📷: @carolinehelenf

For most parents and spouses, coming home from work to their family becomes so routine and normal that it can go unnoticed as anything special. Those who serve in the military can be gone for months or even years at a time, making their homecomings a momentous, unforgettable moment. A simple letter board message of “Welcome Home Dada” was all that was needed to melt our hearts and want to learn more. We talked to Caroline about her experience as a military family.

So first of all, tell us a little about the scene in the photo. 

This photo was taken the day my husband returned home from his 10th deployment with the United States Air Force. This was his first deployment as a father. Our baby girl was 17 days old when he left and just shy of 4 months old when he returned. I woke my daughter up in the middle of the night to greet him on base (it was approximately 2 a.m. when he finally arrived). He was so excited to see her again and see how much she had grown and changed over the months.  

Describe the days leading up to a homecoming like this and the anticipation you must feel. 

A military homecoming is always such a mixed bag of emotions: anxiousness, nervousness, excitement, and feeling overwhelmed and stressed are just a few that come to mind. The days leading up are both slow and dragging, but they also speed by too quickly, leaving you feeling like you don't have enough time to accomplish everything on your to-do list. The exact date and time of their return is ever-changing based on real-time travel so you feel like their return is floating, leaving you to resist getting overly fixated on any particular date or time, for fear of being disappointed.

For those of us who have never personally experienced a military homecoming like this, what is it like to see a loved one return from service?

Personally, I initially experience a sense of relief to have my husband home; I can relax knowing he is safe and out of harm's way. From a parental perspective, I was relieved to have my support system back and to be able to share my parental responsibilities with my partner. A deployment is a day-by-day chug and it's always a relief to take a break from that lifestyle. Secondly, I am proud of surviving yet another deployment — proud of my husband for his accomplishments and hard work, and proud of myself for my independence. And of course, it's always such a happy time to be reunited. It's fun to look forward to the quality time you'll be spending together. 

Post-deployment is also a transitionary period, and it can be frustrating and stressful for both the soldier and their families. Within the military community, this timeframe is known as "re-integration" and it's something I wish more people understood. Two separate lifestyles are, in essence, having to integrate back together. The soldier, the couple and the family unit are forced to adapt and re-learn how to peacefully coexist with one another.

What family activities do you look forward to doing the most when he returns home?

When my husband is deployed, I miss experiencing the mundane, day-to-day activities with him the most. So when he comes home, I look forward to activities like sipping coffee on our patio, playing with our daughter, walking the dogs, running errands and doing housework! This particular homecoming, we took a mini trip to Nashville. It was fun to just walk around and have a chance to reconnect outside our home. It's the small things, y'all!

Your family has sacrificed so much for this country and all of us. How can we better support military families like yours?

It's funny, most military families I know would rarely consider this lifestyle a "sacrifice." Personally, I'm just supporting my husband in a career that he is passionate about. I think the best way to support other military families is to provide emotional support if and when it is needed. Many of us are just too proud to ask for help (I think that's human nature?), so an offering (maybe a forceful one!) to babysit or even just an invitation to dinner is always welcome.

Lastly, we always like to ask: what is currently up on your letter board?

Currently, my letter board reads, "The days are long but the years are short." I feel like it's an accurate summation of my life at this point. My daughter just turned 6 months, and I honestly don't know how the time passed so quickly. Some days feel long and dragging, but I constantly try to remind myself to enjoy the present because it is fleeting. *Cue hysterical crying emoji*