United we stand, divided we fall. Except sometimes.
Sometimes, things are easier when we are on our own.
Sometimes, truly, solo is superior. I’m not just saying this to make you feel better.
Besides the very catchy Red Solo Cup song, there is another kind of solo and it can indeed be a good thing (and yes, this is me trying to convince myself that being geographically single isn’t quite as awful as I really think it is).
A few good things:
What you say goes. You’re the parent in charge. You get to be the one that says ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Sometimes being the rule-maker can be a good thing, especially when you’ve had enough of the kids and you want it to be bedtime even though it’s only 6:30.
No one else’s schedule to think about. Just you, and your little people. You don’t need to worry about your hubby’s business event or if he remembered to pack himself lunch. You don’t need to worry about how he’ll get in because he forgot his key and you have soccer and then swimming lessons for one or another of the kids so won’t be home to let him in.
You know where the gas level is on the car. No one else is going to drive it down. Of course, no one else is going to fill it up either, but that’s not the point here.
You know how much milk/food/wine/etc there is in the house. Like adult beverages? You only need to buy your favorites. Kids had the last of the milk on their cereal? Doesn’t matter, because you don’t use it in your coffee. You fill the fridge/cupboard/etc, so you know what you have and also what you have run out of. And speak of which, you also run the grocery list so can note what you’ve run out of AS SOON AS YOU RUN OUT OF IT, rather than having someone tell you about it as you haul in the groceries from the car (without said item because they did not write it on the list to begin with).
You own the remote control. And the computer. And the reading lamp.
Your whims drive the bus. You have a favorite route? It’s all yours for the taking. You hate to go to a particular grocery store? No worries, go to your favorite one. You can’t stand that one bakery? Not a problem, go to the one you like. Have a favorite restaurant? It’s all you, baby.
Being solo can be a good thing. Sometimes, though, it’s good to get these reminders.
Sometimes, we take our partner-in-parenting completely for granted until they are no longer there and we have to do all that they do PLUS all that we do. And it’s a lot.
It’s good to have these reminders of the little things they do to make our lives just a bit easier. It’s good to have reminders that they fill the coffee pot, put away dishes, or go around at night before everyone goes to bed and make sure the doors are secured. They give an extra brain for effort on Sunday NYTimes crossword puzzles, and take the kids to various events so we can have some Me Time. They fix leaks, clogs and kill bugs. They know who to call for car problems and have the app on their phone to put in work orders for the house. They are up for watching and talking (endlessly) about the super hero movies, so we don’t have to. They share the load for the myriad of discussions that come after a busy day at school. They go in the yard and throw footballs, play kickball and light sabers.
So NOT being solo is a good thing, too. Again, sometimes, it’s good to get these reminders.
TO back up a minute, there are any number of reasons why one would be ‘geographically single’ in the Foreign Service: completing unaccompanied tour (one of the joys of ‘world-wide availability, when the employee is at one of a number of posts where family is not allowed to join them like Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, etc), completing training, or when workshop opportunities come up. Fact is, though, being ‘geographically single’ overseas is typically a LOT easier than when one is living in the States, mostly because having dependable household help (read: nanny, driver, housekeeper, cook, etc) is quite realistic. Not so much stateside.
A tour in one of these unaccompanied posts is a requirement for promotion. Part of being able to serve in places like Dar es Salaam, is being required to serve in places like Kabul. It’s not always a cushy lifestyle overseas. The compensation for doing your time in places like Kabul is still fairly significant. Still, to be away for a year from your family, doing a job that requires 70+ hours of work each week, with no place to go to unwind or decompress other than your container/home… it’s likely not going to be a favorite tour.
If the duration of the separation is longer, it’s hard to think what effect it might have on the kids. There is no good age to leave your family for a year. There is no good time to miss that many developments, milestones, music concerts and art projects. Skype and digital cameras can only depict so many details; the every day nitty-gritty just can’t be transmitted by the Internet.
If the duration of the separation is longer, it can be a mixed blessing, though, in that you get into your own rhythm, you get back to running things on your own. ‘Running’ is probably not the best word to describe how things might be at first; ‘limping’ or ‘lurching’ might be more accurate. Soon enough, though, you hit your stride and hopefully everyone won’t be quite so ornery.
I remember when we had to do our Kabul stint, and every time hubby would leave to go back, the boys would be little terrors the day after. A.W.F.U.L. Perhaps all of us were on edge, ready for another few months of without-dad-ness, and I probably wasn’t as patient than I should have been. Suffice it to say, the four of us would end up in separate corners of the house, pouting and grumbling. Our ‘family hug’ was definitely not heart-felt, needless to say. By mid-afternoon, I would usually have overcome the urge to sell one or the other, and we would be on good terms again. I had to be understanding: just as it was hard for me to shift back to being the only one in charge, it was hard for them to shift back to their dad being gone, and having to be on what Mom considered to be good-enough behavior.
Sometimes, it’s good to have these reminders. Especially when we think about how many of us are having to endure these sorts of separations, all over the world.