The dog is running in circles by the front door and barking nonstop. My phone is programmed with a reminder to do laundry, and we’re having garlic chicken for dinner.
These seemingly unrelated activities are actually all telltale signs of one pending event: My husband is going on a business trip.
Call it the B schedule, the one we recalibrate to when my husband periodically travels out of town for work for about a week at a time.
The specifics vary, but adjusting from a dual-parent to a single-parent household is a familiar routine for many families, especially in our community where so many work in television and film production. Everyone from actors to cameramen can be dispatched—sometimes for up to months at a time—to locations as diverse as Costa Rica and Vancouver.
They’re not the only ones, though. In fact, in families with children under 18, about 17 percent of employed mothers and 27 percent of employed fathers travel on the job, according to the 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce. In the study, which was conducted by the Families and Work Institute, mothers who traveled were away on business nearly seven nights in the previous three months, while fathers were away a little more than 13 nights.
At our house, Plan B kicks off with my 10-year-old daughter choosing a stuffed animal to accompany Dad out of town. Most recently, Mr. Whiskers was in Chicago. I set a reminder to do laundry, because my husband actually enjoys this chore, which therefore isn’t usually on my radar. At least not until one morning when my son was forced to retrieve gym shorts out of the dirty laundry basket. The dog slinks around all week in a funk because it doesn’t get a post-dinner walk. None of us will venture out in the dark. We do, however, indulge in garlic, because my husband doesn’t appreciate the smell.
Meal adjustments are probably the most common change that coincides with one parent being out of town. “When my husband is away, that’s when we grab Trader Joe's frozen meals or order a pizza,” said one friend.
Similarly, one traveling mom friend shared that her husband always makes the kids pick from the school hot lunch menu when she's away. "G-d forbid he should try to figure out how to make lunches for them,” she said.
On the flip side, she admitted, “the kids panic when he’s out of town and something electronic breaks. Without having faith in good ole Mom, they try to call him on his cell to see what he could do long distance.”
Bedtime rituals, including ours, often include good nights by Skype. Many young children sleep with the parent who's at home, some keep extra lights on. Others, such as one friend, said she sleeps in the middle of the bed when her husband is away. “I love all that space.”
A roomier slumber aside, hopefully there's renewed appreciation for everyone’s role in the family. For myself, there’s always a sense of relief when I get that phone call from the airport and my husband says, “I’m home.” Not that I actually need a call. I can just look at the dog, which plants itself by the front door and doesn’t move, exactly 30 minutes before my husband walks back through it.