I'm sure a lot of you have had to make big girl and boy decisions in your life and none are more important than those that affect your family. The big decision Anthony and I made was to have him take a job that required more travel. Yes, the dreaded word, TRAVEL, is now a firm part of our vernacular.
At first, it was no biggie. Anthony's start date was literally right after Hollis was born. He went out of town a week in December. It was hard on both of us, mostly born out of fear (mine about being totally alone with an infant) and loneliness (his about missing out on his baby's baby-ness).
As the months have passed his travel has increased incrementally with my parenting savvy and his resilience to being away. We talk late at night in the dark about how we'll manage the times apart, deliberate in our choice to make our times together quality moments, and uncertain about how to balance his career advancement with our focus and devotion to family (two things which are never cohorts, but instead fierce competitors).
We need him to make more money, but we always ask, "At what cost??" Neither one of us are willing to have him gone all the time just so we can make more money. We're both certain that we'd rather pinch and save and have a fuller, richer home life. It begins to get tricky when Anthony has outgrown his current job responsibilities and yearns for more. And as everyone knows more responsibilities equals more demands equals more work equals more time away. Rarely does moving up mean more time at home. Fucking sucks.
So now we're gearing up for a major blast of travel. Anthony has tentative plans to be away for five of the next seven weeks, with possibly more. We look at it as something we decided to do for our family at this particular time, but I'm very careful to not think of it as ideal. Again, Anthony struggles because he loves what he's doing, and has found a new passion in travel, but misses me and Hollis desperately when he's gone. It's a crap situation in some ways. It's too bad that he can't pack us along. Wouldn't that be great? haha It's what celebrities do: they just cart their peeps around with them, schedules allowing. I can see why.
The next thing we'll have to do is navigate the corporate ladder and its demands. I'm hesitant to agree to more travel. As it stands, Anthony's gone at least once a month from a day to a week's time.
This whole situation reminds me of an Ethics professor I had at St. Ed's. He was a lawyer and judge, in his 70's, at least, and brilliant. He wore button down shirts with animals on them (the giraffes were my favorite) and reddish brown cowboy boots. He had a shock of white hair, but had he not had this age identifier, from behind you'd think he was a 30-something year old man; his joints were loose, he had a spring in his step, he seemed strong and confident. I liked to make ribald innuendos just see him smile sheepishly and turn bright red at the front of class.
And I'll never forget the day he turned to us, twenty prospective counselors from all walks of life, and drew this graph on the chalkboard, circling the end:
This was the amount of stress we might be under today, he explained. No biggie, right?
Then, he drew a couple of big jumps up. He said we'd all know notice it right away and think, "Crap. This sucks!" because it happened abruptly, such as a death in the family, and we'd most likely take time off, reflect, and rest - which was a good thing, but not really his point:
Then he started adding little steps, explaining that each one was just "a little more" stress. Finally, at the far end of the chalk board he stopped and drew an arc from the end to the beginning:
"What do you think happens at this point?" We all blinked. "You have a breakdown. Anybody know why??" More blinking. "Because, look at where you started. This isn't 'just a little more stress,' it's a huge amount more than what is healthy and manageable and you never lowered your stress. You never really noticed it was increasing because you kept handling it, kept on 'stepping up.' But this is dangerous. If it's a little over a longer period of time you ignore it, tell yourself you can handle it, to suck it up... Until one day, you can't anymore. And your life, family, and clients will suffer for it. You must always be aware of the little steps up and take care to get your stress levels back down. Always."
Suffice it to say. He made his point and I will never, ever forget the lesson. This is what I'm worried about with the travel thing. I'm willing to be the wet blanket and the constant travel-warden if I have to because the last thing I want to have happen is my marriage and family to fall apart because I no longer know my husband or have a relationship to call my own.
How do people do it? I know so many couples who travel and are separated and I'm not so sure, really, how many are happy with it. But for those who do it and succeed and love it, what's the secret? Are they even aware of the Steps to No Where?? Do they think they're immune? Because God knows I don't think I am. It's a good thing I bought some Lotto tickets yesterday...