Onboard a little while ago someone asked me “what do you do in real life?” I responded with “This is my real life.”
All of this life is our real life. It’s fine to ask if I work, what I do for work, and how we make it work. They knew I was sailing with my husband who was working, we’d already had that part of the conversation. If we met on land with my husband going to an office building and I told him I was a stay at home wife – would he also not consider that real life?
Everyone’s life is different. There are people that work on cruise ships, people that work backstage at Taylor Swift concerts, people that work in 5 star restaurants, people that fly airplanes, and people that do everything in between. I can understand that while I was sitting having lunch in the Lido our lives looked remarkably similar. It looked like I was on vacation and they had never met nor seen my husband, so perhaps they envisioned his job as being like he was on vacation, too?
If you look at the pictures I post on Instagram a lot of our life looks glamorous. That’s part of our real life, too. What you don’t see is that the majority of the time we aren’t getting dressed up just for fun. Part of the job onboard is to host tables with passengers in the Dining Room. So, even after working for 10 or so hours Stuart has to get changed and then go to a 2-hour dinner with passengers. There is the pretty picture of us all dressed up, but the reality is being dressed up and that dinner just made for a 12-hour work day for Stuart. It’s a part of the job and is thus part of our real life.
In the past few weeks our life has gotten quite real. My place on board was questioned – by crew members making assumptions, and by already angry passengers. When a seemingly well-meaning guest asked me if I was going to be onboard I quickly learned that me getting to stay with my husband was not something they were concerned about, but that it was rather to give them fuel for their anger over the fact they couldn’t stay.
Last week we found ourselves in the middle of the first full cruise line shut down in history. It put us with a ship full of passengers that were angry and frustrated, confused and scared. It put us in uncertain times, with friends unable to go home to see their families due to country shut downs and with questions as to how Stuart and I will navigate our time on land once it comes. Where we might not be able to fly between countries as borders continue to close.
We have three variations of our life – our life onboard, our life in Vermont, and our life in Scotland. There are different challenges and good parts that exist in each place. Right now we are in the midst of a global pandemic and our real life is that Stuart doesn’t have the option to go home. It is that we are grateful that he is still getting a paycheck. It is also that we are away from home and I wish I was at my grandma’s house making cookies with her but at the same time glad I can be here in the same place as my husband.
There are some bonuses that go with being onboard – we can avoid what most people deal with on a daily and weekly basis – we don’t have to go grocery shopping, do the dishes, or cook dinner. That means that if we have a craving for some mac and cheese or enchiladas it doesn’t matter. We eat whatever is on the buffet. And, even though we spend most of the year onboard, it is a temporary home. I see about everyone on land in their self-isolation and social distancing doing renovation projects and I look at our tiny bathroom and wish I could tear out the desk and redo it to have a bathtub. I would get rid of the ugly off-pink tile and add an extra shelf for our toiletries. We are basically living in a hotel room where we can decorate to make it feel like home only to take it all down in three months and then repeat again three months later.
I used to understand the question when someone asked what I did in my real life. I can see how people would perceive it as luxury. I do not squander or diminish the good things that I have in my life, but as time has gone on I have realized more and more that just because my life looks different doesn’t make it less real. How can it be that a place I spend months of my life isn’t a part of my “real” life? All the variations that there are, this is my real life. The parts where I get to ride camels in the desert and the parts where I just missed my brother’s birthday. So, for anyone wondering what I do in my real life – this is my real life. It might not look like yours – and that’s okay.