The Art of Waiting

I'm home alone, which is weird.  I don't think I have been home alone, at least not for more than a couple of hours, since sometime in July.  In the past, home alone was a relatively common occurrence, as my husband was called upon to be away for work days or even weeks at a time.  In the last few years, it has been a more minimal amount.  In the last few months, it has been not at all.  We have been waiting.  A lot.  Not waiting for him to leave, so much as waiting for his next contract to start.

It seems like we get wrapped up in a waiting period like this every couple of years; far more often than I would have imagined when I was younger and considered what the life of a grown-up entails.  In my late teens and early twenties, I was vaguely aware that momentous events would occur in adulthood.  I knew that I might get married, or choose not to...I knew that I would likely move to another state or country...I knew that I could experience illness or the loss of a loved one.  There was a strong possibility that I might change careers, or face the disappointment of not landing a certain coveted job.  I did not spend as much time imagining or planning my future as I now think I should have, but I suspect that even if I had, it would have never occurred to me to plan for how to handle long and relatively frequent periods of waiting for outside forces to ascertain major parameters of the timing and geography of my daily life.

This particular stage started in February, which was the month that we were told to expect that my husband would begin in his new contract, working every other 28 days in Luanda.  As the weeks passed, we were then told to expect him to begin working in March.  As March neared to a close, we were told that his work was being delayed by the visa paperwork process of the Angolan government and that we should expect delays of at least another couple of months.  In light of that, my husband was next offered an immediate and shorter-term contract in Indonesia, which would occupy him until it was time to start work in Angola.   A flight was booked for him for April eighth.  April eighth came and went, and every week since then, his estimated departure date for Indonesia gets bumped forward a week or two.  Luckily, in the even shorter term, he has been assigned to a brief local contract here in the Gulf of Mexico, so at least he can work a little while we continue to wait for a rig in Indonesia and a government in Africa to make progress.

As the weeks have gone by, I have passed through a variety of stages.  Shock and disbelief at such wild inefficiency and misinformation...utter calm in the knowledge that eventually the slow wheels of bureaucracy would complete their revolutions...frustration at knowing that there is work to be done and that my husband has been ready to do it for ages but has instead been working to fill his time in other ways...anger that there is a cloud of schedule uncertainty that has spanned almost the entire length of my pregnancy, preventing saving, travel, life, budget and nursery planning...and  then ultimately acceptance: the knowledge that this is what it is to live with oil and gas, and also to be the partner of an independent contractor in the oil and gas industry.  The choices we have made for his work provide us with many privileges, and this is the price we pay for that.

Of course I have angry or worried days, but they are mostly surrounded by calm days.  We have made the most of our time and in this I feel proud of us; past periods of waiting have cultivated outbursts and moodiness on my part, as I struggled with the feeling of powerlessness.  I have come to the conclusion that it is the loss of control which feeds the feelings of madness; to have the fate of your day-to-day existence so completely in the hands of others for unforeseen lengths of time can truly make you feel wild.  Also not helpful are when timelines are moving targets, mere suggestions of an optimistic final outcome.  When you are told that you will have information next week, and next week comes and goes, you are also under the impression that the information must be around the corner.  We have been told "next week" every week since February.  At this point we know better than to believe anyone.  Now that we have lowered our expectations that also helps us manage the stress.  It makes me angry of course; we maybe would have treated the last couple of months differently if we had understood that we had several months ahead which were completely unscheduled.  Who wouldn't?

What I know is this: I'm getting better at waiting.  Of all of the waiting periods, this has been the most high-stakes, due to factors including: a break in income, preparing to begin a lifestyle of significant periods of separation, being pregnant, and trying to "schedule" his future work around the arrival of a baby.  In spite of that, we are the calmest and least frazzled by this particular endless stretch of time than we have been by any of the other periods.  I tell myself that this intense loss of control feeling is probably good practice for parenthood.  We have also worked to use this time to strengthen our marriage instead of letting the stress separate us, an accomplishment at any point in time but one that I feel is even more significant in light of the close quarters of our home.

Who knows what will come next, but at least I can say that this period of waiting has produced a husband who has been able to attend all prenatal appointments so far (and felt many kicks lately), lots of home-cooked food, a healthy lawn, a decent amount of laughter, lots of gratitude for a physically uneventful pregnancy and quiet time together, and people who are getting better and better at waiting patiently.  Not to mention a wife who used to love being home alone, but has grown so used to the constant companionship of her partner that she felt surprisingly sad when she dropped him off at the airport for a separation of only a few days.