(No, I will never not make the reference, even if just in my head.)
The Barbarian was out of town for three days the first full week of January, has been out of town for four days every week since, and leaves again today for another four-day stint before we finally get to have him home for more than a few days in a row.
As you can imagine, we're all pretty fucking over it.
But being that we're now two years into this venture (wtaf), there is certainly a bit of an old hat feeling to much of it. The wee folk sob for him less, I keep the house clean more. I send him fewer "FUCK ALL THIS SHIT I'M LEAVING" texts and have stopped hating him more each day he's gone. He used to joke that he could tell how many days he'd been gone based on the curtness of my texts. But these days I'm mostly nice up till the very last day. Mostly. I think we've all just learned to put our heads down and barrel through, honestly. Survival mechanism and all that.
The one part we still really struggle with, though, is his return home, as weird as that may sound. Like most couples, The Barbarian and I have different ways of doing things, but when he's gone, it's solely The Mama Show. ALL MAMA, ALL THE TIME, MY DARLINGS! My blessed and fortunate children, right? And I think it would be damn near impossible for me to run any sort of highly regimented operation at this point, so we're not talking hard and fast rules and schedules or anything, but the wee folk and I have a fairly good routine these days when it comes to at least the major points in our day--mostly the hourlong nonstop stream of demands from every corner known as first thing in the morning, the sit-down-and-shut-up period after lunch known as quiet time, and the for-the-love-of-the-gods-please-go-the-fuck-to-sleep-as-quickly-as-humanly-possible-so-I-can-breathe-for-a-fucking-minute chunk of the evening known as bedtime. I'm a bit of a task-master when it comes to those routines and the wee folk generally don't push back too much when it comes to cooperating (keeping in mind they're still three, of course), so these days, bedtime especially is a fairly well-oiled operation: jams, meds, teeth, books, rocking, tuck, kiss, go the fuck to sleep. BAM.
Now, The Barbarian is a bit of a stubborn, contrarian fucker, a personality trait we, for better or worse, share. So when he gets home from a trip, he understandably has a bit of a chip on his shoulder from being so left out, and comes in balls blazing, The Daddy Show geared up and raring to go.
And on the one hand, that's AWESOME. I have always touted the benefits and rightness of women, the primary caretakers in our culture (all cultures?), stepping back and letting men be their natural ol' menself when it comes to interacting with and caring for children. Yes, men are at times horrifyingly rough and tumble, often have a seemingly innate and insurmountable disregard for the schedules and routines we women so thoughtfully and painstakingly--through vast trial and error--establish, and have apparently all attained "mismatch clothes to the point of eyeball fatigue" level: master. But as difficult as these things are on our patience (and senses), they are inarguably GOOD for our kids. My kids are phenomenally strong and coordinated for their age. You know why? Because The Barbarian has been tossing them around, hanging them from things, letting them climb up his dreads, and balancing them on his palms since they were practically newborns, the circus act balancing tricks beginning at four months or so. He models patience and resilience for them way more often and more consistently than I do, and societal precepts about fashion can most definitely go fuck themselves (although there really is a consensus on multiple loud, bright patterns together within the same outfit, boys--just FYI).
Anyway, the point is that children need loving, devoted, engaged, empathetic adults of both genders to be part of their lives just as each of those individuals feels comfortable and sees fit being (and clearly I am working off a painfully stereotypical description of the roles men and women play in the lives of children, so the reality is, of course, happily more diverse and nuanced).
THAT BEING SAID.
If bedtime is 6pm, bedtime is fucking 6pm FOR A REASON. A very GOOD reason, in fact, the proof of validity of which shouldn't be called into being ever again if at all possible. (Whatever, that technically makes sense...I think.)
I can't even fathom coming home from a trip and having my kids eschew my help and comfort and authority in favour of The Barbarian's. I have very little patience for
So it all comes down to balance. Seriously, go crazy, my dear--put them in headache-inducing jams and do the probiotic gummies before the chewable allergy meds. Bedtime is your canvas.
BUT START THAT SHIT AT 5:30, YOU STUBBORN BASTARD, SO YOU'RE NOT LEFT WITH OUR SHITTY KIDS BEING SHITTY BECAUSE THEY'RE OVERTIRED AND LACKING THE ENERGY AND MATURITY TO HANDLE THE GUMMIES FIRST TONIGHT.
FOR FUCK'S SAKE.
I, too, pull my own internal and external jackassery immediately after he comes home, of course. I especially seem to want to go out of my way to take offense to random things he's done as if they're some sort of passive-aggressive silent commentary on the results of my housekeeping while he's away. For instance, he let me read and nap during the late afternoon and early evening Saturday while he did dinner and bedtime with the kids, and I later found some produce from the fridge in the trash. Now, this is produce that has been in the fridge for weeks, is absolutely rotten, and are all things I have looked at and told myself to throw away several times recently. But of course I never did. And now he has.
THAT FUCKER. The very first full day he's home and already making underhanded statements about my laziness and wastefulness? What the FUCK? This is MY fucking kitchen, dude. You don't like the way I ignore rotten produce, you get the fuck out.
That instead of, you know, coming first to the far more rational explanation of The Barbarian just trying to be helpful now that he's home--especially knowing I have issues with cleaning
Transitions are hard work. You know what helps them, though? Open, respectful communication, and striving to give your partner the benefit of the doubt. So, like, I say, "Dude, calm the fuck down, I'm just trying to help you. HELP ME HELP YOU." And instead of getting all defensive and feeling oppressed, he says, "Yeah, yeah, I know. You're right. You're always right. I hate you." And I say, "I know."
And then we move on!
Well, at least until the next time he comes home. 'Cause we've been at this for two years, as I mentioned, and we are still struggling with this shit. And the home/away split of parental duties creates this challenge regardless of whether there's travel involved. It's hard to transition between The Mama Show and The Daddy Show, or vice versa. It just is. So even though I'm beyond overextended when he gets home, having done double-duty filling in for my very hands-on and involved, emotionally-giving powerhouse of a partner, and he's fucking beyond exhausted, having flown across country and back, working almost nonstop the entire time, in a sales and therefore very *ON* capacity no less, we both do what we can to dig a little (LOT) deeper for the patience to keep that dialogue open and respectful, and the compassion to give each other the benefit of the doubt before even opening our mouths.
So we dig. And digging, as you know, is...
Say it with me...
HARD FUCKING WORK.