I Went Away For A Few Days And The Weirdest Thing Happened
I went away to a work conference this past weekend, and I left my kids and husband behind. Generally I feel like we only hear one of two narratives about a trip like this: Either it’s all, “Woohoo, Mama’s gonna par-tay!” or the picture is painted of Mom on the phone, fielding crises every day, and never really getting a break.
I hate that, because it’s 2014 and I think it’s insulting to everyone. Even those of us who are “primary caregivers” (I like that phrase about as much as I like “advanced maternal age;” it sounds so clinical) but who are partnered tend to enjoy the regular assistance of the other adult in the home. The days of a parent getting away with not parenting are (I hope!) winding down. The reality is more that sometimes one or the other parent leaves on a trip and life continues on more or less as normal… or that a few adjustments make it so. Still, the juggling magic necessary to manage a couple of careers and a couple of kids can feel precarious, and straying from the regular schedule can upset that careful balance.
In my case, I felt a little silly having any trepidation at all. My husband is a fantastic step-dad, and my children are teenagers. What in the world could possibly happen in three days that they wouldn’t be able to handle? On the other hand, we ran into several kid-related snags just before we left, and yeah, I felt a little nervous. My son’s schedule was screwed up due to testing that hadn’t taken into account the fact that he isn’t a full-time in-the-building student this semester, and that left us scrambling to get him to the high school for a couple of time blocks when he normally wouldn’t be there. (Not a huge deal, of course, but a complication.) A couple of things had come up at school for my daughter, as well. And of course my husband still had to get to his own job, meet obligations there, and he was throwing a party for his students over the weekend while I’d be gone.
“Are you sure?” I’d asked, before I left. “I can cancel if you need me to.” He all but pushed me out the door. I don’t do a lot of work travel, and my time away from the kids is nearly non-existent.
“We’re fine, and you need to be there, and you need some time away. Go.” So I left… after cautioning the children that they were not to text or call me unless something was on fire.
My husband handled everything; school issues were worked out, children were kept alive and fed and otherwise healthy, and during what was apparently a lovely gathering for his students, both kids had friends over to hang out and eat. In short: everyone was well-fed and happy.
As for me, I immersed myself in work for three days straight, pausing only to do decadent things like get a great night’s uninterrupted sleep or have a meal way fancier than what I typically piece together at home out of leftovers. I had the good fortune of rooming with a “friend inside the shiny box” (read: Internet buddy I hadn’t yet met in real life) who was just as fantastic in person as online, and my normally-thousand-miles-away boss showed up for long enough to do awesome work things and also hang out a bit and talk and eat and do the things I sometimes forget make up the Good Stuff when I’m spending my days at my computer or driving kids around. I did not “party hearty” because that’s not what I do, but it did feel like a “break” (even though it was work) because I got to spend time doing what I love, with people I adore, and it was a vacation from being MOMMOMMOMMOMINEEDYOU for a bit.
[To clarify: I love being a mom. But those breaks are few and far between. Just sayin'.]
While I was gone, I spoke with my husband just twice. I didn’t talk to the kids at all… technically. My daughter left me a hand-written note every night, with instructions to my husband to read it to me if I called after she was in bed. Things had been tense between us before I left, and teenagers aren’t exactly known for their ability to think beyond themselves, but every note was pleasant and funny and included a line about how she hoped I was having fun. (In much the same way that animals in the wild can sense the approach of dangerous prey, modern teens have a sixth sense for when their parents are reaching the breaking point. Evolution, baby.)
The weekend concluded, and I returned home. The kids were happy to see me, and I was happy to see them. The dogs were delighted to discover I still existed. I grilled my husband about the past few days and asked him if really everything had been okay. He chuckled and shrugged. “It was fine,” he said. “You worry too much.”
Worrying is indeed my speciality. It’s nice to have proof, every now and then, that maybe I don’t need to do it quite so much.