I am so fortunate to have spent over half my life with my husband, Ian. I’ve written about him before in an introduction, a post about how we met, and another about our wedding. He followed how we were doing here at home by reading this blog while he was stationed in Iraq for the past year, and now that he’s home he’s agreed to do guest post. So here we go:
Er…uh…(shuffle feet)…is this thing on?
The first thing to know is that coming home is not one transition. It’s
about a dozen, and arriving home is actually one of the last ones. There
are the transitions from doing the job to turning in equipment and
preparing to leave, the transition to a transient existence during
movement back to the United States, the transition from the
Expeditionary Army with loaded weapons and real missions to the the
Garrison Army with funny black berets and lousy food and off-post
WalMarts, the transition back to a bureaucratic world of budgets and
important papers and Veterans Administration benefits, and finally the
transition from a unit -a temporary family- back to the world of
individuals and the real family I chose.
And then, finally, the transition to a lonely observer in a family that
seems weirdly familiar but pecks at each other in all new ways. The kids’
awe at my return lasted almost to the exit gate of the Army base. Then I
was no longer a novelty but a familiar friend-of-the-family for about an
hour. Then I was not-quite-Dad (perhaps Dad-but-like-he’s-sick) for a
couple days, present but not terribly useful, which I encouraged. Now
we’ve moved to somewhat-lazy-Dad-who-passes-the-buck-to-Mom-a-lot.
Finally, next week when school starts, the clouds will part and
independent, strong Dad will finally return and shine down upon the
And most of those phases are deliberate. To prevent frustration. To
kids, a big man frustrated is frightening…and I play for the full
dramatic effect (yes, it’s one of my many flaws). It’s like being the
slowest kid in class all over again, the frustration of watching
everyone else in the house breeze along knowing things you are fighting
to just learn, and the kids don’t need that. The Army likes to assign
you a mentor and time for a transition. The family tries, but a
six-year-old just isn’t a great mentor about the new laundry system.
Older kids – lots of new rules and behaviors that I don’t know. How can
I control or discipline the kids fairly when I don’t know the rules?
When do they go to bed? What’s the routine? What do they eat? What
aren’t they allowed to eat? Who leaves the doors unlocked? Who sneaks
out the unlocked doors? Who showers and who bathes? Where are their
clothes? Where are their toothbrushes? Where are their shoes? Why don’t
they wear socks? Do they have socks? Where are their socks? Why doesn’t
Aden put her bike away? Who are their friends now? Who is allowed to
cross the street? Who do I need to watch most…and why?
New house – Kory knows where everything’s right place is, but I’m not
psychic and so forever looking in the wrong place for silly everyday
stuff like trash bags and towels. It took a week to find my old wallet
with my hardware store card. My old car keys -with my grocery store card
on it- are still missing (and I still miss them). Which new key opens
which door? What are the little tricks to each old door in the house?
Where does the floor squeak at night? Where are the light switches in
Why is there a drawer of weird light bulbs in the dining room china
cabinet? And which bulbs are for which lights? Why are they all
incandescent – what happened to my compact fluorescents? Why are there
two mysterious ‘utility’ drawers in the kitchen, with identical tools in
them? Why is Kory mopping the kitchen all the time? Am I supposed to do
that, too? What dishes aren’t dishwasher safe, and how can I tell? How
the hell do you program the washing machine? Am I supposed to be mowing
the lawn now? What maps and equipment belong in each car? How do you
open the garage door?
Who are all these new friends and neighbors? Who does Kory really like,
and who are we merely polite to? Who does Kory owe favors to? Who’s
garage door opener is that on the kitchen counter?
And we haven’t even touched on upcoming school, swimming safety and swim
lessons, meals and cooking, handling household bills, dentists, work,
car repairs, energy conservation, hobbies, holiday planning, exercise,
the weird list of projects (Why does she want me to move that pile of
rocks? They look heavy) and a thousand other important issues.
And over all of those thousand details is the most frustrating one for
everyone else at home: I simply don’t know what their priorities or
schedules are. Should I be mowing the lawn or feeding the kids lunch?
Should I be writing this blog post, or picking up the dratted crab
apples, or cleaning the kitchen, or moving those heavy rocks? I can do
them all, but which should be first? It takes weeks to learn the
*context* to everything again.
And finally, don’t forget that once I do learn everything, our family
might renegotiate it a bit. So there’s mild tension brewing. Much more
than you’d expect from normally dull issues like: Where should the
vacuum cleaner be stored? What meals should we plan? Can the treadmill
block this window in this room? Can these toys move to that room? When
should our exercise times be? We’re discussing change to The Way Things
Should Be to several family members…but I have definite opinions too.
So that’s what Transition Back To American Life is like – after many
changes even before coming home, it’s a balance between the frustration
of learning a thousand things you think you should already know, the
frustration of relearning the context of your spouse and family’s
priorities, and the frustration of learning it all -despite the best
efforts of my fabulous family and friends- mostly alone. But as I
approach the end of the transition, I have these amazing kids who can
read and draw and ride bikes and swim and want me to go with them, and a
spouse who still claims to like me enough to let me continue sleeping
with her…but she’ll like me even more once I get those heavy rocks
moved. So get to it, Hercules.
Kory has been amazing, giving me plenty of time to get adjusted. Trying
to get the family on more regular sleep cycles. Feeding everyone.
Keeping the household clean and running while I lumber along trying to
learn how. Telling me it’s okay to back off and rest. She understands
that it’s hard to learn. It’s hard for everyone else, too, to adjust to
this familiar man suddenly in the house.
Being in Iraq, and the transition to/from home life is neither easier
nor harder than being a parent. They are different, and most comparisons
are false. For example, the Army makes sure soldiers get plenty of
regular sleep, food, exercise, and other ways to counter stress (better
than parents), but very few parents get blown up by roadside bombs or
mortared in their bunks (better than the Army). Sure, I lost weight in
Iraq, and did good work fighting corruption…but I was also under a lot
of stress and in cramped quarters with other stressed out people, and we
had terrible food and lived in an atmosphere among the Iraqis of
complete uncertainty and hopelessness. It wasn’t harder than waking up a
2-year-old in midwinter to bundle him up and pick up older kids at
school at 5 below zero, but it wasn’t easier either.