hair. I kept my dark, rude thoughts to myself for the most part, but finally I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I turned to my group of friends.

“Okay, so what is UP with the blue hair?” I asked with just a touch of venom.

One friend laughed. “It’s a pretty good story actually!”

I waited to hear a wild hair mistake or a chagrined tale of a regretful weekend. I didn’t get one. What I got instead was shame. On myself. And a few tears for a beautiful tribute.

It turns out that this wife and her sailor were celebrating a very special Homecoming. Their last! He was retiring shortly after the patrol, and this would actually, aside from their Hail and Farewell, be their last Navy event … period. In their 20+ years of Navy life, one routine had set itself. Before he left for a deployment he would say, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” and she would reply, “Promise you won’t come home to blue hair!” Of course it was a joke. She had never dyed her hair. It was just her way of promising him that she would be there taking care of business until he came home again.

But this homecoming was special and required a special celebration. Because she wouldn’t have to do it alone anymore. Because he’d be there, and because they could take of business together for the rest of their lives. So she dyed her hair blue in a poetic tribute.

To this day I think of her blue hair often. For years it was simply a reminder of how beautiful and unique a relationship with a submariner can be. These days, as my “clear visions” continue to dissipate and I begin to really see things, her blue hair reminds me that things are not always what they seems, that my “guidelines” don’t always fit, and that sometimes a blue little hair dye can create a beautiful moment that lasts a lifetime.

 

Deployment, navy spouse

Homecoming Memories – Last Wife on the Pier

Josh and I have celebrated our fair share of homecomings during his time in the Navy. During the vast majority of them, no cameras were allowed so all those memories are stored in my wonky brain. (Scary!) Hopefully committing those memories here will preserve them forever. 

I mentioned this yesterday, but let me just say it again … in my experience submarine homecomings aren’t anything like what you see in the movies. No hoopla, no snazzy dress uniforms, no pomp and circumstance. These days we don’t even meet the boat at the pier. Something about national security … blah blah blah … not important to this post …

But a million years ago, when we were stationed in sunny, sunny Georgia, we almost always had pier side homecomings. I didn’t appreciate it back then, but it was kind of awesome. Blue skies and sunshine steaming down! Excited wives and giggly kids nervously waiting as a that big black submarine pulled in! Anxiously searching for a glimpse of MY sailor striding across the pier! The whole experience is one I’ll never forget …

But the thing is … when a submarine pulls in, the crew doesn’t de-board like an airplane. There’s still work to be done so instead coming off in a steady stream, it’s more like a maddening trickle. It often takes hours.

But if you are patient (and what choice do you have really?), you will be rewarded with your sailor! YAY!

I do remember one time though that the maddening trickle ended without my sailor walking off the boat. I knew he wasn’t on duty, and I knew he should be coming home. But I also knew that as the hours passed, I was slowly becoming the last wife on the pier.

Other wives squealed and ran to their men.

Other sailors hugged their babies.

Other families held hands and walked to their cars.

The crowd dwindled until I stood alone.

You cannot imagine the crazy thoughts and fears that will race through your head when you’ve been waiting in the hot Georgia sun for three or four hours … waiting for someone you haven’t seen or spoken to in months … someone with an element of danger in the very nature of his workplace … someone who might have changed … someone who’s had time to think about life …

Did something happen to him? Is he okay? Did he change his mind about me? Doesn’t he WANT to see me? Doesn’t he want to come HOME with me tonight? WHY ISN’T HE COMING OFF THAT DAMN BOAT?!?

(It’s times like these than an overactive imagination is NOT your friend.)

I waited five and half hours that day. In the last hour, an ARC was set, and security “asked” me to exit the pier. I waited in my car. I wasn’t about to leave that parking lot without my man.

He finally did come off to meet me, and I have never been so happy to see my sailor. Fears gone. Insecurities banished. My sailor. My kisses. My hugs.

Mine…

“WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN? I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR HOURS!!!” 

Turns out he was just working. He had a few things left to do, odds and ends to wrap up, and instead of leaving them for the next day or someone else, he wanted to get them done before he left the boat.

Damn it. It’s hard to be mad and proud at the same time.

The shiny side of homecoming is seeing your sailor. The anticipation, the excitement, and then the reward. The reality though is that that’s only half the story. On a submarine there is always work to be done, and someone has to do it. Some come off sooner; some come off later. Some don’t even come off that day at all.

But, if you are patient (and what choice do you have really?), your sailor will come off the boat. After months without seeing or talking or touching, he will be in your arms.

Don’t be angry at him for doing his job, and don’t be angry at the boat or the Navy for making you wait. Just be glad that your wait is over, and your sailor is in your arms once again.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I really hate to end a happy memory on a sad note, but if you are interested in supporting military spouses whose wait doesn’t end so happily, this is a good place to start. “Gold Star Wives of America, Incorporated is an organization of widows and widowers whose spouses died while on active duty in the military services or as the result of a military service connected cause.”

Deployment, Navy Brats, Navy Life 101

Counting Down

Even though we never really know when Josh is coming home, we often like to count down to homecoming is creative ways. It  helps the kids (and me) to have a date to focus on (even though I know it’s likely to change again and again). Here are a few of my favorite countdown ideas from around the internet!

countdownblocks

These Countdown Blocks from NolasCrate are adorable. You could probably make them yourself, but the price is so good, I’d probably just rather buy them!

countdownchain

Of course, sometimes you just have to keep it simple! This countdown chain from Gallamore West is simple enough for the littlest ones to make (and easy for mom to add or remove links near the end to avoid confusion and tantrums)!

countdownframe

I love this frame a lot … like A LOT A LOT! So much I think I’ll make one for my bedside table that says “# Days Until My Heart Comes Home.” (Found here on Pinterest with no link back.)

countdowncanvas

Found here, this particular version has been sold, but she does take orders. Plus it probably wouldn’t be too difficult to DIY your own version!

countdownjars

Another great idea without much of a link (and also mentioned by my friend, Tiffany, in the comments here), this may be one of my favorite idea. I like that this has you counting both ways!It’s always great to know how many days there are left, but I think it’s an awesome lesson to show our kids (and a good reminder for us, too) of how far we’ve come!

I hope you like these ideas! Happy Counting Down!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Now before I get any lessons on OPSEC, I am well aware the counting down to a submarine’s homecoming is technically taboo. Any countdown’s we have done are done privately within our own home, and I have had many, many, many talks with my kids about when and where it is appropriate to talk about dad’s homecoming. Aubrey and Sydney are well aware of the rules and the dangers that lie in that very special information. As for Alli, she’s 3. I could tell her it was in 3 days or 300 days, and she would get equally excited. I think all of us just like to be reassured that time IS passing and that with everyday we are ONE DAY closer to having Daddy home!

Deployment

And a Broken Bed {Homecoming Memories}

Submarines aren’t really known for their vast living spaces or comfy sleeping quarters. The racks our boys sleep in are lovingly referred to as “coffins” for a reason. Navy.mil has this say about where submariner’s sleep:

“On U.S. Navy submarines, living quarters are called “berthing areas” that provide no more than 15 square feet of space per man for sleep and personal belongings. On most submarines, each crewman’s bed (called a bunk, berth or rack) has a reading light, a ventilation duct, an earphone jack for the ship’s audio entertainment system, and a curtain to provide a small (but welcome) measure of privacy. The crewmen store their clothing and personal belongings in a sturdy pan-like locker beneath their mattress.”

Comfy.

Having been so confined for months at a stretch, naturally when Josh gets home he stretches out and takes a lot of space. In the car on the ride home, he slides the seat all the way back. On the couch he takes up pretty much an entire side of our sectional, and in bed he sleeps like he’s superman flying through the air!

On one particular homecoming, he took the superman-thing a little too far, and when he walked in our bedroom he yelled, “I’m so glad to be home!” and took a flying leap at our bed!!!

Then there was a loud CRACK!

And then one corner fell about six inches lower the the rest of the bed.

He had completely cracked our bed frame!!!

I stood their for a minute in shock. He just stared at me (probably waiting for me to lose my freaking mind!), but all I could do was laugh! The bed wasn’t that fancy to start, and Josh looked so scared laying there staring up at me. I couldn’t be mad. We just moved the mattress over, took apart the remaining pieces, and decided sleeping with the mattresses on the floor for a while wasn’t such a big deal … and we laughed the whole time.

Homecoming memories aren’t all hugs and kisses and man-I’ve-missed-you. Sometimes they can be bittersweet. Sometimes they can even be a little sad. But sometimes your husband plays superhero-without-a-cape and breaks your bed frame and gives you a funny story for the memory book!