The last time my husband went on a five-day work trip, the kids won their version of Lord of the Flies by day three. While the little one destroyed my eyesight by breaking my glasses and covering the remaining monocle with a thick layer of baby smudge prints, the bigger one broke me down emotionally by refusing every meal. I started the week preparing roast chicken with vegetables, moved on to quesadillas (no meat, no veggies), and ended with throwing chicken nuggets in their general direction while they imbibed on iPads and covered the living room couch in a thin layer of crumbs and chocolate smears. Because, yes, I gave them chocolate too so they’d leave me alone. On Monday I narrowly escaped a concussion after tripping over a suspiciously placed toy dump truck (are they trying to off me?); by Friday I could’ve dived safely into a toy landfill from the second floor, a la Scrooge McDuck without the happy rich feeling. Every day was constant yelling and fighting, sometimes even between the two kids. When the husband called Friday morning to let me know of a three-hour flight delay, I retreated to a dark closet to enjoy a weepy fetal position for all of two minutes, before the little ones found me again to use my body as a jungle gym.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I actually hate when my husband goes out of town. I’m naturally anxious – a pessimist in every way – because I hate disappointment. I don’t like surprises; I don’t like the unexpected. It’s always easier for me to plan for the worst and be validated when it happens, rather than be upset when my plans don’t work out. Combine that with a husband who travels, albeit at a planned and reasonable schedule, and you get a ticking time bomb.
The week before he leaves, you’ll find me suddenly noticing everything wrong with the house. The finicky garage door, the squeaky step, the weird smell coming from the sink – all to me foreshadowing into the ultimate demise of our family in his absence. Try as I might to not let it loom over me like a dark cloud, my brain is fraught with anxiety the Sunday morning of his sendoff. True to form, something does always go wrong when he leaves, and I spend about five minutes in woe is me mode before I realize I have no options but to figure it out. And by the end of the week, I discover that I survive, in spite of myself.
As the days pass, we fall into a rhythm, and the mornings, days, and evenings with two kids become slowly manageable. Some of that can be attributed to being numbed by the pain, but I make it through. Hidden in the chaos, there are some truly beautiful moments I get to share with them, something I know my husband would happily trade his jet-lag and endless meetings for. By the time we reach the finish line, I miss him so much. All of the bickering, the things I usually nitpick about, are put into perspective. I’d give anything to have a tired lump on the couch next to me rather than no one at all. By the last day, I’m able to recall all of the moments I forget when he’s here: the times he gets home and immediately plays with the kids before even putting his bag down. The times he’s carrying my daughter on his shoulders while I cook dinner or running across the kitchen playing Transformers with my son while I do the dishes. The times I just have someone to be with, and talk to.
Between the tiredness, the fighting, the blips of side-by-side tv watching and phone scrolling, the co-sleeping, you stop seeing each other. You’re constantly stifled by the voices and bodies of the tiny beings you love most, whose endless demands can only be met by ignoring your own. It becomes too easy to take each other for granted. Sad as it may be, it sometimes takes being thrown into a cruel experiment of being completely on your own to truly appreciate having someone to co-parent with (shout-out to all the single parents out there – you are super-human). So hopefully, even if your spouse doesn’t travel, you can take a step back from the madness that is life with kids and appreciate having someone to share it with. And to my husband: I LOVE AND APPRECIATE YOU! But take the kids for the next two days – I’ll be ….away.