Its no secret that every few weeks I leave one life and take up another for a couple of days. The life I leave is one in which I primarily play the role of wife and mother, managing the happenings of our household day in and out. It is the life I signed up for and one that fits like a comfy loafer with enough familiarity that it could, at times, border on drudgery
But at least twice each month, I slip into another persona, one that is free from children and a husband, with only myself to care for. I jump on a plane or a train and travel to cool cities where I meet with smart people and eat in some really nice restaurants along the way. Outsiders call this a “business trip” – an accurate description indeed. But after more than two decades of taking these trips, it feels like something more. When I travel for work I become an avatar, embedding myself for a few days in an alternative universe that resembles nothing of my primary life.
When I am away working, a cool formality takes hold of my being and I find myself moving from meeting-to-meeting with an efficiency rarely enjoyed at home. For a few days I bask in the glow of fluorescent lighting and the order of conference room tables. I tuck in my shirt, shake lots of hands, and use coasters under my glass of water. I sleep diagonally in the hotel bed and take a shower in a bathroom devoid of the familiar grime. I am not breaking up arguments (usually), belting out show tunes, or lying across the floor letting a dog lick my face. The silliness /seriousness equilibrium tilts strongly to the right and no one would ever guess that I can make a frog face that brings a grown child to tears.
And somewhere, thousands of miles away, sometimes in a different time zone, my life goes on without me. Baby teeth are lost, friends come to visit, the cat barfs on the dining room table. It is a difficult thing to observe from afar, so much so that I know many colleagues who avoid all contact with their family while they are away. I am lucky in the fact that I know things are getting done, albeit not in the same way they would be happening if I were present. So I don’t ask for many details when I check in:How are things? (I don’t want to know that you let Chase walk home from school in the rain.) Everyone alive? (I don’t want to know that you almost killed your first born three times that night.) Did you (choose all that apply) 1) help Noah study 2) sign Chase’s permission slip 3) call the guitar teacher 4) kiss the dog for me? (Just answer yes, even if you are lying.)
My two worlds seem completely incompatible. Yet, somehow, I slip in and out of each with surprising ease. But sometimes, I struggle with re-entry.
Dave has gotten this single parenting thing down to such a formula that my return sometimes feels like a disruption to a nominally functioning well-oiled machine. I need to get up to speed on what I missed. And when you are moving at the speed of life, you can miss a great deal. Upon arrival home, evidence of my absence is everywhere; mail is unopened, empty cereal boxes are left in the cupboard, tests have been graded and are awaiting signature. And there are no less than 10 pairs of socks strewn about the family room. For this latter situation, I am always grateful. It typically feels strange re-assuming my role, wondering if I am worthy of it, having abandoned my family yet once again. So I start slow – by picking up the socks. An assertion of my value easily put forth. Then I move onto the mail. By the time I’m signing math tests, Dave has happily ceded power and I once again reign supreme.
Later, I’ll unpack my wallet and makeup case from my smart, red brief case with the straight lines and sharp corners and place them into my soft Mommy back pack with the plush multi-pockets and fun design – and it is only then that the edges slip away and I am once again transformed and re-acclimated with who I am supposed to be. I’ll referee a few disagreements, help with the math homework, and sigh at the chaos that somehow always waits for me to come home. The other world takes me away but while I am there, it never fails to remind me where I belong.Wishing MoB readers a happy and relaxing weekend. And stay tuned for an amazing new voice next week!