My husband is a scholar of British and European history, which necessitates regular and fairly-grueling trips abroad for conferences and research, with each trip lasting a minimum of one week. He rarely has internet access outside of his archives, so we’re limited to expensive 20-25 minute Skype phone calls each day from my computer to his shoddy international mobile phone. Twenty minutes is not nearly enough to recount a full day’s activities and impressions in two lives that are one. But it’s what we have, and I cherish it.
An hour or so before our scheduled phone call, I begin asking the kids to think of what they’d like to tell him. Then I prepare some activities for them to do while I talk with my husband. I consider the baby’s needs in advance so he’s not screaming during the phone call.
Those 20 minute conversations when he’s away are very different from our conversations when he’s home. Over Skype, I have little urge to complain about my day or to prove to him how hard I work to manage our family and our home. I am eager to hear the details of his day. Who he met, how his presentation went, what he uncovered. How he’s feeling, how rough the jetlag is, how staggeringly-unpleasant the British food is, as always. How his morale is, how the Masses are. The kids love overhearing it all. It’s not because his days are more action-packed abroad than at home. It’s because we have only those 20 minutes in his presence. We give him our best.
I am going to try to transfer this mentality to our everyday. I have gotten out of the habit of greeting him at the door when he comes home from work. At that hour, I’m sweating in the kitchen, tidying the house, bouncing the baby, keeping tired kids at bay, and trying not to lose my patience or my mind. And it takes a mammoth effort to tidy the house and get dinner ready in time for his arrival home. But many times, I never hear about his day, because I am so steeped in my evening chores when he first arrives, then the evening passes in a flash. Our family dinner conversation isn’t as robust as it could be, because the kids haven’t thought of things to tell him; instead they are spazzing while I space out (even extroverted moms can only take so much!). Not to mention the kids rarely see me attending to how he’s doing, since that usually happens after they’re in bed.
I think it would do the kids and me very well to prepare our attitudes for his arrival home, so we can cherish at least the first 20 minutes of our evening with him. It might take preparing dinner even further ahead of time. It might take returning from the playground a little earlier so the kids aren’t fried. And it will definitely take an earnest effort on my part.
Dad’s return home in the evening should be a major event of my day, not an invitation to collapse. 20 minutes isn’t nearly enough to cherish him, but it’s a good start.