Having your partner go away for a period of time is like having your leg in plaster – you’re not quite as functional in the same way, but you manage okay. You miss doing some things but you keep chipper about it, and you know it’ll all be back to normal soon enough. Having your child go away for a period of time is like having your leg cut off and taken away to be put on ice. You’re not happy about it, but you get on with it and you know it can be grafted back on without any problem as long as it isn’t left too long.
My wife has just taken our two-and-a-half year old to visit her family in Norway for three weeks. We figured this was a good time for her to get immersed in the culture and language – her mother tongue. It was a busy period of work for me and would enable my wife to visit family and friends on her terms. Sure, the flights were going to be a nightmare, but if she could get through that it’d be a great chance for our daughter to strengthen her relationships with her Norwegian family and her skills in the language she hears at home here in Australia from my wife.
Driving back from Brisbane airport (via the pizzeria, DVD and bottle shop), I was facing three weeks on my own at home – and this would be the first time away from them for longer than a night. Usually there would always be my dog around but he had died just after our daughter was born, so I really was home alone for the first time in my life – for 21 days and 21 nights. Was it going to be paradise or hell?
The first night was about indulgence and denial. I didn’t think about them too much that night, I thought about me. I arrived home with pizza, wine, beer, smokes and a stack of child-unfriendly DVDs. Not anything overtly violent or sexual, just films I could watch without the guilt that a pure little brain was asleep just the other side of a closed door. I ejected ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ from the DVD player and loaded Martin Scorcese’s dark, psychological thriller ‘Shutter Island’. I had the TV up pretty loud, and I did whatever I wanted to, whenever I wanted to do it. It wasn’t a rush to oblivion while farting on the sofa in my underpants, it was a measured and enjoyable indulgence – one that used to be a lifestyle before the family came along. Two hours later I watched ‘Black Swan’ another dark film – and a good one I thought – that really deserved to be watched on it’s own rather than by someone already reeling from the darkness of the previous film. Watching two or three DVDs on the same night was something I was quite unused to these days it was quite overwhelming.
The next morning, it was strange waking up to a silent house. I tried to roll over and go back to sleep but the silence was deafening and soon I got up and got on with my day. When your partner goes away, apart from them physically not being around there’s not much you have to do to cover their absence – you don’t have to take messages for them or explain to people that she’s overseas. There’s no post and she handles all her correspondence from her phone wherever she is in the world. I work from home so I didn’t need to leave the house except to get more supplies. Three hours later I started talking to myself.
Throughout the time they were away, I didn’t cook at home once. I did the washing only once and didn’t clean the house at all, apart from the toilet – just to show I cared. I emptied the bottle-filled bin and changed the sheets the night before they came home. The first week I slept on my side of the bed. The second week I started wandering around the house, looking sadly at my wife’s shoes by the back door, and I moved to the middle of the bed. During the third week, I woke up a couple of times star-fished on top of the bed covers with a hangover. I started wandering into my daughter’s room, looking at her still toys and her little socks and shoes. From then on it was about waiting for them to come home.
On one of the two occasions we were able to Skype and I saw my daughter, I was transfixed watching her and didn’t really say very much but immediately afterwards sent gushing SMSs to my wife about how gorgeous she was. To give an example of my gushing, one night I had a friend round to play backgammon, drink beers and listen to music – we had a great night, but just after he left the house was full of silence again. He’d only been gone a few minutes when I felt alone again and SMS’d my wife “Thinking of You XXX” – except I sent it to my friend instead by mistake. She’d never know how much I missed her and he got a unusual text message while driving home.
Picking them up from the airport I was excited to see them. However, it was nobody’s fault that I was waiting at Exit A and they came out of Exit C; so our reunion was me rushing through the airport to another entry area where they’d already been for several minutes instead of the joy of a grinning two-and-a-half year old toddling towards me with open arms gurgling ‘papa, papa’. It’s great having them back. But it was great to have some time being reminded what my life was like BC (before child), I know I prefer my life now, and I know I was self-indulgent, self-centred and self-absorbed back in the good old days. But who’d want to live life like that if it means being without your loved ones? It’s paradise. And it’s hell.
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