Flickr photo by fakelvisThe return of the traveling spouse is one of the hardest parts of this solo parenting gig. But coming in at a close second is having to put my relationship on hold for however long he's gone due to communication issues.
You'd think with the advances in technology - like web cams, Skype, and heck, even Twitter, there would be some way for us to maintain some semblance of normalcy while he's gone. But alas, it's way more complicated, at least for us, than just hooking up a laptop to the wall and flipping on a camera.
During his most recent trip, which was a combination of a 4-day domestic commercial flying trip and then a 3-day military assignment, cut in half by a whopping 12-hour stop at home so he could add laundry to my already gighugic pile, vacuum the basement steps, and take my daughter to school (whoo! vacation!), we communicated a total of just under seven times, all of which add up to probably just under an hour of interaction - including the time it takes him to type and send the text "Where are you?"
So let's break things down by mode of communication.
These are generally quick "Hey, what are you up to?" or really "Hey, wht ru up 2?" (ugh) type interactions, but unfortunately they are the best way to get any type of message across because, well, you'll see the problem with all our other options.
Forget it. Even with an iPhone, my husband will check his email but never respond, which stinks because it's my main mode of communication. The lucky man has never had to attempt to have a phone conversation (or God, a work conference call) with three children around, so he doesn't quite get that emailing me is the best way to share more than a few acronyms and sentences interrupted by screaming kids. Sadly, he can't type to save his life, so it's pointless. And I've learned the hard way; I'll email a nice long message about what's going on here and how I'm feeling and if he actually does respond, it's something like "cool," which, God love him, is spelled wrong half the time. He blames the international keyboards. Right.
Instant Messaging (IM)
Aside from the fact that he's really never on an actual computer when he's away, the same issues that plague our email relationship are worse on IM. Here's a recent interaction:
Me (Excited! To see his name in green on my gmail!): Hey! What's up?
Him (After approximately 45 seconds): Hi.
Me (In about 4 seconds): So, the kids got up super early this morning, and I'm exhausted, but it looks like the weather is going to be really great today so I'm going to try to take them to the zoo. So how are things over there?
Him (After 2 minutes, and a few "Husband is typing" messages that come and go - which we experienced IM'ers know means he's typing and erasing A LOT): Not much.
Try that for a good solid 15 minutes and you feel like you're squeezing water out of a rock or something even more ridiculous. Needless to day, I do my best to avoid him on IM.
Now phone calls may seem to be the logical choice, and every so often, they work out fabulously. But most of the time, we're contending with those pesky time differences, work schedules, and 3G WHAT THE HECK AT&T MY MARRIAGE IS AT STAKE HERE! that means he's available to talk right when I need to get dinner on the table or when I'm about to collapse in bed from utter exhaustion.
Don't get me wrong - we have our fair share of conversations, but they're never more than five minutes long, mostly because the kids end up grabbing the phone, or he decides to interrupt my extremely compelling recap of the day by asking if I cleaned out the water table because WE DO NOT WANT TO BREED MOSQUITOS! Then the "aren't you listening to me? who gives a crap about the water table? I haven't talked to anyone in three days can you just let me talk?" which, as you can guess, never ends well.
For us, the long, deep conversations about love, life, and the important stuff, rarely occur, making the blocks of our time apart almost non-existent when it comes to our relationship.
So yeah, communication. It's a fine art that we have yet to master even after three years of all this nonsense.