This Friday, my husband will depart on a weeklong business trip to India, and I can predict how his “To-Do” list will read: “Throw clothes and toiletries into suitcase and zip it shut.”
It’s the same list whether he travels for work (he’s a management consultant with clients and colleagues across the country), school reunions or fly-fishing getaways.
I’m sure he has a host of professional issues to handle before take-off – alerting clients and colleagues to his absence, rescheduling meetings, tackling paperwork and filing expense reports – but he won’t concern himself with matters at home. Here’s what won’t be on his “To-Do” list:
- Check the calendar for the kids’ activities, and line up rides to every event;
- Discuss upcoming homework assignments and tests, and draw up a schedule for completing all necessary work;
- Ensure that the fridge is stocked and meals have been prepared in advance;
- Make sure that every stitch of laundry is washed and folded;
- Delegate household chores, including feeding pets, watering plants, taking out garbage and retrieving mail;
- And on and on…
You’ve probably guessed by now that the above items always occupy my pre-vacation “To-Do” lists. When the kids were younger, I shudder to recall, I even laid out their outfits for the week (Heaven forbid they should attend preschool in clashing colors).
Because of my husband’s travel schedule – often Monday–Friday when the children were little – I always felt over-taxed and hyper-stressed. Back then, when I was still trying to hold on to my “outside the home” job, the only way I could hold it all together was through organizational skills….or, as my husband probably felt, micromanagement.
Back then, on the rare occasions that I traveled for work or fun, I hired extra sitters and called in favors with friends; I was careful not to add to my husband’s load. I always felt guilty about leaving home, and wanted to ensure that my absence didn’t impact the family. I also wanted to prevent mayhem from ensuing, so I would have “permission” to take off again.
However, I now realize that when I traveled – either for work or for pleasure – I tried to run the family show from afar. I also recognize that in so doing, I denied my husband the chance to rise to the occasion, to gain confidence in his parenting skills and to manage the household his own way.
So now, instead of begrudging my husband’s lack of attention to household matters, I’m going to steal a page from his book. I need to appreciate his faith in my parenting abilities, and reciprocate that confidence. Next time I prepare for a trip, I’ll focus on letting go when I’m packing up:
1. I’ll remind my husband where the calendar is kept, and insist the kids manage their own schedules. If they miss something, they can make it up later, or suffer the consequences.
2. I will let the kids worry about their own homework. If they need help, they can ask their dad, call a friend or schedule a meeting with the teacher. If they forget to study for a test, the results will reinforce the need for preparation.
3. I will buy groceries as usual, but I won’t cook and freeze meals ahead of time. The kids all know how to make Top Ramen and Mac ’N’ Cheese, and, as I recall, my husband has a few tasty dishes up his sleeve (he used one to woo me back in the day…). Besides, no one ever contracted scurvy from one week of pizza and take-out Chinese food.
4. I’ll tell each teen that if his beloved DMB T-shirt isn’t clean, he can dig for alternatives…or run the washer himself.
5. I’ll remember that even if the plants dry out, the mail clogs the box and the cat resorts to catching mice and drinking from the toilet, the house will still be standing when I return.
When my husband zips up his suitcase and grabs his passport this Friday morning, I won’t make any cutting remarks about his trip preparations. I resolve to smile, kiss him good-bye… and start making plans for my next getaway. And this time, I’ll remember my own “To-Don’t” list!
— Linda Williams Rorem, 3 Jan. 2011