Ryan does not have a 9-5pm job. He works days, nights, weekends, holidays, and everything in between. And some weeks, he can work a combination of both days and nights. The only part of his schedule I can count on is that he’s at work.
I am not new to this rodeo. Growing up, my dad worked similar hours, so I was well versed in night and weekend shifts (or so I thought; I’m learning it’s much different when you’re the parent). And Ryan’s schedule has been this way the entire time I’ve known him…despite the fact that when we first actually met, he coincidentally he had a nice stretch of days off (imagine my surprise when he said he had to work a weekend’s worth of night shifts. Like wait, what?!).
Before kids, his schedule was just days we planned things (aka vacations) around. If he was working nights, I would treat myself to dinner (mainly some sort of fast food, I’m a cheap date) and catch up on all of the Real Housewives episodes I’d neglected (Ryan prefers not to indulge in my Real Housewives addiction). If he was working all weekend, I’d go get my nails done or spend some time browsing the racks at my favorite stores. If he was working over a holiday, I’d pack up my pup, Yadi (who’s currently vacationing at my parents’ house, sleeping on the bed and relishing the silence that comes without living with two toddlers, but always beyond elated to see me and the boys), and drive home to my parents’. Here’s a fun fact: we actually never spent a holiday together until we were married.
Sure, I missed him and I envied the couples I saw doing fun activities together (damn you, Instagram). Otherwise I looked at the time he worked as an opportunity to do the things that weren’t necessarily his cup of tea (I mean, really, it’s his loss for not shopping with me, I find great deals).
Now, we have Jack and Nick. Two little boys who adore their dad…who call out “Dad?” when he isn’t here and say “shh” when he’s sleeping (they’re never actually quiet, but I applaud their effort. Ryan might disagree). And two little boys who, let’s be honest, are a lot of work when you’re flying solo. There’s more to the eat-sleep-play routine now than when they were infants; they’re full of energy, desperately trying to be independent, pretty opinionated (now they know how to say “no” in proper context, so that’s super fun), and incredibly curious.
I wouldn’t trade my two sidekicks for anything; they’re my absolute best friends. But the bottom line is that THIS IS HARD. Holding down the fort and being the constant at home while schedules change can be challenging. Ryan’s shifts, whether days or nights, affect us all. The days can be long here and the nights can be lonely. And sometimes, you get caught up in that and feel like you’re rowing the boat alone.
Obviously, I’m being dramatic here; I’m not alone. And I’m not the only wife whose husband works a lot. Yes, I know it could be much much worse. But when you’re in the trenches, does that cross your mind? Nope, it sure doesn’t.
On the flip side, I know it’s hard to be in Ryan’s position too. While his job provides the life we have (and afforded me the opportunity to stay home), the 3:45am alarms and the broken sleep from night shifts take a hard toll. And most importantly, he misses out on time with the boys. Seeing a video of your (technically second born, but only by a minute) son walking doesn’t compare to sitting across from him as he walks to you.
Last week, this hit home hard. Ryan’s day shifts were changed to a combination of afternoon and evening shifts, after a long weekend of night shifts (hello, I love routines and don’t do well with change, even if it’s this minor). By the time Friday rolled around, we both were spent. And when Jack threw a fit in the car on our trip to O’Fallon for the weekend, we both lost our patience with each other.
Why did I have to climb in the back of the car to calm him down when I spent the majority of the day telling him to stop climbing on the table or getting in the trash, and wiping up the water he spilled for the 50th time when he thought it was funny to turn his water bottle upside down? Why couldn’t I drive and listen to my newly curated playlist on Spotify?
I did climb in the backseat, but we spent the rest of that car ride in silence. Well, not complete silence because Jack was not amused by the toys I packed and Nick kept calling out “Dad?” every five minutes to make sure Ryan was still at the wheel (Nick also said he saw a bear outside the window, so he would alternate between growling and crying in fear of the phantom bear).
And then we replay a disagreement we’ve had since the boys have been born. We’re both essentially arguing the same thing: neither of us ever feel like we’re “off the clock.” And we’re both right; it’s the boys’ age, Ryan’s schedule, and just this season of life in general right now. So what’s fair in this particular division of labor?
Would I want to wake up before even Starbucks is open and work 12+ hours away from the boys? No. Does driving alone without loading anyone into car seats and zoning out to good music sound relaxing? Absolutely. Would Ryan want to watch Sesame Street for the billionth time and feel like a cruise director all day? No. Does a sleepy hug first thing in the morning and taking the boys to the park sound fun? Absolutely.
When you’re wrestling an almost two year old to change his diaper, or bribing his brother to brush his teeth, or playing referee in a knock-down-drag-out-fight over a car, you wish for a moment of peace and calm (Ha! Good luck!). Then, when you get just a little reprieve, you a) feel guilty for thinking you need time away and b) miss those two little people like crazy. Parenthood can just kick you in nuts sometimes, right?
I don’t think any mom needs or expects a pat on the back and a “way to go!” for surviving another day. Every once in a while, I think all would agree that it feels validating for your work (whether for an actual company or for own little people) to be recognized. Grand gesture? No way (although those are nice too). Maybe it’s just a moment of time together to regroup, mentally prepare to jump back on the train, and remind each other that your respective jobs are for the greater good of the whole family.
The moral of the story is that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, folks. What’s fair isn’t necessarily equal. Marriage is constantly navigating the channels of communication. Parenthood is being thrown into the deep end and praying you swim instead of sinking. Neither come with a manual, and we’re still a work in progress (anyone who tells you different is lying through their teeth).
But I’ll tell ya what: both are a lot easier if you have someone who is a true partner instead of a fair weather fan…someone who will lift you above the waves so you don’t get slammed. I mean this literally too; Ryan will lift me up at just the right time when a wave comes so my hair doesn’t get wet (I love the ocean, but I’m a diva when I get in the water. Combing through knotty salt water hair at the end of the day? No thank you.).
Oh, and shopping helps too.