Songs that voices never share


Being a lawyer is the hardest job to have when you have children.

This is true.  I know it is an indisputable fact.  I know this because Helen told me so.  I’m a younger sister.  If Helen told me so, it is true.

Now, those of you who do not have Helen for an older sister might disagree with her assessment of “attorney” as the most difficult job to hold down when one is a mother.  I, myself, have sometimes – in my darkest, most private moments – wondered whether, just maybe, it could be possible that Helen could be wrong.  About this only, of course.

As Helen explained to me, lawyers are at the mercy of judges.  When the judge tells her to be in court, she has to be in court, and there are few judges out there who really care whether Marc is still recovering from the chicken pox or has a t-ball game that afternoon.  Still, I cannot help wondering if perhaps there are a few other lines of work that are slightly more difficult. 

Take, for example, law enforcement.  Police officers, after all, have those nuisance shifts that require them to be away from home at 2 in the morning.  And people shoot at them, by the by. 

Or, perhaps strippers.  (I know some people might consider strippers an extreme example, but I think we weren’t put on this earth to judge what other people have to do to put sandwiches in their kids’ lunch boxes.)  Stripping, I think, would be a very hard job to do with children.  After all, it does not tend to be a 9 to 5 job.  Strippers mostly miss out on bath and book time, not to mention the fact that their job is sometimes a bit demeaning.  On the bright side, they’re usually there for the t-ball games.

Only slightly less frustrating is waiting tables.  Those of you who’ve done it know of what I speak.  One of the things I found most frustrating about waitressing was that it was completely unpredictable.  Some schmuck could decide to sit at table 39 all shift long with a cup of coffee and a basket of tortilla chips, tying up ¼ of my tables, and then leave me 19 cents for a tip.  Even worse were the people who sat there, oblivious to the fact that my entire station had cleared out an hour before, discussing important-looking flow charts while I stood in the kitchen, fuming over the fact that I could not leave the restaurant till I’d emptied out my station. 

How much harder would it be, I wonder, to stand there, knowing you are missing your child’s bedtime and he’ll be put to bed by grandma again because you’re stuck waiting to clean out table 27?  And not even knowing whether they plan on leaving a tip.

Perhaps, though, Helen wasn’t considering these professions.  Perhaps they were not white-collar enough for her.

Well, I still think you could imagine one or two lines of white-collar work that are harder on a parent than being a lawyer.  Flight attendant or pilot, for example.  Yes, I’ll admit, it’s hard missing baby Spanish class because you have a court date, but I’m still thinking it just might be a little harder missing Gymboree because you’re on a transcontinental flight.  I’m just sayin’…

And then there are consultants.  I married one of those, you know.  He spends so much time in different time zones that his body no longer has an internal clock.  He is perpetually jet-lagged.  (FYI, they plant a lot of forests to offset his travel.  It mattered to me to know that, so I thought it might matter to some of you.  I still don’t like the environmental impact of his travel, but the forests do help.  Please don’t comment on it, as it bothers me enough as it is and there’s nothing I can do about it.)  Moving to London helped; he travels only about half the time now.  When we were in the U.S., it was closer to 80%. 

Once, when Zachary was about 18 months old, I thought I heard J coming home from a trip while I was bathing the little guy.  So did Zach.  So, he tried to swing his scrawny little leg over the side of the tub, scramble out of the bath, and fling his wet and naked body over the banister to where Daddy was.  I convinced him to wait.

That’s how much Zachary misses his father when he travels.  As he’s gotten older, you’d think he’d be getting used to it, but he’s really not.  Now, he is just more sophisticated in his reactions.  Usually, he punishes me for the first twenty-four hours of J’s absence and then punishes J for the first 12 hours upon his return.  I think I’m getting the raw end of the deal, here.

Benjamin is no more accepting of the status quo than is his brother.  When J returned this time, he wanted to get out of his high chair to be hugged.  Out of his high chair.  During breakfast.  While eating pancakes.  This is a child who is under the impression breakfast should last till 20 minutes before morning snack, which should last till 45 minutes before lunch.  Usually, we just pick an arbitrary moment when his pace of consumption has slowed and declare that mealtime is over.

So, you can imagine how much he missed his Daddy if he was willing to call off breakfast of his own volition.

I miss their Daddy, too.  To be frank, I never bother to miss him on trips that are shorter than four days.  If I did, I’d spend my whole life whining about his absence.  But, on longer trips, it gets kind of lonesome only getting adult conversation during school drop off.  This last trip was nine days.  That’s a long time, especially since he got to be back in the U.S., working but also seeing old friends and family, while I was stuck here in London dealing with the Timmy situation and spending a good half an hour a day discussing the day of the week with Zachary.

“What day is today?”  Zachary would ask.

“Today is Wednesday,” I would answer.

“How many days until Sunday?” he wanted to know.  So, we’d count the days till Daddy’s return.  He would nod, satisfied, and then begin the conversation all over again three hours later.  I tried to see it as a teaching moment.  At least he was learning the days of the week.

I was pretty eagerly awaiting Sunday morning, when J would be back.  Tired and jet-lagged, but available to be climbed upon while passed out on the living room floor.  So, you can imagine how I felt when he called me Saturday night at 9:30, just about when he was supposed to be driving to Dulles.

“I’m not going to be home for at least another day,” he informed me.  My first thought, as it always is when he travels internationally, was that there had been some sort of terrorist attack I hadn’t heard about and all the flights had been cancelled.  No, no terrorist attacks.  Just a lost passport.  “Stolen,” he told me.

Just to clarify.  We are Americans living in London on a two-year visa.  A visa that is glued into my husband’s passport.  It must be in his passport when he enters the country.  So, the boys and I were here, he was there, and the passport with the visa was missing.  You will all be very proud of me when I tell you that, not only did I refrain from threatening to remove his earlobes with a buzz saw if he did not make it home, I actually remained calm and supportive.

Yeah, it surprised me, too.

Then, half an hour later, he called again.  He was on the way to the airport.  His father had retained some presence of mind and found the passport tucked away in some obscure part of the luggage.  (Thank you, thank you, thank you.)  This time, I just couldn’t be mature about it.  I had to make fun of him, just a little.

The fact is, I don’t just worry when he travels internationally.  Even when he stays here in London, if he is twenty minutes late getting home, I start worrying that there was an attack on the Tube.  Even while I try to cajole Zachary to take three more bites and try to convince Benjamin that ketchup is a condiment, not a hair product, I start imagining their father trapped underground.  Irrational though it is, I worry.

I worry partly the same way I’ve always worried.  I worry about losing my best friend, my partner, the only person who still, after all these years, can make me laugh.  I worry for me and I worry for him.  But, for the past three years, I’ve worried on another level.

If I lost J, I just don’t know how I’d raise the boys on my own.  As you are aware, I have somewhat limited models for parenting.  I’m also a bit at a handicap when it comes to raising men, being, you know, female and all.

In her Hump Day Hmm, Julie asked about losing it all.  Well, the truth of it is, losing material possessions does not scare me all that much.  If there were a fire in the house, I’d sort of hope I could grab the passports and the boys’ blankies, but really all that would matter would be getting the family out of the house.  And, since the boys sleep with the blankies, I pretty much figure the passports would be the only challenge.

But losing J or one of my boys?  That would be losing it all.  So, I worry.  I worry whenever he travels, whenever he’s late, whenever I am alone too long with my own imagination.  And I’ll tell you, folks, I really have less to worry about than others.

Because there are, out there, plenty of people whose partners are gone for longer than nine days at a time.  In places considerably less safe than the District of Columbia or the London Underground.  Who are left to raise their kids for months, even years, without the other parent, not ever knowing if that other parent is going to come back.

You know who I am talking about.

When I think about losing it all, I think about the mothers and fathers who are half a world away from their families, fighting in a war that none of us can pinpoint a reason for.  (I also think about the families in the middle of the war, but that’s a whole other can of worms.  Just don’t think I’ve forgotten them.)  I think about mothers whose children are graduating from t-ball to baseball without them seeing a single game.  I think about fathers who aren’t even their when their daughters are born.  I think about everyone who just won’t come back.

This is not an anti-war post.  I wish, I wish, I wish I were wise enough to understand all the complexities of international politics and clever enough to untwist them and devise a solution to end the war.  I am not.  I haven’t even been following the news much lately because I despair at my total inability to change a damned thing.  (A situation I am working to remedy.)

But I am sad.  I am sad that we have created a society so complicated that we need airplanes and terrorism and wars.  I understand, I really do, that our intricate minds have created things of tremendous beauty and use – vaccines, the Sistine Chapel, guitars, Snickers bars, Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans.  But, I am also sad that our society is so intricate we need to take parents and put them someplace far away from their children.  And I am angry, because I don’t really understand how to get the good complexities without the bad.  Maybe someone can explain it to me.

 All I know is that there are careers that are a lot tougher on parents than being a lawyer.

Hump Day HmmThis week’s Hump Day Hmmm is to write about loss.  Head on over to Julie’s place to see them all.

19 responses to “Songs that voices never share

  1. Oh Emily…this is very moving. So straightforward, and so moving. Truly excellent. Thanks.

    And I do believe you are right.

    Using My Words

  2. Hi – I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now (via thegreenlife and twentytwofeet) and this post has motivated me to finally comment. (side note: i have throughly enjoyed reading your stories, tidbits, etc. Sometimes they make me laugh, other times they make me want to smack the screen in frustration over your situation. So thank you for sharing.) This whole situation of families seperated from one another because of their occupation (or damned wars, or both) is heartbreaking. I’m living in Hong Kong, working with domestic workers, namely from Indonesia and the Philippines. You want to talk about a can of worms? Here are these women forced to leave their country, their home, their families, to work overseas as housemaids and caretakers in a country they know little about, because their own economies are ONLY supported through their remittances (or damned wars – take your pick). Every day I interact with women who only get to see their children once every two years. Women who raise their children through grandparents and the little bit of money they can send home to keep the lights turned on and keep rice on the table. Their husbands are off in the Middle East in mines and oil fields trying to add extra income. I simply cannot imagine having to make the choice: leave my family in order to provide enough money for food and a hope at education; or stay and live in a shanty in the city and watch my children die of starvation. CANNOT imagine. The courage, strength and brave hearts of these women (and men too, I just only work with the women) DAILY astounds me. It humbles me. It brings tears to my eyes. So, I know you and Helen are exactly on speaking terms (note the sarcasm), but should the opportunity ever arise, tell her how there are hundreds of thousands of women who would give their life to be an attorny and miss out on Baby Spanish class.

  3. Thank you for this post. It moved me deeply. And you know, I’m that kind of worrier too.

  4. Another great post.

    Worse jobs than a lawyer? I watch “Dirty Jobs” and trust me, there are worse jobs out there. The host is Hot so it’s a must see.

    I won’t comment on the war b/c it will be a rant.

  5. Emily– That was a very moving post. I love your writing. And, I just want to put in my two cents that I don’t think that the issues are as “complicated” as you think. You are far more intelligent than our “leaders.” I can read it in your blog. I think that the “leaders” try to make us think things are so “complicated” to keep real action and real change from happening. I think that “real people” like you and I or a family in Baghdad could sit down and understand the the world is out of control because of our “leaders” not because of the people. It is time for the people to take control of the leadership. It is time that we work on real complicated issues, such as a cure for cancer. Ending the war is not complicated. I know it is idealistic, but if everyone refused to fight, there would be no war. Simple. Our “enemies” are people just like us with hopes, dreams, families, etc. We just need to see them as such and they need to see us in the same light.

    Sorry for the ramble.

  6. I have to disagree with the last comment (sorry, Kevin!). I thnk a little thing called “human nature” prevents it from being as simple as “everyone [refusing] to fight.” I’m not here to argue about the war, my baby brother is in Iraq and I hate it as much as anyone but I think along the same lines as Emily: I don’t know what the answer is. Stay indefinitely and prolong a war that should never have started, or bail and leave a country in the utter chaos that we created?

    I just wanted to say thank you for that beautiful post and for expressing so beautifully what I have been feeling (and making me feel slightly btter about the fact that I avoid news about the war because the whole thing is so overwhelming and hopeless to me), at least I’m not the only on who feels this way.

  7. I just joined the Hump Day Hmm for the first time, so this is my first visit to your site. That was an excellent post. I, too, spend a lot of time worrying about losing my husband, especially whenever he is late getting home. And mine doesn’t even travel! And I worry about something happening to me and my boys being left without a mother. Life was so much less scary, and so much less sweet, before having kids. Peace to you and your family.

  8. That was beautiful. My sentiments exactly. Thank you for a wonderful post.

  9. God, it is complicated. I wish I had a solution too. And you’re right, being a lawyer is easy peasy compared to that.

  10. Jess– As an anthropologist, I cannot agree with your suggestion that “human nature” is somehow inherently violent or prone to war and dispute. The evidence shows that it is just as likely to be cooperative. So, human nature is not an explanation.

    I also have to disagree with the circularity of the argument on why we should stay in Iraq. We need to stay there to somehow deliver the country from the chaos and instability that our illegal conquest and occupation has caused. But, at the same time, it is our presence that causes the continued chaos and instability.

    I have great faith in the will and skill of the Iraqi people to cure the problems in their country. We must first leave and then promise to fund what it will take to put the country back on its feet. We cannot continue an occupation that is predicated on our lust for Iraqi oil.

    My question to those who believe we are in Iraq now to create a stable democracy is “If we indeed are only there to topple Saddam and spread democracy, why is the first piece of legislation that we are demanding to be passed in the Iraqi legislature an oil and gas bill that was drafted by a DC think tank and that would essentially open Iraq’s natural resources for exploitation by foreign firms.”

  11. Hi, all. I appreciate the fact that people are always very respectful to each other here. It’s late in this time zone and I’m off to bed, so I just want to say that I hope you feel free to respond to one another while I am sleeping. I do hope this conversation continues and continues in the respectful tone everyone is using thus far. I’d hate to wake up tomorrow and find I have to give someone a time-out.

  12. You just impress me, you know?

  13. Wonderful post, Emily. Moving and true. One of my favorites of yours.

  14. Hi Emily,

    Me too. This is what it would mean for me to lose it all, too.

    Brian used to tour for a living, and I would think about this all the time, as they drove across four states at 2 in the morning in a vehicle of questionable safety. I’m glad that’s behind us.

  15. Pingback: A sign you might care too much about grammar « Wheels on the bus

  16. This post hits right where I live because I did, I did lose my husband. He went missing four years ago and for three of those years we didn’t have any sort of answer at all about where he was or what had happened.

    Lovely writing – I’ll definitely be back.

  17. i also think about losing it all and losing it all would be losing my kids or my husband. i don’t know how i would handle it.

    you are a great writer, emily.

  18. i also think about losing it all and losing it all would be losing my kids or my husband. i don’t know how i would handle it.

    you are a great writer, emily.

  19. You always inspire me, Emily.

    And? I laughed out loud for the first time in days after reading your description of the curmudgeonly camper on table 25 with his chips and coffee. I waited tables, too, in college. It is a damn sight harder than Helen’s assessment of lawyerdom.