“Dear Jane Letter” And The Gnomes

A female Sailor I was pen pals with received a care package from her boyfriend. Inside she discovered the keys to her truck. That’s how he broke up with her. By mailing her keys to a combat zone. She had to mail them back to a friend so they could retrieve her truck- from his driveway. She decided not to attempt to reconcile with him. I was very supportive of that idea.

Deployment can strain any relationship. And shaky ones are not made stronger by it. After all, if long dangerous separations were romance-builders, everyone would do it.

PERSON IN LOVE 1: Baby, I think we’re ready for the next step.

PERSON IN LOVE 2: Gasp!  You mean…

PERSON IN LOVE 1:  Yes, see you next year.

PERSON IN LOVE 2:  Awesome! I’ll handle everything solo. You try not to get shot.

SFX (sound effects) :  KISS

The effects of deployment extend beyond romantic relationships. They impact the entire family. Especially children. All kids are different but all miss their mom or dad. You can get a sense for what a young child goes through here. An Airman told me that his 3-year-old son was angry with him for not doing what the boy instructed. He kept saying, “Daddy, just steal a helicopter and come home!”

And then there are gnomes

I have heard and read so many stories about “deployment gnomes.” How everything goes wrong the minute troops leave. The boiler breaks. The engine fails. The plague arrives. Sometimes all on the same day. These gnomes can cause the person at home to feel even more stressed and on their own.

You know how there are sounds that only dogs can hear? I think there’s one that only appliances, vehicles and small children can hear. When a plane full of troops takes off, I think it emits a sound that alerts all devices and toddlers that now- NOW! is the time to have a meltdown.

DM C-130 takeoff

Just because you can’t see the gnomes or hear the signal, doesn’t mean they’re not there.

The cure for heartaches & gnomes is…

If I had the answer I’d be a millionaire. Love and appliances can be difficult in civilian life. Deployment takes it to a new level. But I think there are things that can help.

If you know a military family with a deployed loved one, please check in with them from time to time. If you can offer any help, being specific is better than a general, “hey if you ever need anything, let me know.” This way the person knows it’s a genuine offer versus just being polite. For example:

“I’m going to the supermarket, is there anything I can pick up for you?”

“I heard the kids were sick.  Do you need a hand?”

“We’re having movie night, why don’t you join us?

Or simply the occasional email saying they are in your thoughts. Showing concern is wonderful. However, if you see something bad in the news, don’t bring it up. Many families try not to watch the news or only want to discuss it AFTER they know for sure everything is okay.

Overall, both troops and their loved ones need to know that they are not forgotten. Will some relationships still end? Of course. Just like some washing machines were meant to die. But knowing you have people standing with you, rooting for you and just generally on your side…well, that’s when we all have our best chance to thrive. Gnomes be damned!

© Gina left the mall, 2013

29 thoughts on ““Dear Jane Letter” And The Gnomes

  1. Gina – The lack of care by the sailor’s boy is grating. What a way to chicken out of a relationship. Were he my son I would make him do the right thing when she returned home and face her with an apology at least. I understand this can be hard for those deployed and at home. I currently do not know any deployed soldiers, but have friends that are veterans.

    • Joe,
      I agree. I found his actions upsetting. I figured her best friends would have choice words for him so I focused on supporting her. You know, “sorry you’re going through this” and being positive about the future opportunities as in, “meeting a guy that understands and values you much more than this guy. Someone who deserves you.”

      Because these relationships can be hard, I think even small shows of support can mean a lot. Even a strong couple can benefit. Imagine a deployed soldier and their spouse says the “gnomes” have arrived. Now imagine that soldier hears others are helping. Or the spouse learns strangers sent the soldier coffee to help boost morale. It makes you feel cared about and reduces stress. And both those things are very good for the heart.

    • Thanks Kami! I did double-check them with a military spouse and she felt they would really help. I think in a lot of situations, it’s hard to accept a general offer of help. Nobody wants to be a burden and, as I mentioned, you never know if it’s just politeness.

  2. OMG’sh yes to the last one! I really dislike having people call or post bad or scary news as if one: I wasn’t already aware and stressed over it, and two: them telling/showing me somehow comforts me? “Hey! Did you know your husbands ship was involved in a huge fight this morning and the news says we don’t know how many survived?”. “Gosh – thanks! That’s just so helpful! Would you like to come over and pull my toe nails out too?”. 😛

    As for that BF – he wasn’t good enough for her anyway – the big loser!

    • Yeah, the military spouse I spoke to specifically asked me to add that last one in. She found those types of calls/posts incredibly stressful. If I had to guess, I think people who do it just don’t think it through. They don’t realize that it hurts. Hopefully getting the word out will help. Either that or steel-tipped shoes 🙂

      And yes, that Sailor deserves much better!

  3. As usual great post.

    Concerning the guy who sent the keys to his former girlfriend. I am sure that the gas tank was empty too.

    Ways to help. Make your intentions known before hand; follow up with calls, etc. just like you said you would. The spouse will not ask for help because most of these women are too tough to ask for help. They do not want to seem to be helpless or needy. They will suffer in silence.

    You must be proactive. In my neighborhood, we have two neighbors who deployed last year. On separate days my wife when to the house and just took the kids. One lady’s kids are older, 12, 9, 7. So it wasn’t a big deal but we had them all day. Fed them, made them get a bath and sent them home ready for bed long after the sun set. We took the kids to Church activities and other things. Mom needs free time to do what she needs to do, however she needs to do it.

    The second lady had young kids. 5, 3 and 1. We took the 5 and 3 year olds for several hours. Again we fed them and took care of them and sent them home ready for bed. Several times, we just went shopping for the staples and delivered them. Other times, we had the mom and the kids to the house.

    Just to stress, you need to have a relationship with the spouse before the husband leaves. Then you can be aggressive and jump in. Don’t ask, just do.

    • Rob,
      Thank you for such a thoughtful and helpful comment! You are correct (of course) that these spouses don’t want to be seen as needy or as burden. I think sometimes people wrongly assume they don’t need help because they seem to have it all together. So yes, they suffer in silence.

      I think the things you and our wife have done serve as beautiful examples of how to help. You enabled these entire families to feel loved and cared for when they needed it most. Thank you for not asking, but doing!

        • Rob,

          In the past, I’ve been shy about this. Only because I believe it involves doing a post talking about myself. But the whole reason I’m doing this blog IS to inspire. So I would be honored. Please let me know what the requirements are.

          And to the other wonderful and kind readers who have also suggested this, I will try to find your comments/links and thank you in the post as well.


  4. Great points and advice to those here at home that are in a position to lend a hand. The keys? Well that is the nicest way I have heard of to break it off with a deployed troop. While serving in Desert Storm at least two of my Brothers in Arms recieved packages from home of the Dear John nature. The packages always contained videos of their spouse and some Jody at home.. A few of the times they would start out as a tape of a football game or a favorite tv show and then the unsavory acts would just pop up on the screen in front of the whole unit. It was as if just breaking it off wasn’t bad enough they had to humiliate them to boot.

    You are correct that deployments are a strain on the homefront. When I was a teenager my brother and his Navy Squadron of F-14’s deployed aboard the U.S.S. Ranger to the Persian Gulf as Iran was threatening to cut off the oil shipments coming out at the narrowest point the Gulf of Aquaba. The ship caught fire and burned for 3 days. This was before CNN and the other 24 hour news services we have now. Yet, for 3 days I watched on the news as deaths aboard were reported ( without names) and waited for a knock at the door from a Naval Officer and Chaplain. Luckily it never came and my brother is alive today.

    He once called me a hero, paying homage to my service and that I had volunteered to serve in Desert Storm, I replied with the story of those 3 days on the homefront. Then posed the question that he could recall the names of each man who came home in a body bag from that incident. He agreed that he could and I saw a change in the look in his eye. He has kids who grew up with stories of me and my service but now they know about their dad’s service as well.

    Sorry, I got a little off point but I think that from your experiences on this blog and those serving that I can share some of these stories and that you will understand in a way most can not.


    • Michael,

      Thank you for the heartfelt comment. It is very generous of you to share your experiences and I appreciate it greatly.

      For my readers that do not know the term “Jody,” it refers to a civilian guy who stays home while you go off to war and then moves in on your girl. I’ve heard of the lovely break-up videos you speak of and I believe an example was shown in the movie Jarhead. What would possess anyone to treat another person this way is beyond me.

      I can’t imagine the pain your family endured (and all the other Navy families) watching that fire and not knowing if your brother had survived. And when you turned his homage to you into a way to honor him…that brought tears to my eyes. I knew the answer before you revealed it. I knew he had not forgotten the names. What is beautiful is that you gave his children a way to know him more fully. Please tell your brother that I thank him for his service. As always, I thank you for yours. And to your family who went through those 3 days and untold days of worry beyond that, please let them know I am grateful for their part as well.


  5. Thank you for this Gina. My neighbors moved in after my husband deployed and I’m too intimidated to say “hi”, so I’m pretty sure they just think I’m a quirky, single mom with two cars and a hair dye addiction LOL I’d beat my son’s A$$ if he did something like that. That’s not being a man, that’s a scared little boy who forgot to take off his diaper and put on his big boy pants. He’s a wimp, plain and simple.

    And yes, the deployment gnomes are everywhere. My husband was gone less than a month before I had to replace a laptop that was barely two years old. The guy at Best Buy told me “It’s just one of those freak things.” Yea, right…. Then my truck almost broke down, I had to learn to jump a car from another single handedly without being burned or zapped. Had to do that twice actually because I turned off the car with the bum battery a little too early lol Two months into this deployment, we found out that they will be home barely a year before going back. (Happy Thanksgiving) I got lost in Nashville and spent 3 hours driving the 45 minutes home (although that’s a bit funny months later). Then there are all the specialists, my six year might be going through puberty thus requiring multiple visits to the endocrinologist and my son has a potential hearing problem and has to see the audiologist again next month and… some days, It’s just not fair. I shouldn’t have to deal with autism, asperger’s precocious puberty, hearing disorders, speech delays, and all the sensory issues alone. 😦 Although by far the worst thing someone can tell a spouse is “You married him, you had to know what you were getting into.”

    Um, no. Sorry. But just like my kid didn’t come with a manual, neither did my husband. And for us, at least, we had a civilian marriage for nearly 5 years before my husband joined the Army… Nothing can prepare you for the changes that brings. My husband likes to tell me that we have the short end of the stick. I know a lot of husband’s who feel that way…

    • Thank you always for your insightful comments! Your post about gnomes was the first of a flurry of gnome-attacks I heard in a short time. That inspired their inclusion here!

      I think your take on your neighbor’s take on you is hilarious. I wish I could help. Here’s a crazy thought- Since you are good at crafts, make a giant “postcard” 15 x 30 or bigger out of foam core. Have your kids make a line drawing (black marker) of something in the neighborhood on the picture side. Draw a pretend stamp and address lines on the text side. Then… send your adorable ambassadors door-to-door with colored markers to sign the picture side. “Hi, we wanted to send a postcard to our Daddy in Afghanistan. But we wanted to send him one from everybody! Can you say hi or good luck to him?” I’ve seen pictures of your kids. Who could turn them down? 🙂 So, the kids get to make something for Dad and your neighbors get to find out what the deal is.

      Wow. And wow. “Freak” things indeed. But what stands out most is your awesome sense of humor and resiliency. Your children are lucky to have you, to have someone who fearlessly fights gnomes no matter when, where or how often they arrive. Even when the unfairness of it bears down. I hope all the doctor visits have the best possible results.

      Worst thing to say
      Hmm.. I would say to make a second giant postcard and use it to bonk someone over the head when they say that. But, as Moms, we both know that “hands are not for hitting.” So, I’ll have to think about this one more 🙂

      There is a reason the words “service” and “sacrifice” are used to describe what troops and their families do and endure. But whether you are in the civilian world or the military, not everyone has true love and commitment. Reading many of your posts, its clear to me that you and your husband do. This love is what so many people ache for, search for and aspire to. In that regard, you have the biggest stick of all 🙂

      • 🙂 I needed this today. I suspect tomorrow will be difficult. Neither of us has received our package from the other and we’re both a bit on edge about the mail situation. Sometimes, all we have is laughter. Today I made the final payment on my truck. About an hour later, I went to pick up my daughter from school and the remote entry doesn’t work. I have to go to Batteries Plus and hope they have the right battery for the key, so I don’t have to go to the dealership and have a new one made… That stupid gnome lol

  6. Obviously that was a lilly-livered way to break up with someone, but I am a bit hesitant to judge. I dont know what it is like to be in a relationship where there is an ocean between me and my significant other. I’d like to think that I would have more tact in handling the situation, but I am sure that it was a very difficult situation for both parties involved. I hope you pen pal is okay!

    • I understand that people break up. It’s sad for both. But I just wish he did it over the phone. Why? Because there’s more than an ocean between them (which would be hard enough) the combat zone part adds another layer and mail is a big deal for them.

      So many troops have told me that hearing your name at mail call is like Christmas morning. In a combat zone, even the smallest touch of home can mean the world. And morale has a real impact on their lives and even safety. Focus, performance, anxiety, depression… it’s all affected. To not care about any of that seems awful harsh. But the good news is, she seemed to be okay and hopeful about the future.

  7. Gina, looks like she was lucky to get out of that relationship when she did. Imagine planning a future with someone capable of such a callous act. When my brother was overseas I wrote him a letter every week. I had no idea what he was going through, but I hope they helped him realize how much he was loved.

    • NP, I agree that she is lucky that it ended. He revealed his true character with that act and she deserves better. As for your brother, I am sure your letters and the faithfulness with which you wrote gave him what he needed most- irrefutable proof that he was loved and not forgotten.

  8. I can’t imagine how it’d feel to endure a break up like that, but I agree with NP, she’s much better off. I wonder how many relationships weather the test of deployment; it’s got to be so incredibly hard. I suspect that, sometimes, soldiers might feel they’re out of sight and out of mind. I know that they appreciate all you do to maintain that human connection while they’re serving our country.

    • I don’t know the numbers but I’m guessing it’s higher than civilian splits. That said, I do know some couples who weather the tough times, are still very much in love and make it work. Having a love that strong is a blessing and they certainly have earned it. And while the things I do are mostly small, I think you are correct that a simple human connection matters a great deal when they are so far from home and in harm’s way.

  9. Hi Gina, I came here from Wendy’s blog. I am so glad I did! You have some great tips here and I know I’ll be following you for now on! Thank you for all you do also 🙂

    • Hi Suzie, thanks for stopping by…and deciding to stick around 🙂 Wendy’s son in college must love those delicious care packages! I think it’s great that she’s exploring recipes that will travel well to combat zones. And so nice of you to offer some insider tips! (Wendy can be found at: themondaybox.com)

      Please tell your son that I thank him for his service. And please know that I appreciate all you do as well.

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