It only looks like a doughnut

January 30th, 2008

I’ve written before about the kind of work my h-u-s-b-a-n-d does. He’s in the long-distance business, the very long-distance business. Outer space.

Specifically, now he’s working on Mars. Seriously. When you work on Mars it involves daily side trips to the far reaches of Pasadena and occasional launches to Los Alamos, Washington and France. Before he worked on Mars, he worked on a couple of asteroids, which was a kind of a code word for Italy and Germany. When we met on that fateful evening in Florence, Italy, 13 years ago he was actually working on Saturn.

So you think it’s a surprise to me that I find myself alone so much? I always say the same thing to my friends in a similar circumstance, although it’s nubby comfort: Every mother is a single mother.

Now careful: I mean no offense to the single mothers who are fathers, or to the single mothers who really are single mothers. I do not know the depth of fear or frustration or anxiety, the financial hardship, the personal sacrifice, the sadness, the isolation or the inconsolable straits you may find yourself in, I only sense that most of us are in these things alone.

To his credit, Ned tries to interest me in the curious question of the composition, age and origin of the dust on the surface of the red planet, but that is not the aim of my life’s mission. My mission is to uncover the truth of my life on Earth, a mission that in my earlier days I had no earthly interest in at all. And so I know that I am indeed lucky to have this field to roam so freely on my own, to resolve my questions, to find the deep source of life and love right where I stand.

Even so, Ned’s absence gives me time and space to make trouble; it lets me boil and burn in my own flaming grievance; it invariably wears out my welcoming heart. He’s always happy to come home, and I am usually quite pissy about it. He has this habit of stopping near the airport and picking up two doughnuts as a coming home prize for Georgia and me. How is it that I can hate when he does that, but love when he does that? I eat mine promptly that night or next morning.

When I eat that doughnut, mind you, it only looks like a doughnut. What I am eating is my own clogged heart and deep-fried resentment. I’m swallowing residual anger and bad attitude. I’m chomping that ever-living ego of mine back to a manageable size so we can start over.

The search for intelligent life involves a lot of starting over and an advanced form of mathematics. As my daughter wrote in an email to her dad last night: YOU + ME + MOM + MOLLY (the dog) = 1.


Join me for more fun with marriage all week. And just for grins, here’s your chance to win an autographed copy of my book, Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood by leaving a comment on Monday’s post. The winner will be drawn after 12 noon PST on Sunday, Feb. 3. Good luck!


  1. I’ve just recently joined the ranks of women living with a husband who is away monday-friday. I swing from enjoying my time alone to..well…feeling alone. Which is why I come here, to not feel so alone. šŸ™‚
    (and ps.- your daughter has the math skills of a certifiable genius!)

    Comment by Shannon — January 30, 2008 @ 6:33 pm

  2. Shannon, I am glad to see you over here, because I am still missing you over there, but I understand the absence.

    Comment by Karen — January 30, 2008 @ 6:39 pm

  3. As my husband walks out the door each morning, there’s usually some sort of “would you mind . . .” thrown my way. And, I find that I often DO mind; not the doing so much as the feeling of being at someone’s beck and call. It makes for nifty little resentment that goes well with the cup of coffee he thoughtfully brings me each evening.

    Thanks for this. I hadn’t really thought about what I was cooking up each day!

    Comment by Mama Zen — January 30, 2008 @ 7:40 pm

  4. When I was newly mothering, my Ned was often out of town and his homecomings were always bumpy. It always took a while for us all to figure out exactly where he fit in the family jigsaw puzzle. Once he was able to determine his shape again, things fit together much better.

    Comment by Kapuananiokalaniakea — January 30, 2008 @ 8:07 pm

  5. Karen,
    I really appreciated this.
    My h-u-s-b-a-n-d travels for work too, as you know.
    And I relate to the pattern, the adjusting to him being gone and then the self created angst when he returns. Your words are an offering of love to me, and to him. šŸ™‚
    This is me: wondering why it is so hard to open and welcome, why I keep the castle doors closed, making him swim through a moat just to come home.
    We find our way; we start over.

    Comment by bella — January 30, 2008 @ 10:33 pm

  6. I don,t know what to say – I have so much to say. I have been with my Ned for 16 years (and I am 33 years old). No one makes me happier, and no one makes me angrier! But I have been quoting “every single mother is a single mother” to everyone and myself the past couple of weeks, what a great line.

    Comment by Mika — January 31, 2008 @ 12:07 am

  7. One thing I’ve discovered only recently–my parents taught me next to nothing about Neds. My parents taught me how to be separate, how to be on my own, how to fend for myself–but this togetherness? I’m often baffled by it.

    Comment by marta — January 31, 2008 @ 3:13 am

  8. I’m sorry this is harder for me to relate to. My husband works at home quite a bit, so I have the opposite problem. Sometimes I wish he were out of the house more. Though, I know if he were, I’d miss him because I’m so used to him being around so much. And I know that I take for granted the small ways he helps me when he’s here. Though he spends most of his time at his computer, if he were gone more I’m sure it would hit me what all he does to help.

    Comment by Shelli — January 31, 2008 @ 3:16 am

  9. This morning, I spent twenty minutes chatting in the schoolyard with another mom. She told me an elaborate story of how her h-u-s-b-a-n-d usually sits down to play a video game, right there in the kitchen, while she cleans up from dinner. One night recently, he helped her clear and wash the dishes. She consciously chose to thank him for helping. Then he got angry at her. “I always help clean up!”

    “Every mother is a single mother” – I shared those words with her and pointed her in the direction of this here blog.

    Comment by Jena Strong — January 31, 2008 @ 2:50 pm

  10. I felt like a single mom long before the divorce, so I know both sides of that single motherhood fence.

    And that equation…I say hang that over a door where you all can see it because it’s beautiful.

    Comment by shauna — February 1, 2008 @ 9:12 pm

  11. I truly like this post and the varied comments on so many levels.

    My first husband and I were married for 9 years and spent cumulatively about 2 under the same roof. His work kept him away as he worked in a different location than we lived for all but about 6 months of our marriage. However, even when he was home he wasn’t and he could have been home more than he was. Our daughter never really knew him and worse I could not trust him to make safe decisions about her.

    When he was home it was more like having another child to take care of. If we had a vacation I planned it…if we had a will….I insisted….if something was repaired …..I did it or arranged for it.

    I was so relieved when he was actually gone for real (divorced) and when my “Ned” and I married I got and instant wonderful father for our girl and a man who really knew how to be a partner.

    Now I should be thoroughly grateful for that and I am….but he works from home now …. in fact his piano studio is in our front room so I disappear during lessons…but I do so love those occasions when I am totally alone because for most of the last 23 years there has been someone around and I am only now getting to “me”….


    Comment by ONEDIA — February 4, 2008 @ 12:49 am

  12. I can see how working on Mars, Saturn, and in the asteroid belt could keep Ned away for long periods of time.

    Re: “where do you keep the …” and household chores, I sometimes practice leaving some of the work undone until someone else will help. Of course, since AD usually cooks, he also does usually get around to cleaning the kitchen. Priorities, priorities.

    Comment by RocketMom — February 4, 2008 @ 1:33 am

  13. this is going to require a phonecall soon. the intersecting lines of our lives is really becoming comical.

    i grew up with a dad who traveled monday to friday, sometimes monday to the next friday. it was pure bliss for a child in some ways as we all would lay around in nightgowns reading books and letting the house go to hell, no pressure of the other sex to cramp our style, until late friday afternoon.

    when he returned, my mother was always in a pissy mood. we never understood. why be mad when he brought home such great stuff from the airport? like donuts, candy and t-shirts? šŸ™‚ it took her until sunday afternoon to rewind the tape completely & be able to honestly try again.

    later on, when we were grown, we understood. it had been a lot to carry by herself–candy consolation prizes and all.

    Comment by jen lemen — February 6, 2008 @ 2:33 am

  14. What I am eating is my own clogged heart and deep-fried resentment. Iā€™m swallowing residual anger and bad attitude. Iā€™m chomping that ever-living ego of mine back to a manageable size so we can start over.

    Every relationship has these moments… I guess my significant other gets more of my automatic reactivity, though.

    Thanks and thanks and thanks, Karen!

    Comment by Ellie — June 15, 2012 @ 4:56 pm

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