At the dinner table the other night, our three-year-old reported that her class had cupcakes at preschool that day, to celebrate the birthday of one of her schoolmates. "And Goosta sang happy birthday to her."
"Gustav? Who's Gustav?"
"Goopta? What's a Goopta?"
It went on like this for quite a while. We still don't know much about "Goosta." Apparently he/she/it has no discernible shape, with orange fur, legs, and no arms but still manages to give hugs. And clearly can sing happy birthday, but otherwise lacks the ability the speak.
Part of me wants to get to the bottom of this and ask her preschool teacher. Is this a puppet or stuffed animal? Computer animation? Figment of my daughter's imagination?
But I'd rather keep the mystery alive. It has become an ongoing joke between the ten-year-old and I as we speculate about The Most Interesting Fictional Character in the World.
"Did you know Goosta fought in the Civil War?"
"I heard she worked at the White House when John F. Kennedy was President."
"Goosta is the result of a laboratory accident involving Grimace and a glass of Tang."
The shared laughter at the dinner table reminded me what I had missed so dearly over the past six months. If you have never experienced coming home from deployment, it can be indescribable. Think back to your childhood, and remember the feelings you had on Christmas morning, or going to Disney World, or the day you got your driver's license. Combine them all. It has been a joyous week of reuniting with my family.
But I must be honest. It is not all celebration and smiles. Even after my sixth deployment, I am finding that the transition home can still be challenging. It has been a week of getting re-oriented: To a new time zone. To driving on the right side of the road. To changes in the family's routines. To the different foods, clothes, and TV shows that my kids now like. For me, I was starting a mini-vacation. For my wife and the children, this was still a school week, despite all the excitement.
This is all combined with the stress of an upcoming move, and the gentle let-down that comes from finishing the most rewarding and challenging tour of my career.
I find myself getting impatient with the kids. Growing annoyed when told, "That's not the way we do ______ anymore." I still look at my phone way to often when I should be present in the moment.
As I finished my fourth deployment, I left Bagram, Afghanistan for an isolated base in Kuwait. I had to wait there for three days, as part of the Warrior Transition Program. I chafed at those three days, which seemed to stretch on forever. I didn't need to decompress, I told anyone who would listen, I needed to get home and see my family, including my three-month-old son who I had never held before.
Yet those three days in Kuwait were essential. They allowed me the time I needed to reflect on what I had accomplished in Afghanistan, the challenges that I faced, and what awaited me at home: a family that loved me and needed my full attention.
No matter what the circumstances and timing of your homecoming, find some time to reflect. Attend a "Return and Reunion" seminar if available. Talk to your loved ones ahead of time about what lays ahead. Not just the fun of the reunion, but the more mundane aspects of the transition home. Above all, remember that your family worked hard to get through the deployment. Just like while you were out there and had to change your routines, habits, and preferences in order to get by, your family was doing the same in your absence. Make allowance for that, and strive to meet them on their terms.