Sunday, August 15, 2010

Traveling as a Mother

You know my motto: loved ones deserve the chance to miss one another.

I think it's good to get to miss one another, I think it's good to get some space for a bit in between. I think it makes us see, from a better vantage point, how much we love each other, and how important we are to each other, day to day. I think it helps us strip back a layer of taking one another for granted.

This summer, instead of it being my kids off and about on a busy schedule, it's been me off and about, and it has given my kids the chance to (a) miss me, (b) see how it is with dad primary parenting, and (c) discover they are capable of being quite competent when they need to be.

(Bless my heart, I'm a little overfocused on details and slightly control freakish. Like a Girl Scout Gone Wild, a bit. Everything must be prepared, planned, organized, and completely thought through, every microdetail managed. I keep mental checklists, written checklists, and am a little hypercompetent in managing and preparing. God love my husband, who is so great at so many things, but detail-oriented is not his gift. Last trip I returned home to learn that each day he sent them to camp missing something, and the kids thought the most egregious one was forgetting the thermos. Which, considering it's 114 degrees here, is pretty bad, but you know, camp has contingencies for that lol. So they were fine.)

When I travel, people ask me who cares for the children. This would be a logical question if I was a single mother, but I'm not. I'm married to the children's father, who, by the way, has always been a full partner co-parent. He has done a stint as a stay at home dad, I have done a stint as stay at home mom, and since I'm working full-time, as is he, we have to break parenting responsibilities as much as possible between us as fairly as possible. We usually attend school performances, activities, teacher conferences, etc together.

When I am gone I am fine. I am usually very busy so lack time to ponder absence in a maudlin way, but also, I'm initially overwhelmed by this curious lightness.

When I wake up, it's on my schedule. My only demand is to get myself ready, which I am able to do quickly without interruptions. Breakfast is served to me, cleaned up after me, in a restaurant.

I have thinking time, reading time, can watch TV in bed without bothering anyone, and can even turn it on again if I wake up at 2 a.m., agitated in a bed other than my own.

I can set my toiletries out in my hotel room and nobody gets into them. I leave the bathroom and do not return to find toothpaste coating the counter, my blusher shattered on the floor, or my toothpaste missing. I can leave my work papers on the hotel desk and nobody draws on them.

I do not have to distinguish telling from tattling, implore the children to let it go and stop bickering, beg them to quit torturing the cats (seriously, there is such a thing as too much love, and no, cats are not fashionistas), keep a tight rein on my temper as theirs explode into outbursts of, "You're so mean!" and "I wish I had another family!"

When I deliver my work, the results of my effort, my clients express appreciation and, if more needs to be done, we discuss it reasonably and constructively. They have never snapped at me that it's not good enough, asked why I haven't done more, whined, or made me feel a tidal wave of frustration that what I do never meets expectations, is never enough, no matter what. And if they did, we might opt out of working together again.

When I call home in the evenings, just after bed time, sometimes my husband and I sit and chat in ways we often do not when at home, where so many things call to our attention.

I have come upon mothers crying, missing their kids, when they travel. I have listened to sentimental cravings, understood that powerless sense of missing something vital.

I call my children, to catch up with them, to tell them goodnight.

But I am okay. And so are they.

I don't think this is a measurement of love, that, in our case, falls short.

I do think this is a measure of our strong, independent, personal core, that for me is well-developed, and shows signs of becoming well-developed in my children.

I have a vested interest in my children, who I love, but I am not invested in them so that our identities merge in a way that causes me to feel as if a piece of me is missing when we are apart.

I don't think that the other mothers, the ones who feel sad, are unhealthy in anyway.

I do think that they feel the world differently than I do, and that's okay.

When I travel, people ask me if I miss my children. I do, but not in a painful way. I revel in the time of being myself, unencumbered. It is easy to revel in that time, you see, because it's not my state of being. It's like playing hooky. I know I get to go back, and be surrounded by family. I may feel annoyed when I see my expensive mints strewn up the stairs and down the hall as "breadcrumbs" for the "gingerbread game," but I feel indescribable joy when a warm yawny little body cuddles next to me in the morning to wake.

When I return, my husband is overjoyed to see me, as are the kids, and I feel a sense of importance and validation that often is missing in the every day. Sometimes I think I bear the heaviest household burden, but when I travel and return home and my husband has kept up with the tidying and dishes, I realize how much he does and I feel grateful.


Jaclyn said...

Hi Julie,

I couldn't agree more about how important it is too miss someone. I would like to invite you to guest post on about your travels.

I look forward to hearing more about your experiences abroad!

Hope to hear from you soon,


Mary G said...

Amen! As a working mother, I dealt the same way and felt much the same. And, yes, it always really puzzled me that someone would ask who was parenting when I was not there. I did a lot of part time work when the girls were public school age, evening work. So Dad did hair, worked on Brownie badges, and bathed and bedded. A lot. As adults, his daughters are very close to him.

And he, and they, are neater than I am. Priceless.

Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah said...

You are a fortunate and talented women.

Your family is lucky to have you and you them.

Emily said...

You know, I think that it's good for everyone to take a break from each other now and then. I think I need a longer one.

And I'M the one who forgets to send things to camp.

Karen said...

Julie - Just making me smile a bit. I always feel offended when potential clients or others ask what I "do" with my children when someone goes into labor. Perhaps they are just curious, but I do what seems most logical to me. I hand them over to my husband, who takes over quite willingly & if he needs to work he A. hires a babysitter B. works at home lets them watch TV C. sees if the grandparents are looking for some good entertainment. I hardly ever worry about them when I'm gone. I sometime note the time in my head (school bus time, time to kick them off the computer and send them outside) but I feel confident Matt (or whomever he has helping him) is at the bus stop.
I love the chance to miss them in this way - to actually break away from our routine, let them shift without me for a bit. They are all quite successful at it by now.

Kyla said...

I do wonder why it is always SO shocking that my husband is *gasp* capable of taking care of OUR children. There is this one cell phone commercial where a father is left at a restaurant table with his roughly 2 year old son. The kid starts whining and dad has NO CLUE what to do with him! Then the cell phone guy comes to the rescue with a Handy Manny video. Josh is SO offended by this commercial. "What kind of dad can't take care of his own two year old? Is this what society thinks of men?" is what he said about it.

And yes, I agree with you. It is good to be away sometimes. Good for everyone.

Yolanda said...

Happy to hear from you again. I love the confidence and peace in this post. And I like the site make-over, too ;-)

Magpie said...

You are so completely excellent. And level headed.