I got home from a work related dinner at 9:30 on Tuesday. I left for work again at 5:30 the next morning. Last night a got home after a professional event at 10pm only to be back in by 6:30 the next morning. On the bright side it was within the realm of reality that I might be done by 6pm today.
This is a snapshot of my week. I have no patient care assignments this week, no overnight call. So in general this would be an easy 60-hour work week for me. It’s the life of an academic surgeon with multiple administrative responsibilities. It’s the life that I have chosen to persist in despite the scheduling woes. So I wouldn’t even be writing about it really, except this week is truly unusual for me for another reason.
After a decade and a half of sacrificing any career ambition in favor of his wife’s career and the care and nurturing of his family, my husband has finally accepted a job that he loves. I couldn’t be more proud of how hard he has worked for the last 14 months embarking on this career opportunity despite the many years essentially out of the workforce. All the while, he has continued to be the stalwart of our household. If I have to be at work at 5:45, he ensures that there is a cup of coffee in my hand. He proactively fills out my passport application for me and the reminds me to get photographed along with a handy map of where I can get it done. He does the majority of the parenting, all the cooking, and nearly all the day to day home upkeep. He provides the steady state to my occasional manic episodes when I take on a task like overhauling the garage, cleaning the fridge, helping with a school assignment, or weeding the flower beds with an imperturbable zeal (and occasionally a label maker or a glue gun or some surgical suture).
Which brings me to the reason why this is an unusual week for me. You see, my amazing, superdad, uber-husband is away for business. And my family needs someone to maintain the steady state. Now is not the time to show the pantry who is master, I simply must keep the wheels of our household turning until he returns. This is the second time he has had to travel since he started the job. The last time I was so busy trying not to burn the house down with an attempt at “cooking” frozen pizza that I could not put down the words of how overwhelmed I felt. In fact, jobs with frequent travel were just off the table for my husband when he was looking because he provides the vast majority of effort to keep the delicate balance of household wheels turning while I am vacillating between my usual 60-120 work weeks and nearly one work/related trip per month. It’s just a way of life that we have part knowingly negotiated, and part unwittingly fallen into, in the decade and a half since I chose to become a surgeon. This time, though, he is away for nearly a week and I can’t just get by with keeping the house from going up in flames. So here’s how I am managing.
First, it takes a village and this village is everywhere around you.
When the first iteration of the call schedule came out, it was obvious that this was going to be one of my 110-120 hour patient care weeks. Luckily I have partners who are willing to be flexible when they can so with some planning, I was able to find and craft an easier week for me with my work village.
Despite this relatively easy work week, I am missing most bedtimes and drop offs–things that my husband routinely manages within the confines of his full time job. So my parents are staying with me this week. It is a luxury (a deliberate one I would say since proximity played a large role in my job choice a few years ago) to have parents who are nearby, available, and healthy enough to participate in raising my family. So when I missed bedtime last night, someone who loves my kids as much as I do was able to make sure they were fed, showered, and safely tucked away. When I couldn’t do the suggested math review with my son, my dad grabbed his reading glasses and went into full on teacher mode. When the temperature fell and our general disorganization meant that my rapidly growing son had no long pants to wear to school, my mom was able to make a daytime Target run to get the job done. In essence, my blood related (could be adoptive but you know what I mean) village means that my kids kind of have 3 parents this week. One absentee and two totally engaged.
I am also so grateful to actually live in village of friends. When looking for our home in close proximity to this job that I at once brings me great joy and great guilt about everything else that the job pulls me away from, we were drawn to a neighborhood with lots of families and lots of kids in our age group. I am not home often and the idea of being surrounded by people who I could naturally fall into friendships with was very appealing. We have grown to get much joy from these friendships over the years. We may not be the best of friends who spend every moment together but we all get along and we know we can all count on one another. If any mom or dad are in a bind there are literally a gaggle of friends who will step up to help out. And so, though I have my folks this week, I am comforted that if I need a hand someone will lend it.
And finally, another key villager who is integral to maintaining our family’s steady state is our part-time nanny. We have been extremely lucky to finding such loving, wonderful people to help care for our children who with each passing year require more and more effort in the after school hours before either of us gets home to ensure homework gets done, lunches are made, and extracurricular activities flow smoothly. Our most recent hire is living up to the task and then some in my husband’s absence. She stayed late today so that I could get in a workout and I came home to a couple loads of laundry done and the trash already out on the curb.
Come to think of it, it’s not really a village that helps this traumamama keep her $#!? together. It’s more like a metropolis. I am taking advantage of the many neighborhoods of my city to prop me up while my better half is away.