Homecomings: My Inner Donna Reed

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Nearly 12 years ago, I said, “I do” and became an Army Wife.  I didn’t know while I was standing on that altar in Alabama that homecoming’s would become frequent events in my life.  Both brief and ridiculously long separations have become common in my marriage. Typically, I’m a laid back, modern woman.  Standing in an apron with perfect face and hair over a hot stove “for my man” has never been my self-image.  But when word arrives that Jay is coming home, this feminist child of the 80’s tells Gloria Steinem to kiss her ass and turns into a half-crazed Donna Reed.  Jay coming home means that the hours of loneliness are forgotten, missed phone calls are forgiven, and any fault in the past is left in the past.

Short caveat before explaining my Homecoming Routine:

Jay could care less if any item of what I am about to tell you comes to fruition.  I could welcome him home wearing a gunnysack and have a pizza delivered. A warm bed, a bite to eat, a cold beer, and me are all he requires.  But my inner, usually dormant, Donna Reed requires much more.  In my mind, homecomings must be marked with the perfect outfit, the perfect first dinner home, and a house cleaned to hospital standards.  (Please note that two out of three on this list rarely happen in my life on any other day.  And I’m a pretty snazzy dresser.)

Take a moment and let go of any hope that I am a sane person.  That ship sailed a long time ago.  Well, it specifically sailed on January 6, 2003.  That was the day I first said “goodbye” to Jay and immediately started planning the homecoming:

Step 1:  Selecting and prepping the Welcome Home Dinner

Although I survive mostly on microwave popcorn, apples with peanut butter, and vodka while Jay is away, two days before he comes home, I go to the grocery store to stock up on Jay’s favorite snack foods, beer, and the ingredients for his specially selected Welcome Home Dinner.  The dinner is selected according to where Jay has been and how long he has been there so as not to upset his stomach.  I was so nervous about his homecoming in 2003, I forgot to plug in the crockpot before I left the house.  Eight hours later, after waiting in the Georgia sun through travel updates and patriotic ceremonies, we returned home to the smell of rotting country ribs.  Long story short:  we threw out the ribs, aired out the house, and ordered a pizza.

Step 2:  Turning my bedraggled self into a USO Goddess

The day before Jay comes home is dedicated to an extreme body makeover including manicure, pedicure, skin exfoliating and moisturizing, eyebrow maintenance, and shaving the legs past my knee for the first time since he left.  I am over 35 and don’t wear miniskirts as directed by Stacy & Clinton for women over 35.  If you can see or feel my legs above the knee and you are not my husband, then I apparently fell and knocked myself unconscious while my skirt blew up or my pants fell off.  And stop looking at and feeling my legs while I am unconscious!  That’s just rude.

Step 3:  Selecting the Welcome Home Outfit

This is trickier than you think.  I prefer to wear a dress for all homecomings.  After all, what self-respecting Donna Reed wannabe would pick up her hero in pants? Depending on the weather, the specific dress is selected with appropriate coat or jacket, if necessary.  Next to be selected is the perfect pair of shoes.  I prefer something with a little height to show off the fact that I have been working out in between moping on the couch, working like crazy in hopes that the time passes quickly, and guzzling bottles of wine with my fellow Army wives.  But the heel cannot be so high that I tilt forward with my butt sticking out when I walk.  And the shoe must be a wedge.  Along with being easier to walk in, a wedge prevents the dreaded lawn dart situation.  Nothing is less attractive than trying to run across an open field to welcome home your special someone only to become stuck when your spike heel sinks in the ground:  lawn dart.

Step 4:  Scrub the House 

Chances are, mainly because I still have no idea why a vacuum comes with so many attachments; the house hasn’t really been cleaned since Jay left.  Oh, sure I straighten, I might run a Swifter over the floors, and rinse the sinks and toilets, but really clean?  Who am I trying to fool?  So, the night before Jay is scheduled to arrive I clean the house from top to bottom.  I wash, fold, and PUT AWAY all the laundry (If you really know me, you know this is amazing).  I make sure the sheets are fresh, the bathroom is sparkling, and, yes, I use the vacuum.  I dust everything that sits still.  I have even been known to climb a step stool in order to Windex the tops of the mirrors.  Time Saving Tip:  If you do all of this at a fast pace, fast enough to get your heart rate up, you can skip the gym that day.  Well, in my mind you can!

Step 5:  Get Thee to the Church On Time! 

The day of, several hours before Jay is scheduled to arrive, I prep dinner and clean the kitchen, again.  I fix my hair and makeup, praying the whole time for God to grant me a good hair day.  If the separation has been long, I load up the Welcome Home, Jay! sign that I made weeks before just in case he forgets what I look like and needs to be reminded to go home with me.  With plenty of time to spare, I calmly drive to the reunion site.  That is what should happen, but never has.  Usually, this step goes more like it did in 2005.  While I was in the shower, a representative from Jay’s unit called to tell me what never, ever happens in the Army:  the Welcome Home Ceremony has been moved to an earlier time!  I didn’t check my phone until after I showered, fixed my makeup, and rolled my hair.  When I learned that I needed to be standing on Fort Stewart, GA in less than 45 minutes, but I was in Savannah, GA, an hour away, panic set in.  I jumped in Jay’s car, hair still up in hot curlers, sign still neatly lying on my bed, and raced down Highway 17.  Along the way, I passed a long, white bus carrying soldiers who were kind enough to point out to Jay that I was flying by them.  I have always been terrified that one day Jay will get off the bus or plane, and no one will be there to greet him.  Luckily, on that day, I talked my way out of a speeding ticket, ripped the curlers out of my perfectly set hair, and made it to the parade field with 3 minutes to spare!

The final step is quite easy.  Once all the hoopla is over and dinner has been served, I sit next to Jay and stare at him, which usually freaks him out.  (He should be thankful that I am only staring and not smothering him with love and attention the way the neurotic mess that lives inside my head wants to.) I stare at his wonderful face in disbelief that we made it through another separation and another homecoming.

So, what in your life turns you into a lunatic?  What event or person is so important to you that no amount of crazy is enough?  Please share your inner neurotic mess with me below in the comment section.