Monday, January 21, 2013

10 Tips for a Great Military Homecoming

For the past nine months or so I have been working with Blue Star Families on a book that will be published very shortly.  The book is a deployment toolkit of sorts and guides families and friends of military members through the stages of deployment.  It is full of good information about mental health, physical health, and just fun facts, checklists, pictures, and information to get you through one of the hardest parts of being a military family.  As soon as it is released, I will share with you how to get one here.
EDITED: Here it is!

A few days ago Blue Star Families asked me to write one last minute checklist about military homecomings.  After almost 10 years as a Navy spouse and three homecomings of my own (not to mention countless homecomings I have celebrated for my friends) I was excited to get started! 

10 Tips for a Great Homecoming

 1.  Semper Gumby - Be Flexible
We know how anxious you are to see your military member .  The thought of adding extra links to your homecoming countdown chain is terrifying.  The truth is, when it comes to deployments and homecoming, things can change a lot at a moment's notice.  Be flexible about the plans you make for the days and hours immediately surrounding homecoming.  It isn't a good idea to book a non refundable cruise for the weekend your spouse is supposed to arrive.  Be fluid, expect change, and then hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised when he or she arrives home right on time.

2.  Communicate
Does your service member want a big party?  Does he want time with just you and your kids?  Does he want his or her parents at homecoming?  Does he want to hang at home for a few weeks or does he want to go travel and do a special homecoming vacation?  There is truly no right or wrong answer to these questions, the only right answer is the one that you and your spouse decide together.  Make sure you voice your concerns and are understanding that his wishes might not be what you were expecting.

When you relay your decisions to friends and family make sure you present a united front.  While there is no universal answer to the question of "should we invite the in-laws to homecoming?", it seems that relaying news that homecoming is going to be a private affair is universally awkward.

3.  Keep your Expectations Low
You have been busy the past several months.  You are mom and dad, you do all the cooking, the cleaning, the chauffeuring.  You are tired.  It is completely natural to want your partner back and to resume the shared duties from before your spouse deployed.   At the same time, you might have built an image in your head of the "perfect spouse" and have very high expectations about your knight in shining armor.

When your spouse returns he or she will likely need a few days to get over the jet lag, to reacclimatize, and  to ease back into the pace of family life.  Give him or her that time and space.  Don't be disappointed when he doesn't immediately resume the home improvement project he was working on pre-deployment.  Your spouse will be ready to conquer the diapers and yard work before you know it!

4.  The Outfit isn't Everything
Yes, I know you have been eyeing the perfect dress or boots for the moment your spouse sees you for the first time in a year.  But as one veteran spouse wisely noted, "don't stress too much about the perfect outfit, he is just picturing you naked anyway". 

The most important thing is to dress for the weather and to be comfortable.  The adage of "hurry up and wait" defines homecomings.  You will be doing a lot of standing around, possibly outside in the elements, for an unknown amount of time.  Now is not the time to break in your 4 inch heels or experiment how long you can stand around in a tube top when it is 30 degrees and windy. 

5.  Don't Sweat the Small Stuff
Spouses tend to get sent into a tizzy the two or three weeks before homecoming.  They have a list a mile long that they feel needs to be accomplished in order to foster the perfect homecoming setting.  Cleaning the house to model standards, waxing the car, landscaping the yard, organizing the office, de-cluttering the pantry, and putting the closet back in order are just a few common tasks.  

While it is understandable to want your service member to come home to a comfortable nest, don't kill yourself over it.  He or she has likely lived in a tent or in a tiny room on a ship for the better part of a year.  They are not going to notice if the car hasn't been detailed the weekend before they get home.  Choose a few things that you know will be meaningful to you or your service member, and relax about the rest of it.

6.  When it Comes to Kids, Expect the Unexpected
It is impossible to predict how a small child is going to react at homecoming.  Make sure you and your service member have realistic expectations and are prepared for a child to be less than thrilled.  Small children in particular might be frightened at homecomings, they are often filled with loud noises and lots of unfamiliar faces.  It may take some time for a child to get reacquainted with their mom or dad.  This is normal and should not be cause for alarm or blame. 

Because homecomings can vary in length and change unexpectedly, pack snacks, drinks, and small toys to keep your children occupied and happy.  Consider bringing a small gift for your service member to present to your child.  Your spouse may have missed the onset of your toddler's Buzz Lightyear obsession, but you can make him a hero by bringing a toy, slipping it in his pocket, and allowing him to give it to your child.

7.  Lean on Your Friends
There is nothing more fun than making homecoming signs while sipping a glass of wine with a good friend.  Friends can help you overcome your pre-homecoming jitters and make sure that you have the prettiest signs out there.
Many spouses also recommend enlisting the help of a friend for homecoming.  They can be your photographer, keep you company, wrangle your kids, and be there in the event of a delay.  The 5 PM homecoming that was perfect for your 3 year old might turn into a 1 AM gig.  In that case, your friend can take your toddler home while you wait.

8.  Avoid "Keeping Up With the Joneses"
Refrain from judging yourself against or comparing yourself to, other spouses. We are not all the same, we do not have the same needs or preferences, and our service members and children also have different needs. Trust yourself to know what's best for your family. That may be to leave the kids home, to wear tennis shoes, not putting up that sign outside your house. We don't all need, or want, or are able to wear the trendiest outfit, highest heels, most plunging neckline, bring all sorts of perfectly creative and homecoming/Americana themed things to keep your toddler occupied, bring your in-laws, and/or make signs at home that look like they were professionally done.  That is okay! 

9.  Embrace the Awkward
You probably have imagined your reunion countless times. It is important to remember that the initial hug and kiss may end up being more awkward that the movie-quality scenario you've directed in your head (complete with background music!) throughout the deployment. And that is okay. Embrace the awkwardness of an over-zealous hug that almost knocks down your returning service member or the clanking of teeth during the first kiss. Laugh about your non-Hollywood reunion - chances are, it will be a lot more interesting.

Along those same lines, don't expect intimacy to be completely back to normal once he carries you across the threshold.  While some couples are ready to head straight for the bedroom, others need some time to get reacquainted and reconnected more slowly.

 10.  Enjoy
It has been a long road and you have likely been anticipating homecoming since before your significant other even left.  You have earned this time to enjoy and reconnect.  Homecoming is a very special event, something that the majority of the world does not get to experience or enjoy.  So while there are many things to try and remember, allow yourself to live in the moment.

As one of my military spouse friends once said, "homecoming almost makes deployment worth it.  Almost".


What are your tips for a great homecoming?  Any funny experiences or lessons you have learned over the years?  
Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Kate & The Pea

Kate is a neat freak.  She is one of the only three year olds I know who will insist that her room is spotless before she will even entertain the thought of going to sleep.

You can see her little eyes scan the room for the smallest infraction such as fuzz, the lone sock, or one of Connor's little toy cars.  The floor must be completely free of any of that nonsense or Kate will stay awake, staring at the ceiling, letting that little sock or tag or dust ball consume her thoughts.

(and of course, it is an excuse for John or me to stay up with her.  One of her many sleep avoidance tactics)

Last night I put her to bed, sang to her, kissed her (and her butterfly stuffed animal and her rocking horse and all of the other little animals in her room that she insist get a formal "goodnight") and walked out. 

15 seconds later...


"Yes, Kate?"

"The floor! There are things on the floor"

Me.  Squinting.  Inspecting.  Seriously completely dumbfounded.  I found a tiny bit of lint.  Phew.

"Is this it?"


Me.  Squinting, inspecting, on my hands and knees, literally my nose at floor level.  I am thinking about how incredibly ridiculous I look.

"Kate, honey, your room is spotless there is nothing on the floor that I can see.  Go to sleep, honey"

She sits up, crosses her arms, and points to the corner of the door frame.


And then I see it.  A pea.  A freaking pea from dinner that must have hitched a ride to her room on her clothes or something.  Literally 15 feet away from her in a dark room and she notices a pea.  My princess couldn't sleep because of a pea.

I picked up the offending pea, threw it away, kissed her goodnight (again) and proceeded to find Johnny and tell him that he was in deep deep trouble.  We are both in so much trouble.
Wednesday, January 9, 2013

How Old Am I Again?

I am starting to think that the older I get, the more toddler-like I become.

I love routine more and more.  Take me out of my routine and I get grumpy.  I bet Johnny would tell you I have had a few tantrums in the last few weeks as we have ironed out the wrinkles in our life here in Kansas.

I want my mommy.  Take me away from what is familiar and I go a little nuts.  I miss my favorite people, restaurants, MY MOM (!!), and all of the things that made Virginia comfortable.  I have been spoiled thus far in the Navy because I have always been within an easy drive of family.  Now I'm not and.  Well.  Waaah!

When I don't get enough exercise, I am not fun to be around.  The gym or running has been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember.  I have always been a bit of a jock. So for the past few weeks where I hadn't figured out how I was going to get my workouts in (due to child-care challenges) I was like a toddler who had been cooped up in an apartment all day.  Not pretty.  Zoloft is not my drug of choice - running endorphins are.  My mood changes entirely after a good long run.

I feel small.  The world of the military can literally swallow you whole.  They try to be family oriented (and I do believe they make an effort), but at the end of the day my little family is one in a sea of thousands.  Hundreds of thousands.  And I often feel like "the big Navy" doesn't give a damn about my comforts or my ability do anything without an entire spool of red tape in my way.  No matter how hard I try and how loud I scream I still feel like "they" are throwing more paperwork at me and telling me there are more hoops to jump through. 

This move hasn't been pretty for me.  My mood is glum and I am annoyed with myself.  This is not who I am.  I am usually the one with a smile on my face, looking for friends, going out of my way to really find the good in places, people, things - whatever!  But this new place, mixed with the cold weather, sick kids, me being homesick, not enough exercise, etc ad nauseum. You get my point.  I haven't been so happy.

Thankfully, in the past week I have been working hard to cure some of these blues.

1.  Kate and Connor started a music and art program together on Mondays.  For the first time ever I have 2.5 hours where they are both at school together and I can get things done alone.  Or have a pedicure.  Whichever seems more pressing.

2.  Kate is happily in her new school.  She loves it and is much happier having that outlet, her little friends, and her new teacher Mrs. Jones (who, thank God, is wonderful and a good fit for my Kate).

3.  I joined a gym.  I was trying to figure out how to make the base gym work (they have a parent-run co-op for very limited child care) but I quickly realized it wasn't quite enough for me.  And remember those spools of red tape I mentioned above?  Yea.  I am guessing I could get at TS clearance more easily than I could get accepted into this co-op (no joke). 

4. Yesterday my mom bought plane tickets to visit me in March.  Today our best friends from the DC area bought tickets to visit us.  And I bought tickets to visit some of my favorite people in San Diego next month.  Kansas feels isolating, but I know the people who will make it feel like home are coming soon.  And that for three days in February I will get a dose of SoCal sun.

5.  I am thankful for a patient, loving, devoted husband.  Oh my, thank God for him.  I have not been very easy to be around these past few weeks.  He listens, hugs me, and ignores me when I am being totally ridiculous. 

As we start getting back into our routine of school, gym, play dates, and family time I know things will start brightening up in my world.  I will shed the wet blanket I have been carrying on my shoulders.   I know that this stuff isn't easy, I don't think I was delusional and ever thought it was.  But sometimes I don't think people are really honest about how freaking hard it is to pick up roots and move so often.  To shift gears.  To stay happy and healthy.  To make sure your kids are thriving.  To keep your marriage solvent.  All of this is just weighing on me and I need to shove it off.  Sometimes I read things written by military spouses and it is so bright and airy and preppy and pretty and.  Ugh.  Really?  Like I asked when writing about the Facebook façade, I can't be the only struggling, can I?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Kate the Diva

Anyone have a toddler who is sweet and cute and cuddly?  Easy to be around until... Well, until they aren't?  No?  Liar.

Kate is a complete and total diva when she is sick.  The past few days she has had a stomach bug and a virus and has occasionally complained of a sore throat.  But before she ever gets sick, presents with a fever, or starts picking at her food with the look of doom on her face we know.  Because our sweet little girl morphs into a little mini devil. 

Who, me?!  No way...

You know the rider clauses that celebrities have on their contracts in order to be pampered comfortable on the road?  Kate is the Mariah Carey of toddlers.  The queen diva.  Her demands while sick are impossible, and her tantrums are insane.  She is like an out of control rock star in a hotel room with her groupies.  Only her groupies are My Little Ponies and American Girl Dolls. Her victims are Connor, John, myself and the dog.  And the occasional bystander (sorry UPS delivery man!).
Kate's "I'm Sick so Leave Me the Hell Alone" Rider

1.  Connor may not look at me, touch me, play with my toy or any toy of his that I have thought about playing with in the last hour.  If he does, I will scream at the top of my lungs, grab said toy, and then throw a tantrum.

2.  I will only drink Pediasure.  The strawberry kind.  If you approach me with white milk or water I will give you the death stare and run the other direction.

3.  Taking my temperature is a privilege.  The thermometer must take no less than 15 seconds to beep.  Or else.

4.  Sleep is for wussies.  If I choose to sleep it will be in my own time, and wherever I deem necessary.

4a.  Your sleep is a privilege.  Remember when I was a newborn?  Yea, divide that sleep in half and be thankful for what you get.

5. Leila (the dog), may not step into my room unless she has my explicit permission.  If I choose to have her in my room, she must be there immediately.  No excuses.

6. If you must rearrange my room for any reason (throwing up, coughing, etc), I reserve the right to question every towel, trashcan, and box of tissues you place.  I reserve the right to ask you to rearrange them and will throw them out of my room if I'm not pleased with their feng shui. 

7.  My diet will consist of clementines and fruit snacks.  Although I may ask for a waffle or sandwich, ultimately my diet will only be clementines and fruit snacks.

8.  All of the typical daily occurences will now be a WWE fight.  This includes going to the bathroom, getting dressed, brushing my hair, and wearing seasonally appropriate clothing.  Mittens and hats are for losers.

9.  Medicine must taste good.  If it doesn't, I will lock my jaw and hide behind the couch.  What "tastes good" to me might change by the hour and what you give me in the morning might not meet my standards in the evening.  Red and sweet is typically okay.  If it is white you are out of luck.

10.  I reserve the right to add, subtract, or retract anything within this contract.  My three (and a half) year old brain doesn't need to be logical to you, it is completely logical to me.


Here's to hoping that she wakes up her healthy sweet and happy self tomorrow.  My nerves are frayed and we are both sick and tired of her living in time out chair and/or hiding from me because I am trying to torture her with a thermometer or water or medicine.

Hi, I'm Jill!

Hi, I'm Jill!
Extrovert. Mom of two. Wife of a cute Naval Aviator. Lover of wine. When I'm not chasing my two kids around town you will find me writing, taking too many photos, and researching the ten future areas the Navy could potentially (but probably won't) PCS us. We are fish out of water, landlocked at 7,000 feet. For now.

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