If dad is the one with the job that turned your family into expatriates, he often needs to travel a lot. Same for moms holding the job. And it falls upon the other parent to single parent, now without the back-up of, quite possibly, the only other person in the vicinity who speaks your language or eats your food or lets you cry.
In our family, unless Tom is gone more than two weeks, life just sort of continues limping along and I don’t notice that I miss him until he comes back (more on that below). But if I browse social media sites long enough, I’ll stumble on posts by moms while dad is traveling and they would have me believe I should be much more exhausted, much more desperate, that I should have a calendar marking down the days with a pamper-me date in permanent marker the day after his return, and that I should tremble with fear about all the possible things that could go wrong while he is away.
I have no such calendar and no such date.
Maybe I’ve gotten used to it? Maybe I can’t be fearful the entire time, every time? Unless he calls from the plane just before takeoff and says the wings are on fire (true story), I usually don’t worry.
Here are some tips based on how we roll when dad travels.
Meals don’t need to be real food. Macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly or pancakes or the same thing three days in a row for lunch. Popcorn and apple slices for dinner. Or cereal, with or without milk.
Exercise becomes something worth fighting for. Already important to me, when Tom is gone, I need the workout even more. I enlist help – a neighbor to watch Lucy for an hour. Or I order myself to believe that it isn’t too hot to go after she is already at school and the sun is screaming. Or I bring out the Insanity DVDs and scare our house helper.
Stay up late. I’m a morning person but sometimes staying up late feels delicious so, since I won’t be running before sunrise, I bask in an extra hour of reading before bed.
Hog all the pillows. This makes the basking during my extra hour of reading even more enjoyable.
Forget how to dress. I wouldn’t say that I dress up for Tom but somehow when he is gone I go into sweatpants mode (not real sweatpants mind you, did you forget where we live?) and suddenly, I find myself at the grocery store in a ratty University of Minnesota t-shirt (go gophers!) and stained army-green pants. The same thing I wore the day before. And slept in.
Listen to music. Loud. Or, to borrow a tip from Laura Parker, watch an entire season of a television show your spouse would despise. The only way I can handle watching TV is if I’m working or exercising at the same time, so this doesn’t work for me, but I understand the sentiment. Basically, find a way to check out for a little while each day or to enjoy something the other doesn’t.
Prepare for something to break. Cars or electricity or water pumps or outlets that start electrocuting people (with 220 voltage) or bank cards or refrigerators, butt plates, kid’s heads stuck between iron bars. (Side note: When mom travels someone is bound to get sick. Chicken pox, the barfs, diarrhea, ear infections.)
Focus on a spiritual practice that feels life-giving to you. Now is your chance, with no one else to talk to late at night, to pour out your heart to God. You may have less interruptions while you sip your morning coffee and can concentrate on meditation or reading. Use the opportunity to recognize how you could grow in dependence on God rather than on your spouse.
I act all fine while he is gone but then I get mad at Tom within the first hour after he comes home. I say something snarky or am cold and mumbley. I slam doors. I decide I don’t want to talk about how the week was, that I don’t care about the meetings he attended. I am seriously working on curbing this, possibly by investing in a muzzle.
What I think it means though, is that while I enjoyed the loud music and the lazy lunches and the ugly clothes, I was also lonely. I think it means that I’m rather attached to this man, that I would prefer to use fewer pillows if it means he is home. That, as independent as I pretend to be, I don’t think I could breathe in Djibouti for long without him.
How do you survive when your spouse travels?
(When I reread this, it sounds like I’m advocating being a lazy bum. I guess kind of, but really in my mind, the main sentiment is one of taking some pressure off in certain areas when the pressure is upped in other areas while bearing the parenting, house, and work alone)