It was my birthday earlier this week and once again, I celebrated it alone. Well, alone with my three living children who promptly abandoned me to eat my birthday dinner alone because not one of my little ingrates wanted to eat stew for supper.
I like stew. It was my birthday. You only turn 36 once and dammit, if I want stew on my birthday, I’m going to have stew. Even if it means eating solo, in a dark room, while muttering about dying alone.
My husband had to work. He always has to work. The unfortunate part of him always having to work is that he works almost 700 km away from our home.
He doesn’t actually live with his children and me.
We keep a second home up in the wilds of Northern Alberta so that he has somewhere to rest his head that doesn’t involve hotel taxes and free maid service. Because I figure if I don’t have a maid he shouldn’t either.
I’m a peach to be married to, really.
Normally, I’m okay with our living arrangements. I like to tell myself that my husband’s absence is temporary and one day soon he’ll be underfoot so darned much that I’ll wish he was back to living out of town and I’ll look back fondly on all the time I spent not having to fold his laundry.
But I forget that my husband’s absence doesn’t just affect me. (Because I tend to be oblivious and self-centered most of the time.) His absence affects our children and of course, himself.
For the most part, my children handle their dad’s job with a grace and elegance that I admire. They take it in stride that he can’t always be there for the little stuff but they appreciate the fact that no matter what, he is always there for the big stuff. He doesn’t miss their birthdays or holidays and spends most of the summer at home when they are on break from school so that he can boss them around and I can sit behind my computer and watch the hilarity ensue.
It’s not a perfect solution for any family, but it works for us. After our son died, everything changed. Including our family dynamic. We’ve all adapted and adjusted to the new normal that was thrust upon us with unexpected death, including my husband’s new job that took him out of the home.
But when I saw a somewhat pathetic status update on my husband’s Facebook account on my birthday it dawned on me that my husband might be lonely.
He has to eat the proverbial stew alone every night. Well every night he’s not out at the pub with his work buddies, that is. There is no familial noise to distract him from when he’s trying to play his online games, there is no shortage of clean towels because his children have all forgotten to put their used ones in the laundry and have instead stuffed them under the bed.
If he runs out of toilet paper he can’t blame it on anyone else. There is no one else there who is using it for arts and crafts and not telling him about it. There are no bedtime cuddles, no Wii wars, no shared laughter.
While there are times I’d love the unfettered freedom of not having smalls underfoot or the obligation to be the only parent on duty 90 percent of the time, I wouldn’t trade places with him. I wouldn’t want to be away from the family unit my husband and I created. Home really is where your heart is. Or at least three/quarters of it.
Marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Doing both, while separated by distance makes everything even harder. But I think only seeing your spouse and children for four days a month, if you are lucky, is crazy hard.
For all my whining about being left alone with my rabid badgers I often forget that my partner has it worse. Because being left alone without your rabid badgers around has to be excruciating.
Time and circumstances along with financial responsibilities have locked us into a situation that doesn’t have an easy remedy. But we’re making it work, because that’s what we do. We’re ‘the glass is half full’ type of people.
That doesn’t make it any easier when you’re separated from the people you love, on days you really want to be with them.
And it makes the bowl of stew you’re eating taste a little bland.