Thursday, February 14, 2013

Home Alone

Home alone. Lately it seems to be the story of my life.

Having a husband who travels frequently for his job has its pros and cons. Mostly I’m thinking cons. When the kids were young, it was tough because all the diaper changing and long nights fell to me. The unrelenting toddler talk and constant baby carrying simply wore me out, body and soul. These days the children are big enough to bathe themselves (but apparently not big enough to pick up their wet towels or carry their dirty clothes to a hamper), yet the exhaustion can still be overwhelming. I’m the only one who can help with homework, wash the pans, chase down the errant dog, or locate the form that was supposed to have been signed yesterday. No one but me can be trusted to lock the doors, turn off the lights, and throw the cat out at night. The game pieces, dog toys, and snack leftovers will lie where they are on the living room carpet until I pick them up. No one else feels responsible for their whereabouts.

At the end of the day when everything is (mostly) put in its place and children are snuggled in bed or in front of their computers, the phone rings. It’s my love’s voice on the other end. He is excited with news of his successful meeting and gives me the details of the delicious dinner paid for by the client. He complains of the boring hotel room and empty cable TV. I listen and try to stifle the screaming inside my head. There is nothing to tell about my exhausting day. I’m sure he doesn’t want to hear about the huge mound of semi-white socks I sorted, so the laundry basket would be empty and I could use it to round up the pile of dirty clothes blocking the door to the bathroom. My dinner of cold tomato soup and the crusts left from the kid’s grilled cheese doesn’t seem newsworthy.

Rationally I know it is not his fault that I am listening with one ear, while cleaning up cat barf and reminding my oldest that he really needs a shower tonight. He is traveling for a job that provides the DVDs I am fishing out from under the couch. His important work helps pay for the groceries I have yet to put away. I understand this and yet it is very hard to be cheery and supportive when he calls. I miss him dearly and can’t wait to hear his voice, but when I do, my own voice is strangled by resentment. I am grumpy and tired. I am sick of doing everything.

For his part he does wear his own guilt well. He sends me off on a girl’s weekend with my buddies and never even raises an eyebrow when I leave him home with the kids and head out for drinks or book club with friends. I suppose this is a necessary compromise. I don’t feel I have the right to complain. I joke with other wives in similar situations about being “single parents”, but really we aren’t. Our husbands will come home. Their absence is necessary. My struggles are only temporary.

And the flip side is that when he is gone, dinner might be sandwiches or scrambled eggs or hey, maybe we’ll skip dinner and just have a big batch of popcorn! And on the rare evening when no one has to be at practice, lessons, or a game, I get to decide what movie we watch. I miss his warmth on cold nights, but I love the full rights to the entire bed. I roll around and if I wake up at 2 and can’t sleep, I can turn on the light and read. During his last trip, the dog woke me up to go out at 3am and when I couldn’t get back to sleep I streamed a movie on my Kindle under the covers. Couldn’t do that if hubby were here. Of course, I wouldn’t have been the one the dog woke up either.

So there are trade offs. Which is the way life goes. It’s definitely the way parenting works. We all get our time in the trenches, but at least we can take comfort in the knowledge that this won’t last forever. During a recent cleaning frenzy, I was sorting pictures from ten years ago and I ached for those little bodies and happy smiles. We took so many more pictures when they were young. Did we have that many more happy moments? I don’t think so, we’ve just settled in to life together. Back then, it was new. They were new. Now there is no time to take pictures, we are too busy getting through each day. Each day that takes us closer to the day when no one will need me to clean up their breakfast dishes or find their other shoe.

When that day comes home alone will take on a whole new meaning. 

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