This morning as I was lying in bed I remembered an incident that happened a few years ago that perfectly illustrates how few people actually know what this life is like.
If I had to explain it now I would say: Imagine your significant other works two full time jobs, sometimes over each of the 7 days but only gets paid for 1. How much time would you have to left to spend together? It's the ultimate 3rd grade story problem.
The situation I started to explain at the beginning of the post began like this:
Some women in our church would meet every Friday at a park for a playgroup. At the time my children were 4, almost 3 and 16 months. My husband was doing a specialty pediatric surgery assignment in a major city 3 hours from home. He lived there for 6 months and came home when he could. Someone at playgroup asked when my husband would be home. I think he was coming home the next day. (It is important to note that even when he was able to come home it was only for an afternoon and night. He was up at 4:00 the next morning to get back to work).
That evening I got a call from one of the women who had "overheard" that my husband was gone. Her request was "I heard your husband was out of town, would you be available to watch my two boys tonight so I could go out with my husband to dinner and a movie?"
I am pretty sure my jaw dropped. I didn't know how to respond at that moment without becoming verbally abusive. So I responded that "the kids and I had already made plans for the evening". Which wasn't technically lying. We did have plans. Those plans included having an early dinner and putting them to bed so I could be alone for a while. I wasn't willing to give up that time so she could have a great night out with her husband. What I wanted to say is I can't watch your kids tonight! I've been alone with my 3 kids for the past 5 days. I haven't had a break. Why don't you watch mine and I'll go out to dinner and a movie!
What strikes me as ironic is that we weren't friends. I barely knew her. She might as well have been asking a stranger. What I would have appreciated was her offering to watch my kids when my husband did make it home so we could watch a movie and have dinner together. I would have gladly watched her children that night had she shown some empathy to the fact that I hadn't seen my husband in almost a week and might like to spend some time alone with him. Maybe that is what she intended, but that isn't what she said. There was no offer of returning the favor at some time.
This period of time was not the best for me. I didn't ask people to watch my kids because I wasn't physically or emotionally available to reciprocate. I was trying to survive, I was exhausted. Of course I am sure it looked like I was handling this all like a seasoned pro. That's what I do and that is probably what gets me in trouble most.
No matter how many times people ask what my husbands schedule is like they don't ever really seem to understand the scope of what it means. They can comprehend what a day looks like, but not how those days accumulate week after week, month after month, year after year. And there is really no way to tell them.