Tomorrow, Scott Frickson, whose daughter Jada is a month younger than Ethan and his best friend, will be on the “Part-time Single Parents” show. His wife, Keilah, and I have served as substitute spouse when our husbands were out-of-town. She would watch Kyra and Ethan when I had to teach and make dinner for all of us. I would watch Jada so Keilah could go out for a run. Sometimes, if both our husbands were travelling at the same time, we would have a sleepover and scrapbook together while our kids slept.
But what do you do if you don’t have someone like Keilah to help you out when your spouse is travelling. Here’s what I’ve done:
- Ask for or accept help from strangers: When I was pregnant with Kyra and Thomas was on TDY (a government employee travel assignment which stands for Temporary Duty Assignment), I got stuck at the bottom of my driveway. Snow buried the front-end of my Land Rover, which had 4WD and studded tires. My cell phone did not receive reception in this part of Eagle River, so I sat in the car for a while, watching fresh powder thickly coating my windshield. I considered camping out in the car for the evening.
Then, there was a knock on my driver-side window. “Want us to plow for ya?” a bearded man bellowed. Behind him, I could see a plow truck packed with men thicker and taller than this guy. They looked like they were drinking. I could imagine my city-bred husband warning me that these guys would rip me off or worse.
But I was cold and new to Alaska and people here seemed to help each other, so I agreed and watched nervously from behind my ceiling-to-floor windows as these guys cleared out my entire driveway (which I’ve been told could cost nearly $500) and then drove off without even asking for any compensation.
- Turn on the music: Was that the wind rattling the windows or a bear? Was there a robber sliding off my roof or just the snow? Every creak and groan of my log cabin walls swelling or contracting made me jump until I learned to turn up the radio or hook up my iPod to our home entertainment system. Of course, Kyra and Ethan make plenty of noise now too.
- Adapt your routines: Usually when the kids or I spot a bug in the house, we jump on top of furniture and yell, “Oh Daddee! Bug!” If he’s busy or at work, then we’ll trap the bug under glass jars and ensure that no one trips over it or sets the critter loose before Dad gets home.
This method doesn’t work so well when Thomas is gone for a week or more, especially as the kids got older. Last year, Kyra decided she had had enough. A fly kept annoying her by circling her head. Suddenly, Kyra ran to the trashcan and threw away a wad of paper towel. She skipped over to me and in a tone that sounded like she was simply stating that today was a sunny day, she said, “Mommee, I kill bug.”
Her attitude was so nonchalant, so matter of fact, that I didn’t believe her. So the next day, when I spotted a fly buzzing on our window sill, I asked her, “If Mommy gets you a napkin, do you think you can kill it?” She nodded excitedly.
I watched with disbelief as she hunted this fly down. It gave her a good chase. It had more spunk than normal Alaskan flies, springing out of her way, even dodging behind the fireplace. When she finally anticipated its next move and smooshed it between her tiny fingers, she announced to my delight: “Mommee, don’t worry, I took care of it.”
A day later, Ethan figured if his sister could kill a fly, he could too. Now, I have three bugkillers in the family!
- Stay connected: Most of my military friends swear that Skype is the greatest invention for getting through long TDYs. Not only is it free, but the kids can goof off for an hour with Dad no matter how far away he is. Thomas enjoys playing around with webcam gimmicks where he pretends to swallow squirrels jumping out of a log or something silly like that.
The iPhone though is far more instant and reliable. When Ethan took his first steps or Kyra said her first word, I could videotape or snap some photos with my iPhone and email or text message it to Thomas. Like I mentioned in “Raising Techno Addicts,” the kids are so savvy with the iPhone that they even know how to call Dad on their own.
- Take it easy: The most important lesson I learned is to relax. Sleep when the kids sleep. Forget about the rules and let them sleep in your bed. Eat out instead of cooking. Take the kids out for an adventure.
How do you get by without your spouse?