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Road to Retirement: When Your Service Member is Home More Than Gone

Road to Retirement: When Your Service Member is Home More Than Gone


Life with a service member provides the “remain behind element” (a.k.a. the spouse) the opportunity to develop some character traits he or she might not otherwise develop. I like to call these strengths, my husband calls them control issues. Somewhere in the middle of those two explanations lies the truth.

When you are left behind during a deployment to manage every aspect of your life, your family, and your spouse’s life, outside of their military duties, you tend to develop alpha dog characteristics. I’m the boss…of EVERYTHING. You can see where this attitude might possibly be the foundation for a few reunion skirmishes.

The house and the management of it and your children conform to your ideas and preferences. You are the one doing it all for long periods of time. You don’t have the balance of your spouse’s perspective. You are the go to person when it comes to doctors, educators, and the bank.

You juggle neighborhood disputes, teenage girl gossip, and grocery sales without a second thought and without turning to your spouse every time a decision needs to be made. It’s just what happens when you have to fill both sets of shoes.

You learn to adjust to the return and reunion cycle and with the last ten years of a high op tempo, you welcome your service member home and then jump right into the beginning stages of the next deployment cycle. My husband was always happy to leave things the status quo.

Then one day you realize something astounding. They haven’t gone anywhere in a while. Suddenly a ray of light shines down as you realize the frustration and annoyance you’ve been experiencing as of late has a source! It’s HIM and he’s been home too long and has slowly started becoming more comfortable with stepping in and helping. And now you can prove it’s not the beginning of menopause like he keeps saying! He just needs to go TAD or TDY, but not for too long.

By helping I mean offering advice on the arrangement of the cabinets in my kitchen. By becoming more comfortable I mean by taking it one step further and rearranging the cabinets in my kitchen. Something about a more functional flow, I don’t know. And oh, this is only the tip of the gargantuan iceberg lurking beneath the surface.

Suddenly you start getting asked questions like, “So exactly why do we do it this way?” and “when did you buy that?”

Not only do they start putting things away in the wrong drawer, you have to fix real dinners at night. My personal favorite deployment dinner is breakfast. Throw blueberries in and you can pretend it’s healthy. Sometimes we will just eat watermelons, all day long. I’m pretty sure I fed the kids other things too, but we really got on this watermelon kick one time.

When the kids were younger, the TV was mine when my husband was gone. No history channel, military channel, or DIY program, until recently that is. My number 4 child, a 13 year old future commanding officer, was watching a marathon of some military training show. It was on for HOURS. He’s gone to the dark side, or maybe the camouflaged side. So now when my husband actually leaves, it’s like he’s left a little of himself behind to torture me. However, I still can boss the little man around.

The strangest thing about all of this? After so many years of my husband regularly going away and coming back home, I get antsy for him to go away. It used to bother me that I wanted him to leave but I’ve pondered this quite a bit and this is what I’ve concluded. I want him to go away so we can have a homecoming.

There is nothing like the butterflies in the stomach and excitement in the air preparing for a returning service member. I love that burst of love and energy. Special plans are made, new outfits bought, and the house is scrubbed and ready for daddy to come home. I might even make dinner.

If he won’t go away, he can’t come home. And if he’s home too long he starts seeing all the areas I’ve not taken care of or mismanaged and then he fixes them and then I can’t find anything.

I’m not suggesting he go away for a year. I like 3-6 weeks. Three weeks is just long enough to really start missing him and then it gives me three more weeks to clean up the house, fix whatever I’ve broken, and restock the kitchen with frozen burritos.

I am a little apprehensive about retirement. I miss him when he is gone and I really do need his help with the kids and the house. He actually does a really good job too, it’s just his brain operates completely differently than mine. If truth be told, he shows me up in the organization department and it really annoys me. I hope he doesn’t read this. I don’t want him to know I know he’s a better household manager. He’ll never let it go.

I, however, miss missing him. It breaks up taking each other for granted, and I’ll have to justify shopping for new outfits for some other reason.

In the end, I’ve realized there will be different kinds of adjustments to be made as his deploying days draw to a close and we prepare for life together beyond the gates of an installation. Some we never had to face all these years due to the many separations we’ve been through.

Until that day comes though, I still have some time left to have total TV control, breakfast for dinner, put off laundry, or not eat anything but watermelon for two days if I want to.



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