33: Man of the House

33: Man of the House

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Multitasking Mom's Survival Guide

Man of the House

You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.

~Alan Alda

“You’re the man of the house until Dad comes home!” A neighbor is addressing my three-year-old son. I nod politely, pulling the child away. The man’s expression becomes more serious as he speaks to me: “If you need anything…” I remind myself that he means to be helpful, but his words sound more like an order than an offer.

The year is 2000. My husband is overseas for several weeks. How many? Five? Two? I hope no one asks where he is. I’ve forgotten that, too. He’s a pilot. Travelling is his job. I was a military officer too, but now I raise our two kids. That’s my job. We’re happily married, but our lives are very different. We don’t spend our time together discussing the details of our workdays. He needs to know that the kids and I are safe. I need to know when he’ll be home — just the day, and whether it’ll be morning, afternoon, or middle of the night. The exact time isn’t important. He’s rarely on time, anyway.

My husband’s schedule is unpredictable. I ensure that my children’s lives are very predictable. They eat meals at the same time every day. Nap time, bath time, and bedtime are strictly observed, as are nightly rituals. We read a story, say a prayer, and I tell them our plan for tomorrow. I kiss them and say “I love you” before turning off the light. Children crave routine. Surprises are unsettling. Calm kids make for a happy mom.

My children adore their father, but they rarely ask when he’ll be home. His comings and goings have no impact on their lives. He calls daily when he’s travelling. When he’s not, he calls from the office. I won’t delay dinner for him, even when he says he’s on the way. Why? Because one thing I’ve learned about my husband is that “I’ll be home in ten minutes” is often followed thirty minutes later with another “I’ll be home in ten minutes.” It’s not his fault — not always. He’s needed at the squadron, and he often gets stopped on his way to the car by someone wanting a solution to a problem that just can’t wait. I’ve delayed dinner for him before. I ended up frustrated. The kids, responding to my tension, acted up. Evening ruined. Now, I cover his plate in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge.

“Take care of Mom for your dad, now.” It’s 2003. My husband is at war somewhere around Iraq. I’ve brought the kids to church, and now I’m making polite conversation at coffee hour. I appreciate the concern of others, but I’m growing weary of the men who speak to my six-year-old son as if he’s just joined a secret fraternity. I’ve noticed that those who’d urged him to “take care” of his mother three years ago don’t tell his three-year-old sister the same thing now.

I’m not much for small talk, but I need to socialize with adults. So, I force myself out of the house. At home, mundane chores keep me from excessively worrying about my husband. I try to eat right and make time for exercise, but I won’t dwell on my shortcomings. Taking care of myself is important to caring for my kids. So, even when I feel like crud, I do it for them.

The war hasn’t led me to uproot the kids — even temporarily — and I’m proud of my ability to run a tight ship at home. The kids are old enough to understand the importance of simple rules and consequences. They follow them, generally, because I enforce them. No one respects wishy-washy parenting.

In addition to managing the finances and day-to-day operation of the household, I’ve kept the TV and computer operating, performed maintenance on a few appliances, and repaired at least one broken toy. I’m feeling pretty good about myself, until the morning I notice that the back door has been tampered with. I notify the police and ask the property manager to put a dead bolt on the door. I don’t want to trouble my husband with unnecessary drama, so I don’t tell him about it when he calls from somewhere in the Middle East. Several days later, when one of his coworkers asks me how things are going, I mention the incident and the fact that my property manager still hasn’t tended to the lock. He says he’ll talk to the property manager. Within twenty-four hours, the new lock is installed — thanks to his call. I’m grateful for his help, but my confidence wanes.

I miss my husband. Time for a meltdown. I make sure the kids are safely engaged in an activity before closing myself in a room to cry. I won’t come out until I’m completely composed. The kids must continue to believe Mom has her act together. If they feel insecure, I’m in trouble. Some days I deserve an Oscar.

It’s 2007, and I’m homeschooling both kids. My husband is away from home about fifty percent of the time, and when he’s not travelling, he works long hours at the office. He says he’s not in danger, though; life is good. I’m active at church and in our homeschool support group. The kids are at least one grade ahead in their schoolwork and score well on tests.

During one of my husband’s deployments a friend offers to babysit my kids for me so that I can “take a break.” This isn’t the first time I’ve received such an offer but, as always, I gratefully decline. I don’t need a break from my kids. They’re what keeps me going.

My son gets another “man of the house” comment, and I wonder about the impact it might have on my daughter, now old enough to understand. Both kids are bright, well mannered and respectful. My husband and I are proud parents. I can tell that my son has a healthy respect for women. I like to believe that’s partly because he has a strong mother, and partly because his father doesn’t express disrespect toward females. Our daughter is mature for her age and aware enough to notice subtle differences in the way she and her brother are treated. I’m concerned about the deficiency of strong female role models in the media.

It’s 2013. The kids are teenagers. They don’t need me at home all day, so I’ve rejoined the workforce. Meanwhile, my husband is nearing the end of his military career and rarely travels. He’s involved with both kids’ sports teams and other activities. He even makes dinner — usually late, but still appreciated.

Our kids are strong and independent. They’ll be ready to make their way in the world when the time comes. My husband and I are making the most of the few years we have left with kids at home. Our marriage is in transition; our roles are changing. We’re aging, and we know we’ll soon need each other more than ever. The “division of powers” strategy that worked for most of our marriage is evolving. We’re mutually supportive — a team. There’s no “man of the house” here. There never was.

~Debbie Koharik

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