Absence makes the heart do too much online shopping

I may have mentioned (repeatedly, in a shameless attempt at garnering sympathy) that my husband travels a lot. When the kids were little and we had no family around, it was really hard. I wouldn't sleep well, the kids wouldn't sleep well, every day seemed fifty-seven hours long, and by the time he came home I was at the end of all my physical and emotional resources. As they've gotten older it's become much, much easier.

We've established some good routines that work for us when we're a three-person family. Routines for getting homework done, piano practiced, children bathed and everyone in bed at a reasonable time. In some ways it's easier when there's only one parent - we're on my schedule and everyone knows what they're doing when. We sometimes have supper on tv tables. We usually gather in my room to read at around eight. Often, this morphs into a group sleepover, with Angus and Eve occupying the other side of my bed, or a mattress on the floor, or the enormous chair and ottoman pulled together. It's a nice bonding experience, and it's nice for them to have something to look forward to when Daddy goes away, although I have mentioned to them that it might be kinder not to yell YAY when my husband announces another trip.

Some routines that have started to form when my husband is away are less productive and beneficial. Like the one where I suddenly feel the need to visit online auction sites and look for funky jewelry, or cute clothes for Eve, or baseball accessories for Angus. This is something I like to call 'retaliatory retail'. This is not something I ever do when he's home - and it's not because he would disapprove. It just doesn't occur to me. Fortunately, I'm still restrained enough not to spend too much on them, but it's sort of a pattern that Matt returns home and then one or two or three packages show up in the mailbox with beaded watches or purple tulle skirts or funky striped asymmetrical-hem dresses or a Boston Red Sox lightswitch plate.

The other thing that sometimes happened, and this one is less harmless, is that I become unable to talk on the phone with my husband without instantly morphing into a venom-spewing harridan. And not just when I'm having a bad day. Strangely, it's sometimes inversely proportionate to how bad things are. Once Eve got an ear infection that lasted four days, and then the stomach flu. I was able to relate this to my husband with perfect calm. On the other hand, often he calls when Angus has just brought home a perfect math test and Eve has just said something witty and adorable, and between picking up the phone and bringing it to my ear, I inexplicably lose. my. shit.

Me: Hello?

Him: Hi, it's me. How's it going?

Me: Why do you care? It's not like you'll be any help if it's going crappy.


Me: Hello?

Him: It's me. Just checking on things.

Me: I've always hated how you chew gum. And you shouldn't wear red, it's so not your colour.


Me: Hello?

Him: Um, I have a situation.

Me: You are the unpurged bowels of a dozen earthworms. How many days late? You suck.

Yeah. Not constructive. I think we can all agree it's not the best way to foster strong marital ties.

I really am working on this. I know it's not his fault that he has to travel. I know it's not always fun for him (although you should understand that often it really is - nice hotels, nice restaurants, sushi off of naked women - okay, it might have just been sushi on plates, but he REALLY LIKES sushi, so,  still...).  It keeps us fed, sheltered, pays for the hockey equipment and piano lessons, lets me stay home with the kids - and friends? we get a shit-ton of Air Miles. I know this, rationally. Then again, if he wanted rational, one might ask what the hell he was doing marrying ME.

I think a large part of the problem is that, even when things are going well, it's hard being the only one on - the only cook, cleaner, driver, clothes-washer, band-aid applier, math-problem-helper and plumber. No matter how hard we try to anticipate what needs to be put in place before he leaves, invariably we end up realizing that Angus's hockey stick is locked in Matt's truck at the airport ten minutes before we have to leave for the game, or that the off-gassing toilet plunger that he put in the garage isn't accessible when we are suddenly in DESPERATE NEED of a toilet plunger. For the most part, I manage to squish down the panic-inducing knowledge that we're always potentially seconds away from this kind of thing and that I have no back-up, so that I don't walk around weeping and trembling the whole time he's away; my theory is that, when the phone rings, these squished-down feelings squirm out of captivity and shout desperately for freedom. Unfortunately, the squished-down feelings also have Tourette's Syndrome, so that while I'm trying to say 'Everything is fine', they're trying to call out plaintively 'I'm feeling insecure and panicky!' but instead they inexplicably scream 'DIE MOTHERFUCKER!'

Once when the kids were still small, he was supposed to be home on Thursday night, but called at midnight to tell me he was stuck in Toronto until the next day. I said "okay. It's fine. See you tomorrow." Later he thanked me for being so reasonable. I said "actually I was cursing you six ways from Sunday in my head, but I was half-asleep and suddenly I was paranoid that the plane might crash and people might find out that the last words I said to you were mean". He smiled serenely and said "I don't really care".

Finally I just told him to email me and now we usually communicate that way, because I don't feel myself morphing into Super-Mega-Wonder-Quadruple-Bitch while reaching for the keys the same way I do reaching for the phone, and even if I do I can always edit before hitting send. I briefly considered the possibility that it was the phone that was evil, but other than the telemarketers, the theory doesn't really hold up. But everyone who reads my blog knows I'm nicer in writing - right?

I'm working on it. We've had one phone conversation since he left two days ago. I was nice. It wasn't THAT hard.

Now, I wonder if they have any cute black sparkly sweaters on Ebay in size 10/12?


Nicole said…
Let me know about the cute black sweaters. I think I need one.

When my husband travels, I also turn all sorts of bitchy. Last time he travelled he was gone ON JAKE'S BIRTHDAY. He was also gone on the day I had to chair my very first PA meeting. I was enraged and embittered. But then I turned all passive-aggressive. "I guess Jake won't be TOO SAD you're missing his birthday." In fact, Jake didn't really seem to care as long as he got to open his gifts, the mercenary little thing...
Finola said…
My husband is travelling a bit these days, and now that my kids are at ages where they are actually reasonable people most of the time, I too find it easier to manage things while he is away. I know what I have to do and when, and I just do it. There is no waiting to see if he will start cleaning up the kitchen first, and no negotiating over how and when the kids will get their homework done.
The phone call this is much the same for me too...it's a bit eerie how alike we are!
Anonymous said…
When M. calls me from work 'just to check in' I am almost always pissy & annoyed with him for doing so. Because when he says "how are you doing" my dayhome-brain kicks in and it always turns into a litany of (unfair) complaints: I've touched the poo of three other human beings today, my head hurts, my tea went cold before I could drink it, I ate my lunch standing up. And then he says something like "I just got back from lunch at the Mexican place with co-worker" and I go straight to uber-bitchy.

So I sympathize. You figure out a solution, you let me know.
Kelly Miller said…
I have this same problem. Well, not exactly the same because my hubs NEVER LEAVES but I get really stupid on the phone with him. I think it's because he's a poor communicator and I get frustrated.

You should go with that reasoning next time.
c said…
Yeah what IS it about them being somewhere else that makes us not grateful to hear from them..maybe it's that we *think* they think we'll be grateful to hear from them? Like, 'oh he's calling, and I bet he thinks I'm going to pee my pants with joy just to hear his voice well you know what? I can handle things just fine. Until you're here to help, just don't call. Don't bother."

Yes, clearly I have the same issue.
Something about being in the "managing it" zone and having someone "check in" as though he is my supervisor? Maybe?
clara said…
that "c" was me, by the way. I hit the wrong key. Not trying to go all minimalist on you.
the queen said…
I remember those days. The only contact he has with you is over the phine while you're being bitchy. My husband eventually learned to start conversations with a miserable "I miss you so much" instead of a cheery "Hows it going?" Helped a lot.
Magpie said…
You are the unpurged bowels of a dozen earthworms = my new favorite line.
Betsy B. Honest said…
Uh... I have these same problems.

My husband doesn't travel much these days -- so glad -- but I transform from this high-functioning, pleasant person into an awful hag if he is not home in time for dinner.

It's like I resent him for how much I'd like to be with him and angry about how much I miss him. I get back by being a horrible person to spend time with.

Also, I do find myself shopping online with the justification that he gets to be out in the world and I'm stuck at home with all those people he impregnanted me with. I've definately noticed the pattern of rewarding myself by buying something ridiculous for the kids when he's working extra hours. Because that means I'm working extra hours with no breaks. Where's my overtime pay?

Do I wish I got to work the daily grind in an office while he stayed home with the kids? Oh my no, I would hate that so much. I'd be unbearable.
krista said…
I can so relate to this post, and everything you say (right up to the easier with older lils - not there yet). Willy travels a tonne, all short 4-6 day trips. I am bitchy too - if he remembers to call! My personal favourite is the complaint about a poor sleep in the hotel. Really? At least you effing slept!! :)

perhaps I need to start doing some retailiatory therapy...
Ohhhhhh yes. I feel this in my bones. Even now, when call weeks are so much easier, I have such a hair trigger (is that the right term?) on my temper. And my husband is grumpy and edgy and stressed the whole time, so I probably should be extra nice and understanding -- especially considering he is, like, SAVING PEOPLE'S LIVES and shit. But no. Instead I am snappy and resentful. Sometimes he falls asleep from sheer stress exhaustion so I make his coffee for him. Which I CHOOSE to do, because it is a nice, helpful, loving thing. And instead of feeling helpful and loving while I do it, I glare and stomp and grumble about how he probably won't even thank me for doing it (yes, because he leaves for the hospital before I wake up). SO DUMB.

I have been doing lots of retaliatory retail (LOVE that phrase), but not to retaliate against my husband. No, instead I'm sticking it to the stress of May, which has me going in a million different directions. Take that, stress! Now you also have to manage trying things on in a reasonable time frame and returning things to the proper store!

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