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R&R: A Military Husband Comes Home

Sarah Smiley and her husband surprise their kids with his mid-tour leave.
Sarah Smiley and her husband surprise their kids with his mid-tour leave.

Thirteen months is a long time to be away from family, so the military allows for a two-week R&R (rest and recuperation) period in the middle of yearlong deployment. Sounds generous, doesn't it?

One of my annoyances at the beginning of this deployment was people who asked, "Does Dustin get to come home at all?"

Me: "Yes, he will have two weeks at home in the summer."

Them (smiling): "Oh, well, that's nice."

Me (in my head): "Really? That's 'nice'? Two measly weeks out of 58 is 'nice'? Would you like to see your husband for just two weeks out of a whole year?"

I never said this out loud, of course, because to do so would be tacky. Also, a widow could rightly answer, "Yes, I would like to see my husband for just two weeks this year."

But back then, after Dustin left in November, I wasn't rational. Back then, "two weeks" felt like nothing. Back then I wondered if it was worth having Dustin come home at all. We'd just have to go through a dreaded goodbye again. And, well, even by December, we were already in a routine and handling things reasonably well.

That was then.

Now, however, "two weeks" really does seem "nice." Which isn't to say that opting to have your husband not come home during R&R is a bad thing. No, I would never say that. If I've learned anything in my 35 years as a military dependent it's that everyone deals with separations differently. Some people like to talk to their husband every chance they get. Others like to stick to a set day and time. "Why do we need to talk multiple times a day?" they say. "We don't even talk that much when he's home."

Some people like to have a big party when their husband returns. Others want it to be "just family." (Note: For many, "just family" does not mean parents and in-laws.)

Some people include their children in all aspects of R&R. Other people do not. I've even heard of couples rendezvousing at a secret destination and not telling the children that Dad had two weeks back in the U.S.A. What they don't know can't hurt them, right?

Some people meet as a family at Disney World or the Bahamas. Other people want to have a two-week slice of normalcy at home.

It would be foolish to say any couple's choice is better than another's. We all have different circumstances. In my family's case, our children are somewhat older, so they stay up late, and they don't take naps. The two oldest are in that murky, pre-teen space of wanting to be around us, but ultimately thinking we're kind of boring. They usually have their own, separate plans, but they are still too young to enact them without our help. Dustin and I wondered when we'd ever have time alone. We envisioned ourselves smiling helplessly at one another across the tenth family game of Monopoly. I mean, we can't even talk in code around these guys anymore! They can spell and everything.

So Dustin and I hatched a plan: I'd pick up Dustin at the airport, then we'd steal away for two days at the Samoset Resort in Rockland, Maine, before surprising the kids. We'd be filled up on "couple time" and ready to share with the boys.

I couldn't believe it when I saw him at the airport late Sunday night. One day he had been across the world for nearly 8 months; the next day he was standing in front of me. I mean, I was excited enough when earlier he had sent me a message from Philadelphia (my husband and I were in the same country -- the same time zone, even!), but then he was right there beside me, and it didn't seem real.

On our way to the Samoset, I remembered things that had happened in November, and I was confused: "Were you here for that? Or, had you already left? Wow, you really weren't here when that happened?" Time seemed to have stopped and quickly moved forward at the same time.

On Tuesday, we came home to surprise the boys. They thought our 29th Dinner with the Smileys that night was with City Councilman Geoffrey Gratwick. That's what I had told them. Around 5:30 p.m., however, photographer Andrea Hand asked the boys and their babysitter to come outside. "Your mom has a surprise for you," she said.

The boys thought it would be a new kayak.

The video of what happened next is online.

Some day, we owe Councilman Gratwick a Dinner with the Smileys. But for now -- for the next two weeks -- Dustin is exactly where he should be: at the table, next to me and across from his boys. And that's more than "nice." It's wonderful.

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Navy wife Sarah Smiley is a syndicated newspaper columnist and the author of Going Overboard: The Misadventures of a Military Wife (2005) and I'm Just Saying (2008). She has been featured in the New York Times and Newsweek, and on Nightline, The Early Show, CNN, Fox News and other local and national news outlets. Her liferights were optioned by Kelsey Grammer's company, Grammnet, and Paramount Television to be made into a half-hour sitcom. Visit for more details. To contact Sarah, you can also visit her Facebook page.

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