Today was the last day of bike to school week and Peter and Miss E rode to school.
I posted a few days ago ( a little self-pityingly) about how tired I was getting of the fire schedule and how lonely I have been feeling. Those things are true. I am going through a period of being sick of the shift schedule and feeling a bit alone. However, I have been doing this for 10 years and I thought today I would post a few things that we do to make it work. Firefighting is hard on a marriage. There's no denying that. I would also say that Peter and I are not great at being married. On the other hand, we've been together for 17 years and are coming up on our 10 year anniversary so maybe we're doing OK. Or we're just really stubborn.
Here are the things that I do to make the best of the schedule for me, our family and our marriage.
We don't have a set "every monday is so and so sort of schedule. Some days Peter works and some days I work. It changes all the time. He has classes and union meetings and trips and during tax season I work much longer hours. When the kids were babies we were kind of all over the place doing whatever the day brought up. When Miss E started kindergarten I realized that the kids and I were on the standard M-F schedule, even it Peter was not. Hence, our house has become organized around the M-F schedule. M-F are work/school days. Sat and Sun are house work/play days. Dinner is served at 5:15 every night. Friday's are pizza and movie night. Saturday and Sunday mornings are sleep in/cartoons. When Peter is here, he partakes and when not, we carry on. It makes the kids and I feel better and work better if we are not adjusting our daily schedule around Peter and it makes him feel less pressure if he has to take an OT shift or wants to go fishing on his day off.
2) Know your limits and say no.
I can do pretty much anything by myself with both kids. Since we have so many weekends with just us, I have to. However, the two things I can't do are amusement parks or swimming. Well, I could but it wouldn't be very much fun for anyone. So what do I do when one kid (non-independent swimmer) gets invited to a swimming party on a day Peter is working? I say no, and I don't feel guilty about it.
There will be other parties and a stressed out mom does not make for a fun weekend with the kids. I also say no to birthday parties where only one kid is invited and that one does not want to be dropped off on days Peter is working. I just can't do it. And that's OK. There are plenty of other parties.
3) Get creative with dates.
We don't have/can't afford regular babysitting and while my mom does watch the kids happily, we like to go out a bit more than she is available. Every two weeks or so, I try to take a day off that Peter has off as well. While the kids are at school we eat lunch out, go to a movie or (like this morning) take an hour long bike ride and get coffee. Sometimes, if we are really busy, we run errands together but still, it's kid free time. Also, for a marriage that is not always strong, for some reason day-dates feel like there's a lot less pressure to make them perfect than night dates.
4) Have a system/plan for the housework.
Since he is home 3 days a week yet I am the mostly stay at home parent, there can be friction with me directing him on what to do/how to do it while I am gone. We have made a list and have a system in place so we know who does what on any given day. Here's an example: On the days I work, he cooks dinner unless I have told him that I will cook. Usually I meal plan for the week though so in the morning, I either tell him what's on the meal plan for that night or it's up to him to come up with something. For awhile I was getting phone calls at work at 4pm asking what the plan was for dinner and we were both frustrated with that system. Once we got on the same page, it works better.
5) Be prepared.
I know where the flashlights are in case the power goes out. I know how to handle our tricky toilet that tends to overflow. We have a dog because I don't like being alone at night and it makes me feel more safe. I know where the water shut-off to the house is. A few months ago when a branch fell on our van in the middle of the night I knew where our insurance information was, what body shop we use and had it cleaned up, claim filed and to the shop before Peter even came home from work the next day. He feels better knowing I can handle anything that comes up, and I feel better knowing I am not going to be stranded (although if I have to deal with a gas leak, chains on tires, jumping a car or changing a bike tire all bets are off).
6) Have fun/spend some $.
It took me awhile to come around to this but when he is gone all weekend, sometimes I have to splurge on stuff with the kids. Before I would never take them out to eat or to a movie without him because those seemed like "family" things. Like if we were going to spend the money to do it, all four of us should benefit. This resulted in me spending a lot of weekends home, going crazy with the kids and feeling like we couldn't do anything special. Finally I gave that up. If we are home for 2 days, sometimes I take them to a movie and sometimes just the kids and I go out to eat. Yes, we are sorry he can't join us and yes we wish he was there, but the result is we feel less put out by his job which is better for all of us.
7) Share something.
This may just pertain to us but we have WIDELY different hobbies. I like to read and photograph and write and cook and go out for drinks with my friends and he likes to ride bikes and fish and play drums and see live bands. We both do those things, but during most evenings, when he is home, we make it a point to sit down after the kids go to bed and watch a TV show or something together. We usually have a series that we are working through on Netflicks so it's the same show every night. It sounds lame but I think it's important that we have that time to just sit and be together. We also have always gone to bed at the same time nearly every night he's home. This is something we have always done but it seems more important as the years go by.
I'm sure these ideas wouldn't work for everyone and again, I am CERTAINLY not an expert on marriage, perhaps the opposite in fact, but I think the main thing is that we are both putting in some effort to stay connected and preserve a little bit of time for ourselves as a couple.