“Home sweet home” is a phrase that doesn’t always apply to military families when we visit our hometowns. For some of us, returning home can be bittersweet. After living in different places and meeting a variety of people, our perspective of home might shift. Our beliefs might be altered. We inevitably change, as we continue to embark upon unfamiliar territories. During that time away from our childhood homes, the community and/or our loved ones could have possibly changed, too.
In my case, it’s been bittersweet when going back to my old stomping grounds. I was overwhelmed by how different my neighborhood appeared and I also wasn’t prepared for the “updated versions” of others—nor were they prepared for the “new me.” In my earlier years of being away, I used to love visiting the place where “everybody knew my name, and they were always glad I came,” (the theme song of the sitcom Cheers always resonated with me).
I grew up in a small, predominantly Black, low-income town called Marin City—which is located in the very wealthy county of Marin. Our “housing projects” differed from most low-income neighborhoods because of their location. For example, our four-bedroom apartment sat at the top of a hill and our backyard was surrounded by huge trees. With an apple tree in the front yard and deer eating the grass in our backyard regularly, I was destined to love such natural scenery that was often hidden by the morning fog that covered redwood trees. Our community was unique, and I loved it!
I still remember how difficult it was to leave home. At the age of 18, I made the hard choice to say goodbye to everything that was familiar to me, and venture into the unknown—I was terrified! I moved away to attend college, becoming the first member of my family to graduate from both college and graduate school. 25 years have passed, and when I recently returned home, “everyone didn’t know my name.” Gentrification continued to alter the appearance of my hometown, a lot of my childhood friends moved away, family drama/trauma was at its peak, and some of my loved ones have transitioned from this life. Home just wasn’t what it used to be. But, there were still some residents who continued to invest their time and hearts into preserving what’s left of our community. These invaluable brothers and sisters remind me that there’s still a reason to see US when I stand on the soil of Marin City.
But, even among some familiar faces with whom I can reminisce, I’m still a stranger in many ways after 25 years. As I re-introduced myself to family and friends (while also re-learning who they are), I realized that whether a person marries a service-member, join the military with aspirations to see other parts of the world, or goes away to attend college; once they return home, they’re predestined to return as another version of themselves. When you travel and live in other parts of the world, you can undergo a permanent metamorphosis that only happens after “flying” out of a chrysalis. And, this is my main reason for sharing this post.
No one warned me about the possible experiences I could have as a military wife, and no one helped prepare me for what it could be like when revisiting my “old life.” So, I thought it would be a good idea to share some lessons that I had the privilege of learning along the way (from my own personal experiences, and from the experiences of other military families). Here are ten suggestions that might be beneficial, as you continue to “fly” TO and FROM wherever you call home:
1) When you return home, it might feel like the responsibility lays solely on you to make your rounds to visit everyone. Most of us military families will do just that, too: drive around from house to house, just for a sweet embrace or home-cooked meal, because our loved ones are worth it! But, remember to take a day to just relax—stay in the house or hotel room, and just chill for one of those days during your visit (if time permits).
2) Home MIGHT not always be “sweet,” upon your return. If you have some unresolved issues between relatives or friends, be careful. If you’re bringing home a significant other and/or children who don’t understand the background story of your hardships, talk to them about the risks. Maintain your peace of mind by visiting people who welcome you with positive energy, and know when to exit environments that can end up being detrimental to your mental wellness.
3) If possible, bring your loved ones a special gift/souvenir from where you’re stationed. Sometimes, having a tangible reminder of where you are currently stationed can make your tribe back home still feel connected to you. Likewise, be sure to pick up some memorabilia of your special city to bring back with you, to remind you of home.
4) Be a tourist in your hometown! Look up tourists attractions that you love OR that you always wanted to see. Take your family to these places, too! Growing up, maybe you didn’t have the resources to experience certain outings. Perhaps, you weren’t aware of how close you lived to historical sites. If you are now able to explore more areas, do it! Be a tourist (or a tour guide and show others what makes your city amazing)!
5) If you have children, remind them that it’s okay to observe their relatives, while still being kind and respectful. To your children, some of your family and close friends are still “strangers.” Don’t rush them to bond with (or just hug) everyone. Use your discretion when it comes to “babysitting” or “sleepovers,” even though you might be excited to finally get a break. The way you’re raising your children might differ from your relatives’ beliefs, so it’s okay for you to also observe before automatically trusting everyone.
6) To some people, having a steady “military” paycheck equates to wealth—I’ve heard this topic come up often among military families. Regardless of your financial status and/or rank, if the expectation from your relatives is that you *should* provide for their financial needs, set boundaries. Know how to gauge when it’s your “presence” that’s desired more than your “presents.” Placing limitations on how much you give/spend can be done without conflict—it all begins with setting the right tone and being consistent.
7) Use this time to be in the moment, and try to refrain from bringing up past hurts unless the intention is to resolve the issues. Going back home can stir up a lot of emotions, both good and bad. Nevertheless, choose to focus on the positive reasons for your visit and try to ENJOY your environment and your loved ones.
8) If possible, go on a friend-date or take a walk with a close relative, just to catch up. Leave your children and/or spouse behind (if you’ll be in town for a long time). Deliberately get to “know” the newer/latest versions of each other.
9) Take your family to local restaurants that are unique to your hometown, as much as possible. Support those local businesses! Some of our most precious memories are often connected to different foods that “taste like home.” Going to a local restaurant is just one more way of taking full advantage of being HOME.
10) During your visit, be intentional with taking time to reflect on where you came from, and appreciate where you ended up! The longer you’re away from home, you may come to find that both the bitter and sweet parts of home never really left you. And so, you never really completely leave home. Unapologetically, introduce the “new version” of yourself to others, and be ready for the possible changes that happened since you spread your wings.
Turn any possible “lemons into lemonade,” and make the most out of your visit—genuinely being thankful for all of the lemonade that home has to offer!