Welcome to the Smiley family! Specifically, Sarah Smiley, a Navy wife and a mother of 3 boys who wears these two hats with finesse, even though her husband is on a 1-year deployment. In fact, it is this deployment that prompted her to embark on a major endeavor.
For 28 weeks we had invited an eclectic group of dinner guests to fill my husband’s seat at the family dinner table. From Senator Collins to the Chief of Police, college athletes to school teachers, a U.S. Marshal and a zookeeper, our community had stepped forward to help us fill up-rather than wish away-the time while my Navy-pilot husband is on a yearlong deployment overseas.
I told the boys that our 29th dinner was with a local city councilman. They weren’t super excited. However, one thing we’ve learned through the Dinner with the Smileys project is that predictions (“This dinner won’t be fun,” for example) are usually inaccurate. Dinners we thought might be “boring” have turned out to be the most exciting. None are predictable. When you invite a stranger to your table each week, you never know how it will turn out.
So I told the boys, “Don’t judge the dinner before it happens,” and then I went away for a military-spouse conference in Augusta, Maine.
At least, that’s what I said I was doing.
I was really headed to the airport to pick up my husband, home for his two week R&R. We would spend two wonderful nights alone together at a hotel on the coast of Maine and then surprise the boys for the 29th dinner, which never was going to be with a city councilman.
The boys were stunned when they saw their dad, not a city councilman, coming down the sidewalk, and they never stopped smiling as their dad finally filled his own seat at the family dinner table.
We had two wonderful weeks together as a family. At my husband’s request, we did normal every-day stuff like family walks and baseball games. We went to the lake and took care of errands. It’s amazing how quickly life gets “back to normal.” By the time Dustin left again to finish out his deployment, we had forgotten how we ever managed without him. I dreaded the readjustment period.
Luckily, though, we had a calendar full of upcoming weekly dinner dates with more people in our community. Dinner #31 was with a Maine game warden. Dinner #32 was with two firemen. Dinner #33 was with a bluegrass band. Slowly, with a little help from an ever-growing network of people whose only wish is to support a local military family, we began to make our way. We were filling up the time again, and making lifelong friends in the process.
By the end of August, we will have had completed 40 dinners. And we’ll just have 12 more to go until Dustin fills his seat again. This time for more than two weeks. Follow along at www.Facebook.com/DinnerWithTheSmileys.
Share in the comments section below the unique way you and your family passes the time while a loved one is deployed.