Four weeks ago (before I left Dustin home alone with the kids for a whole week):

Me: I’m making a list of things I’d like you to do around the house while I’m gone.

Dustin: Okay. That’s fine. Just make sure you give me the list, and I’ll get it done.

Three weeks ago:

Dustin: Do you have anything you’d like me to get done around the house while you are gone?

Me: Didn’t I tell you — never mind. Yes, I’m making a list.

Dustin: Great. Just make sure you give me a list, and I’ll get it done.

One week before I left:

Dustin: If you want to make a list of things for me to get done next week, that would be fine.

Me: Um, okay. Sounds like a good idea.

Two days before I left:

Me: Here’s a list of things to get done while I’m gone.

Dustin: Oh, good idea.

Me: It’s kind of long, but….

Dustin (looking at the two-page list): Is this instead of doing laundry and dishes? Or do I do those things, too.

Me: You’ll be doing those things, plus the list, plus everything else I do on a daily basis.

Dustin: There’s more?

One day before:

Me: When you’re making school lunches, make sure Owen’s sandwich doesn’t get squashed. Put it in this sandwich box [holding up sandwich box]. You won’t forget, right? But don’t put the sandwich in the compartment with the yogurt. Then it will just get soggy. If you give the boys a pre-made lunch, they have to take yogurt, too. Ford won’t want a drink. He buys it at school. Owen will want water, and Lindell will want a Capri Sun. If you give them popcorn, make sure the ice pack doesn’t crush it.

Dustin: (Staring blankly)

Me: Never mind. I’ll write it down.

The morning of:

Me: Here are instructions for the boys’ lunches. Here is the list of things I need you to do for me. Lindell will probably get sad and not want to go into the school. It will be tough, but you have to just walk away. Sometimes I cry about it when I get to work. I doubt you’ll cry, but I know you’ll feel my pain. Oh, and remember Lindell has flag football and Owen has baseball. Only let them eat pizza one night.

Dustin (looking scared): Are you going to the woods are something? I mean, you’re going to maintain contact with me, right?

Day One:

Text from Dustin: When you said some of the boys will want “a waffle” for breakfast, did you mean “waffles, plural”? Because I made one waffle and it didn’t go over very well.

Text from Owen: I miss you already.

Day Two:

Text from Dustin: Breakfast was better today. Lindell was happy going to school. He went right in with a smile on his face.

Me: What? He didn’t throw a fit? You didn’t have to peel him off you? Are you sure you dropped off the right kid?

Night Two:

Text from Ford: Dad doesn’t understand how to do some of this stuff.

Me: You’ll survive.

Day Three:

Dustin: How do I get one of the boys to football and the other to baseball at the same time?

Me: Complicated, isn’t it?

Dustin: But seriously….

Night Three:

Text from Owen: I miss you.

Day Four:

Dustin: So about that list you gave me. It’s really hard to get everything done.

Day Five:

Dustin: I’m exhausted.

Me: I know. But did you finish the list?

You’re thinking: Now Dustin has a greater appreciation for what I go through on a daily basis. Yes, he does. Never again will he question again why I didn’t get a chance to sew a button on his uniform.

But it turns out I got more insight into his life as well.

Dustin has been away for a good portion of our 15-year marriage. I used to envy his trips. I envisioned him in luxury hotels, or, when the Navy sent him to Key West for training, I imagined him drinking by the water with his toes in the sand. And maybe he was. But after last week, I know the other side to traveling for work and being separated from your family: It’s lonely.

When I called home and heard the rowdy voices of our boys in the background, the air-conditioning in my hotel room seemed to rattled louder.

Each day at 3:00, I longed to see the boys walking in the door from school and throwing their backpacks on the porch.

Every night, when I caught them in the middle of Lindell’s bedtime story, I missed hearing his little voice sounding out the words.

The grass isn’t necessarily greener — on either side.

And, so, maybe Dustin put Owen’s shorts in Ford’s drawer, and maybe he splattered red sauce on the wall, but he actually finished the list. And, believe me, I know what a victory that was. It’s good to be home.

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at Facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.