I am a part-time single parent: My husband has a job which takes him away for a month at a time, sometimes more.
This does, in fact, work for us. We are both fiercely independent, born in the Year of the Ox, and love getting back together again and exchanging tales of our adventures apart. We both enjoy writing, and our emails and letters are often beautiful. Sean loves his job and brings home recipes from around the world, and I potter around with my own projects, have solitary yoga evenings, and lean on my girlfriends. I manage okay with the boys, and with email and free video calls on Skype, sometimes I joke that we have more conversation apart than we do together!
Sean has been away for over two months this time, though, and it’s been hard. There are three boys in this house, two of whom are battling to become young men, and in the past few weeks there has been plenty of swagger and testosterone in the air as they try to be the Man of the House. I’ve been getting Lip and Sarcasm, and there has been no REAL man here to raise his eyebrow, model nice manly behaviour, and say those very important words, “Don’t You Speak to Your Mother Like That, Young Man!”
I have been yelling, in a totally misguided attempt to make myself heard, and I’ve been allowing more slacking off than I should, just to get some peace. We just had two weeks’ holiday… Things have deteriorated, of course. Between the parental screeching, late nights, the sound of video games, the hyped-up post-game jitters, and the new Nerf Guns, our house has not been the oasis of harmony I like it to be.
Sean is due home now, for a month, and we are all preparing in our different ways. The boys are looking sheepish, knowing that they have crossed the line a few times. I have been doing some personal deforestation: Hey, no-one’s even seen my legs since February!
There is often some resistance: at some point in the next few weeks, someone will say to me, “Why do I have to listen to HIM? HE is never here!” and I will say that Dad works far away to support us all, and even when he isn’t here, he IS, in our hearts and his heart. They don’t really mean what they say, of course, but it is tough for the boys to suddenly be almost outnumbered by parents presenting a united front, just when they thought they were getting the upper hand.
When the boys were little, it was harder. With toddlers and babies, you really need two parents at crucial moments like bedtime, bathtime, injury-time… all the time would be nice! When folks say “How did you manage, with three babies in four years?” and I have honestly to say, “I have no idea.” It is all a bit of a blur! I did have help, sometimes, in the form of the lovely and capable Delises, who cleaned my house and auntied the boys for me. My mum and dad lived nearby, and were available in times of crisis. Friends were wonderful, as we read all the books and encouraged one another to ignore them. And apart from Delises’ occasional cleaning, the house was just allowed to get pretty grotty, which I hated. Those days passed though, the boys became more capable, and I don’t have to watch them like a hawk the way I used to.
Without a full-time Dad in the house, most of the manly chores are relegated to boys. Taking out the garbage and the recycling, minor repairs, bike tune-ups and furniture building are all boy jobs here, along with vacuuming, toilet cleaning (because *I* do not miss!) and composting. The boys are really awesome helpers, most of the time. Of course, there are computer-time minutes to be had in exchange for chores!
So yes, we manage. But nothing can replace Dad coming home. I tend to be routine, predictable. Sean comes up with sudden mad plans. We both teach the boys guitar – I get their Spanish acoustic technique spotless and then Sean leads them in wild electric punk challenges. The boys tell their Dad stuff about their lives and I think “Huh, you never told ME that!” Sean encourages them to eat spicier, leap further, be stronger than I would. He shakes things up around here. Sean is the ultimate cool, rockstar, hotshot helicopter-pilot Dad and the boys idolise him.
And when we all get used to being a family again, we’ll kiss him goodbye. He’ll jet off to live his mad bachelor life, and I will miss warming my feet on his, and having a spare grownup around who cracks me up and gives an awesome massage. Things will get all ordinary around here again.
It works for us.
by Nan Sheppard
Photo graciously provided by the author, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved