The saying goes, “Home is where the heart is,” but for military families, our hearts are typically in multiple places. For my family, we have 3 homes: where my husband, our son, and I live in Delaware, where his parents are in rural Maryland, and where my family is in the San Francisco Bay Area. We say we’re “going home” for the summer holidays and Thanksgiving–meaning that we’re going to spend the weekend with his family. And we say that were “going home” for Christmas–meaning that we’re flying to California to see my folks; it takes someone who knows us well to catch the context and know where we are referring to anytime we say “home.” And in the middle of being here and there, in the three and a half years we’ve been stationed in Dover, we’ve never been at our OWN home for the holidays.
We’ve missed the candlelight Christmas Eve services at our church, we missed the cute “oops” little Chloe made during the kids’ Christmas pageant, we’ve missed serving Thanksgiving turkey at the local shelter with our church friends, we’ve missed the Fourth of July Fireworks downtown, we’ve missed the Memorial Day parades, we’ve missed the Easter Egg hunts on base, and we’ve never rung in the New Year in the town we live in.
Don’t get me wrong, we are blessed to have family to go to and the means to travel; these are privileges that not everyone has and we definitely don’t take them lightly, but one of the greatest struggles of military life is being present where you are. When I’m visiting my home church in California on Christmas Eve, I’m wondering what my friends back in Delaware are doing. I’m texting people to see if things worked out. I’m wondering if Mary brought her famous casserole. I’m wondering what the weather ended up being like. I’m not fully present where I am in the moment because I’m too busy thinking about the other place, and I’m not present at the other place at all. We get to celebrate the old family traditions, but the only new tradition we’re making for ourselves in traversing an airport on December 22nd on the layover for our transcontinental flight.
We’ve had local friends who have extended invitations for us to share the holiday meal with them, not knowing if we have anyone to spend the holiday with. It means the world to us that they thought about us and made the effort to include us, but we’ve had to turn these offers down, because we had travel plans after all. It’s great that we have somewhere to go, and our friends are always happy for us, but at the same time, they’ve consciously made the effort to make sure we are included and thoughtfully approached us to make the invitation. Not taking them up on the offer sometimes feels like an offense. And what happens the year they stop asking because we’ve always had plans? That ends up being the holiday that we don’t have anywhere to go. It’s like The Boy Who Cried Wolf.
Holidays are hard for everyone. They can be even harder for military families. Please remember that. Ask us about how we celebrate the holidays; traditions new and old. Help us find ways that we can contribute and participate in the holiday cheer where we are, and tell us that you think about where we are when we are gone and wondering if we’re okay, too. And don’t stop inviting us to share your holiday – just in case. It means more than you know.
Posted by Jennifer Burns, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer