Six months ago my husband, Dustin, retired from the military. The last six years of his service were particularly difficult as he was deployed overseas for a year and then took assignments at the Pentagon and elsewhere while we kept the family in Maine. There was a lot of back-and-forth, and Dustin essentially lived in two states, countries or continents for more than half a decade.
But all of that ended in May of this year, when Dustin came home for good. Since then, the most popular question I get from friends, family and readers is: How is the transition going?
Before I go any further, let me make this disclaimer: What I’m about to write is not meant to stereotype all men or all women. It is, however, meant to stereotype Dustin.
Basically, there have been kinks to work out — from Dustin trying to sneak random mugs back into our cupboards that he will never use, to him realizing his “apartment clothes” and his “home clothes” won’t all fit into the tiny closet I’ve left for him in our bedroom. (Note: The closest I’ve come to seeing Dustin cry is when I suggest that he throw out anything — an old mug, jeans that don’t fit or one of his four pairs of lawn-mowing shoes.)
But that’s just the material things. Family dynamics change, too, and there have been some adjustments there. The most obvious change was when Dustin tried to put one of our teenage sons in timeout this summer. “I haven’t been in timeout since I was probably 6-years-old,” the teenager said. And then, of course, he voluntarily went into his room and shut the door.
“We don’t do time out anymore,” I told Dustin. “Generally I try to keep the teenagers out of their rooms these days.”
These adjustments are not new to military families. Although our separation was unusual and extended, military families are constantly readjusting to a service member’s comings and goings. The family and everyone’s responsibilities are a puzzle that has to be rearranged and put back together again. It’s not always smooth. As a military wife, just as soon as you get used to doing everything by yourself, your husband comes home and, based purely on good intentions and wanting to be helpful, kind of messes up everything.
Take household chores like cooking and laundry. For the most part, while Dustin was away, I did all of it, and I had my system. Sure, I complained, but today, six-months into coexisting, it would be hard for me to tell you which is worse: being expected to do it all myself or watching Dustin use his own system.
This Saturday, I planned to clean the whole house. Dustin offered to make dinner for the family so I wouldn’t have to worry about that, too. It would be the first time he cooked for the family since he’s been home. It’s just not his thing. Throughout the morning, however, I kept giving Dustin more items on the to-do list: “Owen needs to be dropped off at noon.” “Someone needs to go get toilet paper.” “Owen will need to be picked up again at 4.” “Oh, and the city is picking up leaves next week, so we should probably do some raking.”
It was that last part that seemed to make Dustin come unglued. In a rare moment of instability, he snapped: “How am I supposed to do all of that and make dinner tonight?”
Yes, exactly. Exactly that, Dustin.
All I had to do was raise one eyebrow.
At 5 p.m., Dustin went to the grocery store to get supplies for dinner. When he came back, he was flustered and hungry. So were the boys. Then he learned the most troublesome part of my system. Some people want sauce on their dinner. Some want it on the side. Some want no meat. Some want all the meat. The youngest doesn’t like certain foods to touch on the plate. One son needs grated cheese.
And, most importantly, if you leave meat too close to the edge of the counter, our dog, Sparky, will in fact take it for his own.
“I just want to eat,” Dustin said, sounding a little bit like myself.
I patted him on the back at the stove. “We all do, Dustin. We all do.”
That night, Dustin mentioned how difficult the day had been and how impressed he was that for many years I did all of it on my own. With just those words, I almost — almost! — wanted to go get back his mugs and lawn-mowing shoes for him.
Instead, I swallowed the “I told you so,” poured him a drink and told him how happy we are that he is back.