Once upon a time, my husband worked in an office, with other office folk, on a regular 7am-4pm schedule. He came home for lunch every afternoon, and was home every weekend. Maybe three, four times a year he would travel out of state, but it felt exotic to him, and like a chance for me to step up and show I could handle things on my own.
Then he was promoted. And we move across the country. And he began traveling all the time.
Several weeks at a stretch, he’s in a hotel bed more than his own. The quart-sized bag of liquids and gels rarely leaves his carry-on. His hotel reward points covered the lodging costs of our 4-week road trip this summer, and we’ve been able to fly ourselves home and family here on his frequent flier miles.
We’ve had periods of great concern, when it felt like his frequent travel was becoming too much a burden on our family, pulling us across too many miles to feel engaged and connected. But then, thankfully, the travel will lighten (as it has this past handful of months) and we’ll get back to “center.”
Often the affects of his travel begin before he even leaves, with a survey of the calendar and the realization of what events he will miss, or how I might need to cover three bases at once. Then there is an initial liberation once he leaves. A deep breath as I think to myself, “Ok, here we go!” and look forward to DVRd episodes of my cheesiest favorites and a king bed entirely to myself. Quickly, though, the scene changes to me puzzling over drop-offs, pick-ups, grocery runs, online work, entertaining the 3yo, bedtimes, scripture study, homework checks, laundry piles, dishes, cooking, and all the other things that…guess what?…I need to make happen, on my own.
My husband calls often from the road to check in. Sadly, he is usually met with either disinterest – because I have thirty things pressing in on me that can’t be held for a chatty phone call – or frustration, as I unload the day’s events on him. He’s been given strict instruction to stop regaling me with tales of the fine dining he experienced the night before, or the comfort and quiet of his hotel room. Our mutual inability to say the right thing means our conversations are short, but at least we try to stay connected.
We also struggle at the point which I call “re-entry,” or the time leading up to and including when he returns. I’m so tired that I’m looking for relief, he’s so weary of the road that he just wants to relax at home. There is a confusion of roles and expectations, and though after these three years it’s become a bit more synchronized, we still stumble as we step around each other’s needs.
It’s a different lifestyle, that’s for sure. Many wives I know confess they can’t sleep alone; if I had trouble sleeping when my husband was gone, I’d be no use to anyone. Most spouses know the general location of the other; I hardly remember which zip code my husband is visiting in a given week. Our kids have even learned to adjust – the 3yo says with clarity “Dad took a plane. Dad’s on a trip!”
With today’s economy and too many families left to struggle, I’m grateful for my husband’s job and the security it offers. His travel requirements looked innocent enough on paper, but after three years it’s become something that lives and breaths with us, almost like another member of our family. We make room for it, try to understand it, adopt it into the routine of our daily living. It’s changed the dynamics of who we are as a family, but we are stronger than my husband’s need to be away, and so far we are figuring out how to make it work.