“I hope the kids are good for you” said Mr L.
“I’m more worried about whether I’m going to be good for them” I replied.
Today he left for Germany for a week. As in, a full proper week: 7 nights (actually 7 days, 7 nights and about 8 hours, but who’s counting?) This is the longest he’s been away since Miss L was born. He did a 12 day stint when Master L was about 6 months old and I thought that was hard (now I think- pfft! What could ever be hard about only ONE baby?!?!)
I need to remind myself from time to time that I am the adult. Master L is 2 years old (nearly two and a half). He is impulsive, impatient and self-centred. This is normal for a child his age. It’s developmentally how he should be. He is psychologically & physiologically unable to be anything else until his frontal lobe is sufficiently mature. When I am impulsive, impatient and self-centred, I’m choosing to be. I’m choosing not to be a responsible mother and a good role-model. I’m choosing to shout and scream because I think it’ll make me feel better. And it never does. It makes me feel like a failure. “Childish” is an imprecise term, we use it to describe an adult who is acting like a child but a child is actually doing just what he’s meant to do, the adult’s meant to be…. well, adult-ish.
And so (partly because Mr L is off again for another 6 nights a week after he returns and I think I need to remind myself how to do it) here is my “Solo survival guide”.
Do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do– Ok, so for today it was a trip to Bunnings before dinner. Hardly up there in the excitement ratings, but Master L loves the place (and we did actually need an obscure replacement lightbulb for Miss L’s room). It filled an hour between Mr L leaving for the airport and bedtime, as well as conveniently pushing dinner back a bit so the dinner-bedtime gap was shorter. And Bunnings is big! Little legs running up and down a big warehouse = tired little boy at bedtime.
Divide the day into chunks- Going to the extremes of 15-minute blocks (a la Will Freeman in About a Boy) is hopefully not necessary but I find 3 sections usually works ok (sometimes these get sub-divided depending how things are going and how much clock-watching is going on). Today divided nicely into “Early” (up until about 10am when my parents arrived to watch Miss L while I took Master L swimming) “Middle” (up until afternoon nap time) and “End” from end of nap until bedtime. I think it helps to schedule some kind of activity for each section- you don’t have to go out, but make some kind of loose plan. For example, our morning “activity” is often staying at home tidying up, feeding the chickens, doing the washing etc but at least something you can tell your toddler (and yourself) you are doing so that you don’t feel like you’re sitting around just waiting for the day to pass.
Catch up on “me” things- So far this week, I’ve caught up on TV shows I don’t usually get to watch (thank you internet, watch out download-limit) and last night I managed to go to bed early enough that I was asleep by 10 (and unfortunately therefore oblivious to Mr L calling from Germany). I also plan to make a serious dent in the reading material I downloaded to take on holiday with us (although to be fair catching up on reading requires me to shut my computer rather than have L absent) and also de-forest my legs (using my time-consuming, uncomfortable and not particularly effective home depilating machine which is, at least, cheaper than having them waxed and can be done on the noisy discomfort of my lounge room floor). This again, is not something that Mr L’s presence precludes me from doing but I need to do something in order to prevent him from returning to a crurally hirsute wife and I can’t exactly leave the kids here while I go and get them waxed, can I?
Make some extra coffee/play dates- Sharing the kids (usually) shares the pain. Plus I always find it’s nice to gain a bit of perspective by seeing what’s going on in the rest of the world, as managing at home alone seems to somehow magnify your own little microcosm. Also, you generally earn lots of sympathy/admiration points which you often miss out on with non-mummy friends.
Lower your expectations- I always blame every little glitch on a change in routine. I never expect the kids to sleep as well or things to go as smoothly. I was proven correct last night with Master L awake at 9, 1.30 and then 5.15, and Miss L (who never wakes up!) awake at 2.30. Of course their worst night of sleep is always the night before I have to go to work. I used to get really worked up about this and be fretting “they HAVE to sleep! I have to work!” Now I just take them sleeping through as a bonus when Mr L is away, I assume they know things are a bit different and are unsettled too, just as I am. I don’t exactly expect the worst, but I certainly don’t expect the best. So I just go with it now. If I’m tired at work, I’m tired. If disaster strikes, I’ll call in sick. The place won’t fall apart without me and besides, there’s not much else I can do.
Think happy thoughts- It’s taken me over two years to really learn to deal with Mr L going away. A part of that has been learning to shift my mindset and attitude towards him being absent. Although his trips away are always business trips, it took me a long time to get over the feeling of missing out. I mean, I know it’s not as if he’s out partying every night when he’s away, but for a loooong time I felt envious and a little resentful of the fact that he got to go away, sleep, eat and shower uninterrupted and, when he wasn’t working, essentially do what he wanted. I even envied the fact that he got to sit on a plane to Melbourne and watch the Channel 9 special edition Qantas news if he wanted to (the fact that he actually works on his laptop on the computer was little consolation). Because this current trip is to Europe, he got to fly business class! Particularly so soon after our trip to Canada, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t felt the teeniest bit wistful about the thought of 24 hours in business class watching whatever I wanted on the TV, uninterrupted save for the meals and drinks. But really, I wasn’t that bothered. And when I heard he was upgraded to First for one of the legs, I was actually really excited for him. To be honest, I doubt I will ever fly First Class but I couldn’t care less. What I’m getting at, is that instead of thinking “Lucky him he gets to go away and have a week without the kids” I’m much more conscious of the fact that he’s not sleeping in his own bed, he’s missing us, he’s having a pretty full-on work week, he can’t get a decent cup of tea, and I’m fairly confident he’d rather having Pizza and Pinot on the couch for dinner tonight that oysters and Dom Perignon in First Class. It’s made it much easier to deal with him being away, knowing that this is a week that’s hard for both of us, not just me.
And always, not just on Day 7, but every day, I spare a thought (many thoughts, in fact) for mums and dads who don’t just do this by themselves for 7 days, 7 nights and 8 hours, they do it indefinitely. Not everyone is as lucky as I am to have a Mr L who makes it home 9 times out of 10 for bath & bedtime. I know people who have lost a spouse, or whose husbands are in the army, or even just people whose other halves have jobs where they don’t ever make it home for the kids’ bedtimes during the week. How they do it, I don’t know, but they do amaze me and make me feel slightly pathetic for complaining at all.