To all the women and men who are left behind.
The work widows and widowers.
The one’s who live somewhere between marital bliss and single parenthood.
We’re now forty eight hours into a two week trip. He’s in America. I’m still at home in Singapore. Two weeks isn’t that long, I know, and there are plenty of families that go for far longer without a loved one due to their job. But this is us, and our story, and the fact it is a lesser time apart than others manage doesn’t make it any less trying.
My husband has always worked away for periods of time, it’s nothing new for us and I’ve already talked about how the dynamic of our marriage works thanks to his job. I enjoy having brief periods of respite from him, as he does from me. I remember, well vaguely anyway, having a red wine soaked late night conversation with a writer several years ago about love. He had recently had a book published but broken up with his girlfriend, and I was in the middle of something that Facebook would term “it’s complicated”. To cut a long story short, and several bottles later, I decided that I couldn’t possibly love someone if I never missed them (please keep in mind I was twenty one, in an unwelcome web of student emotions and fueled mainly on cheap wine). The writer went on to have several more books published and now writes for national newspapers about sex. I on the other hand graduated, broke up with the head/heart breaker, got a job, met my husband and popped out a baby. We both had a fairly busy few years after THAT night.
And now here I am, a part-time wife, full-time Mum and managing just fine.
For those of us stood watching as the suitcase comes out again, the frantic search for the passport commences and time zones are roughly calculated, missing the person leaving us behind isn’t our overriding emotion. Maybe it would be if I had time but I don’t. I have children to comfort and reassure, food to put on the table, bottoms to wipe and normality to maintain. What good would I be moping around missing my husband? What message would that send my kids? Sure, we talk about missing him, and the first twenty four hours after he goes is always fraught with emotions seen and unseen. Clara tends to turn into a cling-on, never leaving my side at any point, sweetly telling me that she “just needs to snuggle”. Finn on the other hand tends to worry, which in turn manifests into toilet related accidents and lashing out. But twenty four hours of constant love, gentle words of comfort and reassurance is all it takes before normality is restored. Our alternative normality anyway. The one in which I am a single-parent and Daddy is a figure on the other end of the phone. The version of life where there is no team-mate to share the burden of childcare, housework and day-to-day worries. And although it is a temporary state it is no less worthy of acknowledgment.
To complicate matters is the the fact that we are now overseas and can’t just decamp to my parents for home comforts (and free babysitting). That was, I’m not even ashamed to admit, my go-to coping strategy when Karl had to go away for work and I was left with teething, toilet training, crying kiddies to deal with. It’s not an option now though is it? Now I’m part of a very exclusive club of expat spouses who not only pack up lives and start again overseas, but they can hold their shit together long enough that the breadwinner can head off for days, weeks, months at a time all in the name of work. And I suppose that is why this trip feels like such a turning point for us all. It is the first trip that has taken Karl away for more than a few days since we’ve lived in Singapore. It is the first trip where he’s further than a few hours journey home in an emergency. It’s his first trip where I really am left at home in charge of everything and everyone with no husband or parents to turn to in an emotional or parental wobbly moment.
It’s another first for us and our expat adventure, not one that I’m particularly enamoured by, but one which is part of our journey none the less. So whilst Karl is off taking in the sights of some corporate hotel suites and airport lounges across America, I’ll be here just trying to figure out what to cook for dinner that involves adequate nutrition for growing children, but not too much washing up for a frazzled mother. You know, the normal stuff.