He hugs the kids goodbye, one by one. He kisses you last. He tells you to hang in there – he'll be home soon. And that he loves you.
You hear the garage door close as he pulls out of the driveway. You take a breath. You've done this before. You know what's in store for you. You know not every day will be terrible, but you know that some days will be tear-filled and God-awful. And you know that you'll do your best. For him. For your kids. And for yourself.
This is the life we live – those of us whose spouses travel for work.
I'm lucky in countless ways. I have three vibrant, healthy children. My husband provides a steady income. He may not always be here physically, but he is safe. We are not hungry. We love our home. We order takeout. We take vacations. And we pay our bills.
I know how fortunate I am. I would never equate my life to that of a military spouse or a single parent as their hardships are far more stressful than anything I have to endure.
But I admit that it pushes me to my breaking point when I am the sole caregiver for five weeks straight. When I'm alone to handle dinner, bath, bedtime, nightmares, homework, housework, yard work, grocery shopping, soccer practices, Cub Scouts, changing light bulbs, killing spiders, and wiping runny noses. It all falls on Mom when Dad is gone.
I don't count myself an expert on many things. But being a wife to a husband who travels often is one area where I'm more "experienced" than most of my friends. If you're in my boat, trying to stay above water, staring at the calendar and counting down the days until his return, I'd like to share a few tips I've learned (often the hard way) that might help ease the burden.
Sure, you still need to get the kids to school. And to the doctor. And buy groceries. But if you're feeling overwhelmed at the magnitude of your list, cut it down.
You don't have to volunteer for the pot luck at school. It's okay to bail out of a play date and stay home in your pajamas. Let the kids watch three hours of "Paw Patrol" today. You can do all the things tomorrow.
Busy is good – a healthy level of busy. It will pass the time faster to have events on your calendar.
Take the kids to the library. Invite friends over for pizza. Visit the zoo. Check your local parenting magazines for events, festivals, hot air balloon shows, model train exhibits. Go apple picking and visit the farmers market. Another day can be crossed off more quickly if you have plans.
I know, I know. Isn't there enough on your plate? But this is tough on them, maybe more than they let on. In our house, my husband is the fun parent while I am the disciplinarian/teeth brusher/vegetable server/bedtime enforcer.
So when he's away for a few weeks, I need to put on my fun pants. I try to step outside my comfort zone. I wrestle my boys and play baseball in the street. Yeah, my kids might know I'm faking, but I am trying.
You can't do it all. Your kids don't want a harried mother who expects herself to be amazing 24/7. Which means they'll probably have to hear "no" or, "you'll have to wait until Dad gets home,” on occasion.
In our house, Dad is the video game player. I loathe video games. I'll take on a slew of fun activities with my kids – crafts, sports, books, Legos, hikes. But Mama doesn't do video games. Sorry, boys. You'll have to play solo and tell Dad all about that awesome level in Mario Kart that you beat when he calls later.
This one took me years. Years. My girlfriends would offer, "Let me know how I can help!" and I wouldn't know where to begin.
Please take them. All three. For several hours. Feed them whatever. Let them watch R-rated movies. I don't care. I just need some quiet.
That's what I wanted to say, anyway. But I never did. Until one day a friend demanded I bring my children to her house so I could get a break. She told me I better not come back for several hours and that she'd be feeding them dinner.
It was not easy to agree. I had to overcome tremendous guilt in admitting that I did, in fact, need help. But I'll tell you what. It was a glorious three hours. I came home, ate chips and ice cream, and watched three consecutive episodes of "Law and Order." I felt like a whole new woman.
Resentment is a sneaky little devil, isn't it? It creeps up around you and before you know it, you're shouting angry, ungrateful things at the person you love. You have to fight it. It's a marriage-killer.
But that doesn't mean you hold it all in either. You can certainly vent to your spouse about a long day or admit you are struggling. The difference is you're not blaming him. This isn't his fault. He's working, supporting your family, and probably exhausted like you.
It's also important to talk to your kids about why Dad is away so they don't feel resentful. Dad loves you. He misses you. He is sad that he's away from you. These are words your children need to hear, and respond to. Write letters, draw pictures, send gifts, call and FaceTime often.
These are long days. If you manage to score a babysitter, go to a coffee shop. Order a ridiculously overpriced latte and enjoy a good book. Get a pedicure. Go to a movie by yourself or with a girlfriend. Cheat a bit and order pizza or give the kids cereal for dinner. Skip the bath.
This is hard work. You deserve a night off.
This is most important. You and your spouse are a team. He's off kicking ass someplace while you are at home doing the same.
After a long day, when the kids are in bed and you've read the last book, said the last prayer, and sang the last song, sit down to a glass of wine and pat yourself on the back. You’ve got this.
Hang in there, Mom. He'll be home soon.