Sunday, August 8, 2010

Feast or famine

A recent visit to the fire station:

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I sat on the edge of the magnetic bed and took a shallow breath. The oxygen seemed to dissipate between my ribs and back out into the open air. I tried to breathe again, but my heavy shoulders were too burdensome to roll back out of the way. No matter; I didn't need that much air, anyway. It took very little effort to continue on in zombie mode. I felt thin — the weak and only partly aware of the world around me thin, not the supermodel kind. I was waking up from a long night with a child who was teething and couldn't stay asleep for more than 30 minutes, for the second night in a row. In fact, the whole week had been difficult. Maybe "waking up" is a misnomer; more like, trying to surface from the delirium of being half-asleep, cursing the bright light stabbing through the blinds. There was no hope for sleep now. A shower. I needed a shower. Then maybe I could put two thoughts together and make breakfast.

I turned off the baby monitor, content that he couldn't get into too much trouble in his crib, and I sent the older two downstairs for toast and Curious George. The shower seemed to only compound the drowsiness. The sound of the hot water falling was overwhelmingly soothing. I forgot what I was thinking about. Again. When the baby objected to being in his crib too loudly for me to ignore, I slothfully turned off the water and stepped out. The oxygen I inhaled still seemed to escape without doing much good. This was going to be a long day. The goal: make it through till bed time, and visit dad at the fire station so the kids would remember what he looks like.

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Hooking up to the heart monitor, just for fun.

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(I think that a table with office chairs and a white board hovering over it have been in every station my firefighter has ever worked at. So has the half-consumed cup of Mountain Dew sitting on said table.)

Six months ago, it was a different picture. Overtime had been cut from the department's budget in an attempt to keep the city afloat financially. My husband and I were only apart two days a week. We took turns sleeping in on those four days off together, and even if I had a difficult night when he was on duty, I could count on getting a much-needed break — soon. We had time together. There were entire days when we had absolutely nothing planned. I loved those days. However, we were stretched thin financially. It was difficult to face the pile of bills and make it work each month.

When overtime was restored a little while ago, the switch was flipped. After the difficulty of making it through those last few months, my husband snatched up overtime shifts whenever he could, grateful that he was lucky enough to still have a job. He was even forced to work on days he didn't sign up for. Being mandatoried is something that hasn't happened for quite some time.

Getting work is no longer the problem. The financial burdens are easing up, but now we have a different load to carry — exhaustion, the over-extension of our tolerance, and loneliness. Gone are the evenings of eating ice cream together while watching House, pausing it at least three times to play rock paper scissors to determine who has to run upstairs to help the child in need of something. That has been replaced with the nightly phone call spent comparing notes of the day, dreaming about what to spend the money on, and placing bets on who will fall asleep fastest and who will get up more times before morning. Those days apart, when piled up one on top of another, are draining.

On the days that he does have off, we try to cram in as much as we can. There's always something to be fixed, moved, picked up at the store, or lifted. And of course, we want to spend time together as a family. This last Friday was such a day, the only one he had off in an 8 day period. We went to the "little farm" in the midst of all the chores that needed to be done.

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A cow, teaching my children impossible things to attempt at home:
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We have fun on those days off — but they, too, are exhausting. I miss the days of having no plans.

I'm hoping that we can find a good balance between the two extremes. I'm hoping that the guilt of passing up an available overtime shift will lessen, and we can have a chance to unwind and enjoy some time together. We've been trying to fix everything money related all at once, in an unhealthy way. A debt crash diet, of sorts. Our goal this next month is to take it down a notch, see each other more than once a week, and pace ourselves.

I miss playing rock paper scissors.

11 comments:

Katherine said...

What a difficult time. It does seem that there are no easy answers. I hope that next month finds more time for you as a family and more time for no plans.

I love the rock paper scissors.

Our Crazy Crew said...

I thought I was alone in this firefighter shuffle. Some months he works 10 days. Others he works 20. It's hard turning down OT because the money is needed desperately but being home alone with little ones is tough. I say God designed two parents for a reason. I keep my sanity by rembering all the time at home and thanking the Lord he isn't a traveling salesman. Glad we aren't alone in this plight!

Fire Wife Katie said...

Thanks for the comments and support! It is so hard to turn down those OT shifts. Perhaps it wouldn't feel like such a big deal if each shift weren't the equivalent of 3 days of work for a normal day job. The voice inside my head says "you can do this. What's one more day?" But then it's one more day on top of one more day, and eventually, never seeing Dad becomes more trouble than it's worth. The question is, at what point does that happen? Hopefully we'll get that figured out soon!

DarcyLee said...

I remember those days. My four girls were about 8,6,3, and a toddler and my husband was working some 16-hour days, sometimes 12 days in a row. It was a factory job and every year at Christmas time they would close it down for 2 weeks. We really enjoyed that time together. The only advice I can give is to enjoy the time you do have together when you can.

Becca said...

I am in the same boat! On the newer side of things -- fiance's only been a FF for one month now, and am new to being a mommy (have a 10 month old daughter). It is soo hard for me to adjust, even with no OT. I live for and hang on desperately to the one good day we have togehter a week - the others are so full of stress & to-do's it doesnt help our relationship at all. It's nice to have those little moments that mean so much and keep us going til the next time.

Rachel said...

I'm going to make DH read your post! He's so excited and doing so well in his academy that he doesn't see the tough parts coming. Hope you get some rest soon!

Courtney said...

We go through the "feast or famine" OT periods too. It's exhausting for both of us when OT shifts are available, so I truly understand where you're coming from. And like you, I look forward to the more relaxed times and use that as my focus to get through the tough/tiresome times. Keep your chin up, Katie!

Melanie said...

Sitsgal, I'm sorry for your rough time. My husband isn't a firefighter he's a lab technician that samples oil. He gets up when our daughter gets up at 8:00 and he comes home when our daughter goes to bed. I get to spend Saturdays and Sundays with him though. I really hope everything adjusts itself soon. We had a rough time when he owned his lab (not any extra profit) and was gone til 9:00 or 10:00 every night.

I remember when Abby was younger too, she never slept more than 3 hours and that was usually during the day. There never was a split up schedule for taking care of her, it was always me alone, so I do get you there. Hopefully one day, all our husbands can start coming home more often where they belong.

Kristy said...

Hang in there! You have reminded me that I do not want another baby right now.

Allyson & Jere said...

WOW! That really is tough. I admire you both for somehow making it through.

I have opposite problem right now. Husband home allll the time, his job not working out like we'd hoped. Too much time is often as bad as not enough time. Well, at least in my opinion.

melaniek said...

I hope you guys get a chance to hang out soon. House and ice cream...you can't beat that combo! You're doing so great hun, hang in there!

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