My bet is that those of you counseling Veterans, especially Veterans with families, have experienced some of what I am about to describe, in one form or another anyway. Today is the 10th of May. I arrived back home from Afghanistan on the 5th to my wife Jen, 5 year old Mackenzie, 3 year old Isabelle, and 2 year old Addison. Homecoming was great after the long plane rides.
I flew into Columbus, MS from Memphis Tennessee at around 8:30pm. Before my arrival, Jen had taken the girls to Mackenzie's first T-Ball game, so she was running a little late getting to the airport. Her delay was actually a really great thing because the extra time allowed me to hide in a corner, surprising them all when I popped out from behind a wall. Everyone was so excited to have me home, and I was ecstatic about being able to hug and kiss all of the women in my life. It was wonderful.
Because of the transition that we will soon be making into the Active Duty Army and the move to Fort Leavenworth Kansas that the transition will inevitably bring about, I decided not to work on anything business related from at least Friday through Sunday. There wouldn't be any work to do until Monday right?
On Friday though, the reality of being back home settled in. The day started with me taking Mackenzie and Addison to school, changing diapers, making breakfast, doings bath time, and inspecting our minivan for dents scratches, balding tires, working breaks, changed oil, etc.., stuff that dads are supposed to do.
I'll be honest, I was a little upset at some of the dents that were in the van. Jen and I had a little fight about it, but in the end, do the dents really matter in light of everything? She probably told me about them at some point over the past year, but I simply couldn't remember the conversation. For a year, I was in a different world and somewhat detached from everything going on back here at home. I apologized for getting so upset about some silly dents and she forgave me.
Friday night, we went out to dinner at one of our favorite hibachi places in town. The girls always love this place and Friday night was no different. The time we spent together was wonderful and it was almost like nothing had changed for us as a family, except for the fact that the girls are now a year older and more advanced.
Saturday morning was great, and we had what our family calls "big breakfast Saturday." I love cooking, and the time in the kitchen with my family is always special. It's amazing the conversations our family had this past Saturday while making home fries, blueberry pancakes, and turkey sausage. Again, this is an old routine for our family and one that really helps us re-connect with each other. I highly encourage Counselors to help families discover old routines that were fun.
Saturday afternoon Mackenzie, Addison, Isabelle, and I decided to visit a local nature preserve that Mackenzie had recently taken a field trip to earlier in the week. The trip served two purposes really. First, it allowed Jen to have a needed break from the girls for a few hours. Secondly, the trip also gave me the opportunity to share in something that Mackenzie found important. We looked at a lake, threw rocks in a river, and visited where she had lunch with her friends.
While we were out on our trip, Jen got the house ready for some guests that we were entertaining later in the evening. We got home and promptly started helping around the house. (my version of the story anyway;))
Jen and I really enjoy watching the Kentucky Derby together, and we both like entertaining. With that said, we generally like to have everything in the house set before people come over. Well, our guests were due to arrive at 5:30pm and the Derby was supposed to start around that time. If everything worked out perfectly and in a perfect world, our friends would arrive, kids would be dressed, and appetizers would be ready when people started walking in the door. Things would be perfect....Not so much on this afternoon.
Well, ten minutes before our friends arrive the girls are screaming and running around the house, and Addison had a major "blowout" in the nether regions if you what I mean, the kind that basically require a new bath. Ordinarily, this is a normal situation that any parent would be used to, especially a parent with young children. Accept in my case, I hadn't dealt with a "blowout" or the insane amount of noise and chaos for a year.
When deployed, all I had to worry about was working in the office, eating,taking naps, participating in missions sometimes, and going to the gym. Jen could tell that I was a little overwhelmed at the situation. I can't remember exactly what she said to me as I rushed Addison to the tub, but whatever it was helped. The bottom line is that she took the time to recognize that I was overwhelmed in the moment. She didn't criticize or take over the situation. She simply accepted me where I was if that makes sense.
The conversation we had while battling pooh was special in light of another conversation we had earlier in the week. I can't remember the exact context, but Jen told me how it's difficult for her to share her time and affection with the girls. She shared these thoughts with me, and I feel like we re-connected on a huge level when she did. I had never deeply considered the many adjustments she is making and the grace that she is giving me during my return home.
I guess the message for this post is to have grace and forgiveness in the midst of the dents and the pooh. Help your clients remember that there is no prescribed format for re-integration, nor is there a perfect time frame.
Chris Allen is a counselor and an Army Officer just returning from Afghanistan. He is passionate about developing counseling practices that best address Veterans and their families. Blog comments are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense.