The Homecoming Surprise

A number of years ago, my siblings and I coordinated a trip home to Virginia to surprise our mom for Mother’s Day. Even though there are those of us in the family who rarely enjoy surprises (me being one of them), we were sure it would be a big hit with our mom. She’s always asking us to visit more often.

I’ll never forget ringing the doorbell to my childhood home as I stood on the front porch with my luggage. My mom answered the door, and the expressions on her face went through the following steps:

  1. Utter confusion (had she invited me home and forgotten to write it down?)
  2. Sudden stress (she hadn’t prepared food, cleaned the house, or any of the other things you do when you’re expecting a guest)
  3. Tentative joy (her boy was home!)

It’s the second one that really stuck with me. I learned from that experience that my parents would much rather be physically and mentally prepared for a visit than to have me unexpectedly show up.

I’m reminded of this whenever I see a member of the US Armed Forces surprise his or her spouse after being away from home for a long time. I’m sure the spouse is elated, but is the surprise worth the stress? Wouldn’t all that joy still be there if they had a little advance notice?

But hey, I don’t know–I’ve never been in that situation. If you have, I’d love to hear your experience. Or if you’re a civilian like me, picture one of your favorite people in the world. Would you be happier if they showed up at your house right now OR if they asked if they could come visit in a few days?


6 Responses to “The Homecoming Surprise”

  1. BHFuturist says:

    You bring up a good point that I and my wife have talked about at some length. I told her once that I might supersize her when I came home (fair warning I thought). She disliked this idea and she talked about how that would add stress to an already stressful time. I never did supersize her whenever I came back from combat… but to this day she thanks me for not supersizing here like that whenever this topic comes up. It is an interesting topic because I still think that any stress would be overshadowed by the joy… but overall I agree it is best to just not risk any extra stress in that situation when it is easy to avoid the stress. I find that supersizing with candy or flowers is much better. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I still love surprises. My wife and I were dating long distance (before she was my wife) and we travelled back and forth between Ireland and England every few weeks. During her final year at university, she was deep in depression and not coping well, so I decided to fly out at short notice without telling her. She came back from class, her hair unwashed, no makeup on, complaining to her flatmate about the awful day she’d had. She walked into the living room, saw me sitting on her carpet eating a sandwich and burst into tears. It didn’t matter to her that she wasn’t ready for me or hadn’t gone to lots of effort. That part would have been stressful for her. All she needed that week was support and comfort, and me being there to make the dinner and look after her meant more than anything. She still talks about that day with pride. She knows that I’d be there at the drop of a hat. She also knows I like to surprise her, so it doesn’t stress her out when it happens.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Daniel: Thank you for sharing! That’s a good point that there’s a different type of stress in preparing for someone to come–I’m guessing that different people would choose one of those stresses over the other. It’s neat to see that your surprise demonstrated to your future wife that you’d always be there for her.

  3. Nathan says:

    I am an Air Force chaplain and have been part of planning these. I usually ask them if they really think surprising their family is what the family would want. Usually they know their family well and make a good call. My wife would hate it. Also, a spouse always knows that they are coming home. Its usually the kids, parents, or siblings that get the surprise.

    PS– Can’t wait for Charterstone!

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Thanks for the inside scoop, Nathan! It’s great that you ask that question, and it makes sense that it’s the non-spouse people in the family who are usually surprised.

      Does it ever happen the other way? That is, do the families ever go to the air force base to surprise the troops?

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