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Homecoming Prep

I have to admit, those videos - the ones with soldiers jumping out from behind Santa Claus or hopping out of a birthday cake to surprise their loved ones with a return from deployment - yeah, those make me cry. I can’t help it. Seeing little kids’ faces when they see their daddy is precious, and brings back memories of each time my husband shocked our little guys.

But the ones where he surprises his wife?  Man, those get to me, and this fierce pang of longing shoots through me, especially if Jason is deployed. 

But my next thought is always, ‘oh my, what if Jason did that, and I hadn’t shaved my legs? Or cleaned the house?’ In all honesty, after I’d gotten through the shock and joy of seeing him, wrapping my arms around him and simply breathing him in, well, I’d probably have a look of abject horror on my face because I wasn’t prepared.

Yeah, yeah, I know, they don’t really care if things are “in order” when they get home from deployment, right?  But I care. We’ve done this deployment thing four times, and numerous trainings to JRTC and NTC and of course those school rotations. After 12 years of being a military family, we have a routine that helps us through homecoming and reintegration.  

These small things are what signal to my heart that he’s really coming home. They’re like my own internal battering ram, breaking down the walls I build during a deployment so I’m ready for him to come home to me. 

  1. Clean the house. With five kids at home, this is kind of, well, yeah. I do my best. I just never want him to stress out when he first gets home. I want our home be his refuge. But like I just said, five kids. Sometimes he’s just lucky the floors are vacuumed.
  2. Stock up the refrigerator. I look like an utter moron when homecoming shopping. Seriously, you’ve never seen a woman happier to load a six-pack of Yuengling Lager into her cart. As I shop, I look at the expiration date on the milk and just grin, knowing that he’ll be drinking it, and that I’ll see Mountain Dew in the frig again.
  3. Shop for that outfit. Nothing gets me giddier than thinking about the way I’ll drop his jaw at homecoming, especially this last deployment when I lost those 70 lbs. I choose every item with care, and even when I start looking two months ahead of redeployment, it keeps me focused forward, propelling me through the longest days.
  4. Hire a photographer. This isn’t a must for everyone. But for us, those pictures of me racing to him, capturing those first moments of getting our arms around one another, those are precious, and the photographer who took them was a dear friend. This last deployment had the added bonus of introducing him to our daughter, who we’re fostering, and I knew we had to capture that exquisite moment. Don’t feel like hiring a photographer?  Ask a friend, or snap a selfie, just capture that moment and the elation of being reunited.
  5. Send letters. The last few days of a deployment are agonizing. Time slows down to a crawl and communications are all but severed unless you have an international cell phone. Just as our cut-off for mail came, I sent Jason a collection of cards, and a few of them were designated to open on the way home, and as he was waiting for our homecoming ceremony. I wanted him to know how grateful I am for him, for this love that conquers deployments. I’m a blubbery mess when I actually get to hold him, so I wanted to make sure I said all the important stuff before my brain turned to mush. Most importantly, he loved them.
  6. Wash his T-shirts. I bag up about ten of his shirts as he leaves for deployment. Why? Because when I’m particularly miserable, I pop the seal and catch the thing I miss the most - his scent, and what it means to me – home, safety, and love. They also served as our youngest son’s pillow cases during the 3rd deployment, effectively stopping his night terrors. But when Jason’s on the plane headed toward me, that’s when I wash them and fold them into his drawers. That’s when I let myself really believe that this deployment is over. 

They may seem like little rituals, silly in the scheme of things, but this is how my heart prepares for reintegration. A lot happens after homecoming, peeps, and prepping for homecoming isn’t just getting the dust off the baseboards. For me, these little things signal to my heart that I can gear down from deployment “survival” mode, and ready my heart to be put back where it belongs: right next to his.

And Jason, surprising me is okay, as long as you’re cool with unshaved legs.

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