“They only throw up when you’re gone,” I tell my husband. At this point, I should leave bowls at the side of my children’s beds just in case because it never fails that someone will end up vomiting while dad is away. The most serious illnesses our three kids have ever experienced have all happened while he was gone on business.
But as much as I hate the fact that my husband has to travel for work, leaving me in charge of our three rambunctious young (and all too often sick) children, I have to admit, I’m a stronger mother when my husband is gone.
When he took a job that required him to travel frequently, right before the birth of our third child, I was understandably nervous. I couldn’t imagine being left alone with three kids under the age of five, fending for myself day-in and day-out, since my family lives in another state. I felt like I was prepping for the end of the world as he set off on his first international business trip — stocking my freezer with frozen microwaveable meals and writing out our schedule but still feeling like I must be forgetting at least a hundred things.
Then mere hours after he left, my oldest started throwing up. By nightfall, his brother and sister were throwing up too. It was the first time all three of them had been sick at the same time. I took my daughter’s vomit-covered comforter outside to rinse it with the garden hose and recoiled at the sight of the black widow blocking my way. It was early in the night, and I was already spent. I broke down in tears on the back stoop.
Normally, I would have checked the clock, started counting down the minutes until my husband would return and continued wallowing in pity. But his return was not on the horizon. Not for days. So, I sucked it up and went back inside, tending to my sick children. I ran laundry all through the night and we still ran out of sheets. But I kept going, because I had no other choice. The baby was vomiting in the bathtub at 3 a.m. on the third night of illness, and I remember thinking to myself, “at least now I know I could survive the apocalypse.”
Even though I was exhausted beyond belief, a sort of calm washed over me. I realized the other two had stopped throwing up. The worst was over. I had survived this on my own.
By the time my husband returned home, everyone was well again. While I resented that he didn’t have to deal with the hell I had been too, I was secretly glad for the experience now that it was behind me. The hardest moments of parenting alone had also been the most liberating. I never would have known the sort of strength and grit that lay dormant inside me until I was pushed to my limits.
When my husband is home, I am allowed to fall apart. I don’t have to be strong every second of every day, because I know my solo shift will end, and I’ll have the emotional and physical support I’m so desperate for. I’m grateful I don’t have to be at my best all the time, but I’m glad the harder moments of parenting have shown me what my best looks like.
My children still often throw up when my husband is gone on business trips, but after a year of getting used to part-time solo parenting, I feel like dealing with catastrophic illness on my own has become second nature.
I feel like a warrior when my husband is away. Knowing what I have survived before makes me confident that I will continue to survive and even thrive during my time parenting alone, because I have been shown time and again just how tough of a mother I am.