Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Shit Civilians Say to Military Families Before a Homecoming

If you've been keeping track, you know that Mike's return is on the horizon.  While this is happy news, I've been stunned lately to discover how many people in my life have serious misconceptions about what a miliatry homecoming is like. 

Between photos of people joyously hugging and YouTube videos of kids being surprised by mom or dad in a classroom, it's really easy to think homecomings are nothing but warm fuzzies and tears.

It surprises people to hear that stress, nervousness, anxiety, and exhaustion are part of the mix too.  Folks have a certain idea about how you should be feeling leading up to a homecoming and they can be confused if your reaction doesn't fit their expectations.

So out of the mouths of (well-inintentioned) civilians comes the top 5 comments I looove getting at this stage of a deployment. 

1) You must be so excited!

Well yes, I am, but that's not the only emotion I'm experiencing.  In fact, I'm overwhelmed and could use a glass a wine, but that's not the answer you were expecting, was it? 

Understand that homecomings are stressful in a hundred different ways.  You're taking two people who've been living completely separate lives and throwing them back into the mix. 

It's unavoidable that the ones left beyond and the one returning will find themselves changed, both by the inevitable flow of life and by conditions produced by the deployment. 

Now add in kids who've grown (or been born), careers that have changed,  medical scares, family deaths, or any number of other events that could have happen. Stir and see if things gel together or boil over. 
Non-military folks find it hard to imagine that you could be anxious about seeing your special someone for the first time in months.  But butterflies in your stomach is completely normal, just as it is for first dates and kisses.

2) X months?  Wow, that flew by fast! 

Sure it did ... for you.  I really have to restrain myself when people say this.  What I want to scream is "You weren't in my shoes, you weren't living this every day.  Things were normal for you, not me."

3) At least you had Facebook / Skype / phone calls / email!   

Just because a communication channel exists, doesn't mean deployed folks can use them.  Anything from security measures, location, quality of the internet connection, schedules/time zones, and access to technology can prevent communication.  For this round, Mike and I essentially had email, with a facebook chat maybe once a month. 

I really loved the people who told me "you should be thankful it's not during WWII - you could only be getting a letter once every couple of months!"  

Really dude?  I'm sure that sucked 65 years ago and kudos to the ladies who braved it, but the last time I checked it was 2012 and people got to communicate in real time.  So. Not. Helpful.

4) I bet you can't wait to get laid!

I shouldn't have to dignify this one with a response, but I don't know how many people have recently made some innuendo with a wink. You'd think that reunited couples just strip each other on the tarmac and go to town! 

Sorry to disappoint, but stress, canned food, relentless work schedules, less than desirable sanitary conditions, and uncomfortable sleep arrangements for months on end can easily kill the libido. Sometimes a few down days (or weeks) are needed before you can hit the sheets. 

And some people, might I add, have some self-restaint.  You've already gone for so long without this aspect of your relationship, you can hold out a little longer. 
5) You must be glad it's over now!

This one bothers me the most.  Just because a person is physically back home doesn't mean things are over.  Reuniting a military family is a process.  You have to reestablish connections, get to know each other again, redefine what's normal.  There's a huge emotion component that has to be actively worked on and it takes time.  

Then there's the practical stuff.  While the returning person gets a break for a bit, work, family responsibilities, or classes will soon come calling.  The person holding down the fort often has no break since they want to shield their other half from reality for as long as possible. 

So what do you say?

I sense a few of you shifting uncomfortably in your seats thinking, "damn, I've totally said that before."  It's ok - we know you're not trying to be irritating <pats you on the head>

The best thing you can do is ask open-ended questions.  Realize that asking "are you excited?" implies that the person should be excited.  So if they're feeling overwhelmed instead, they might feel worse because they can't tell you they're over the moon yet. 

Simply ask "how are you feeling?" and listen.  The chance to really say how we're feeling is truly appreciated.  And we still promise to flood your facebook with happy hug pictures.

To those who hold the silent rank, keep on truckin'