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The aftermath of deployment is laundry — lots of laundry — some of it infused with sand so fine I can’t see it. But I can feel it. Even weeks later, I find grit in unexpected places, a patch on the floor, between the pages of a book.

When my husband first came back from deployment in the spring, people would say, "You must be glad to have your husband back." How right they are! He is safely home, and I am thankful.

Veterans of deployment, reunion — and sand — would ask more pointedly, "How are you adjusting?" They know the nitty gritty, the friction that takes time and patience to wash away.

The transition back to family life after deployment can last as long as the deployment. It is hard work getting rid of all that irritating sand. The months of putting our lives back together are as much a test of our love and commitment as the months of absence.

After deployment a few years ago, a friend asked, "What’s the biggest difference now that Mark is back?" She caught me on one of those high-friction days, and I responded unguardedly: "I can’t do whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it."

Our three children were then 6, 9 and 12, and truthfully I had not been able to do "whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it" since 1990. The adjustment is simply to divide my days between five people’s needs instead of four.

Another friend confided that life was simpler during her husband’s deployment. His absence, she said, means "one less person to please" when making daily decisions about meals and movies.

Such small things, but so are grains of sand in your swimsuit. Even small irritations can ruin your day at the beach — and make you walk funny. Ignoring them won’t stop the chafing. Even the small adjustments have to be faced.

During deployment, our family spent several months compensating for the absence of an essential member. It also takes time to get used to having him back. He is here in the flesh, no longer just a voice on the phone or a recurring name in our inbox.

Absence does make the heart grow fonder, but the reverse can also be true. When we are daily rubbing elbows in the messiness of family life, fondness takes a little more work.

I admit it is sometimes easier to remember what a wonderful guy my husband truly is when he is serving his country on a foreign field, and KBR is doing his dirty laundry.

Likewise, care packages from home are probably more pleasant to him than snotty noses and sibling rivalry. Starting the day with a sweet e-mail from me when he’s in the desert is surely more endearing than my morning breath from the next pillow.

One wise Air Force wife puts these small irritations in perspective. "I don’t mind his snoring. It means he’s safe at home," she said.

There are big things to take care of too, after a deployment. Combat stress is a possibility. Unresolved family issues packed away upon departure will be there on arrival, falling out of the luggage along with the sandy uniforms.

It would be nice to finish up with some good advice: "Five Easy Steps to a Smooth Post-Deployment Transition."

I’ll leave that to AFN commercials. The truth is there will be a lot more than five steps, not all of them easy.

Putting a family back together takes time patience and love. There’s a lot of laundry to do.

Terri Barnes proudly celebrates 23 years of marriage this month to her Air Force husband, Mark. They have three children and live in Germany. Contact Terri at spousecalls@stripes.com and see the Spouse Calls blog here.


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