Awww, so adorable.
But who are the other kids in the video? Her cousins.
The person filming? Her aunt.
Where are Mom and Dad? Working three-week hitches on a drillship and discovering the Makoko deposit in DRC on 6-week hitches.
These missed moments are the messy details we don't seem to talk about enough.
2017 was a year of long hitches, temporary moves to be closer to family, and travel. At the end of it, we were celebrating our daughter's first birthday. Well, technically she is eating this cake a few days AFTER turning one. Duncan was supposed to be home from DRC in time for her birthday. Instead, he spent the day sick with malaria in a hotel room in South Africa.
A late first birthday doesn't bother us. She didn't know. And with the number of missed birthdays by mom the children associate a missing parent with more cake when they return. Holidays, vacations, deaths, they don't wait for you to be home. Even if you are ok with that, explaining to your extended family can be a difficult conversation.
Duncan swooped in to an exhausted wife and a now 1 year old and 3 year old. He took the 3 year old to the science museum, he took cousins skiing, he threw himself into life at his mother-in-law's house. Duncan was trying to make up for what he had missed. He was trying to be the partner and father he wants to be.
Where did that lead? Back to the hospital. He was doing all that while recovering from malaria and jet lag!
Our health, both physical and mental, is where we found our limit. It is incredibly hard to step back from something you love and say "this isn't working." But we needed to do that. We returned to our home and we focused on our family.
Trust and independence is paramount with your partner. A week without a word? Not a new lover, it is a remote camp site, comms are down, or just a busy week at work. Once suspicion creeps in, it can be a tough foe to vanquish-- talk about it and your expectations of the relationship before it becomes an issue.
The basement flooded? No, you can't come home. Your father died? Hopefully you have discussed what constitutes an emergency and what a realistic response would be. For some people, a death in a family isn't a trip home, for some it is. Don't assume your partner feels the same way that you do.
It also helps to remember you can't judge other people's relationships or compare your own to another. Each is as unique as the people in them.
The support network. Some of the most successful families we see are fortunate to live near supportive extended family. You won't be able to do this alone. Who do you call at 3 am to come watch the kids because you have a cockroach in your ear? (true story)
Who is truly happy to care for the kids or your partner, if needed? We are fortunate to do it with a mix of family and nannies and will never be able to thank them enough.
You get to decide what defines "having it all." Missing birthdays is a disappointment, but not a dealbreaker for us. The children love getting to celebrate twice. Other people might not understand, but they aren't you.
As a mom, I get it all the time from the male-dominated offshore work force. How can I leave my babies? With a kiss and a hug. Then I change the subject before I let their thoughts about the role of a mother become my issue. Duncan gets the opposite: "how could you leave being a project manager and care for kids?" No one is spared judgment from others.
Think about what is most important to you. Where are you willing to compromise? You only can have it "all" if you are realistic about what that means to you.
Be open to change. Duncan LOVED working in DRC. But after 2017, he stepped away. It was too much for our family and he wasn't getting to be the father he wanted to be. Catherine continues to work rotations, but sparingly.
And the rotations always happened when something else is going on at home. But here is the thing, there is always something going on! You will miss things.
After leaving his role in Central Africa, Duncan stayed home with the kids and rocked it. Then he parlayed his passion for student and ECP involvement into a new career path. Does the field still call to him? All the time. And we revisit that frequently to see if he wants to go on an adventure. Life changes and so will what works for you, your partner, your family. Embrace it and watch for the signs that it is needed.
I believe this is the reason many people eventually either become full time expats or they leave roles. There seems to be a human desire to be connected to a community.
How do you build meaningful relationships when you are always gone?
Duncan and I's trust was built through 6 years of friendship before we attempted dating while living thousands of miles apart, so we sort of skipped that step.
Beyond romantic relationships, I miss being part of a soccer team or being a consistent volunteer in my community. When you are gone for weeks at a time, you aren't a reliable player or friend.
I think it might help if your partner has deep roots in the community that you can use or you already have them before you rotate away.
You have a baby, want to breastfeed, and do field work? Remember you need to define what your "all" is. Yup, there are some tough decisions. I had to make a few of them, but ultimately, I exceeded my breastfeeding goals and managed to spend weeks away from the kid. I'm happy to discuss what went well and the tears shed when she didn't latch again after my first hitch.