I am preparing for a particularly long work trip –15 days away – and will be leaving in less than a week. And before I get any heckling about enjoying what should be a wonderful trip – after all, I will be in Israel and then am taking two days in Paris by myself on the way back (and I don’t have to cook dinner or wash dishes or clothes for that same period of time) – I want reassure you all that I will, indeed, be working while I am away.
And even though I will be working thousands of miles away from home, I still have to be the puppeteer for my family’s active lives while I am gone. Or at least spend the better part of two weeks preparing for my absence.
There is no question that it is easier to be away with older children. There are no real worries about child care – at the ages of 16, 12 and 10, they can be alone in the house by themselves after school for a couple of hours every day. I don’t have to worry about the babysitter not making it, or childcare falling through. And I know that there are many neighbors up and down our block who will be available in the event of an emergency.
And for the most part, my children’s lives revolve around their schools and school friends, all of which are reachable by foot or school bus. Only one carpool to worry about, to Hebrew school ten minutes away, and that one is already covered. Basketball practice will be easily managed, despite having two practices on the same night at the same time … at different gyms. That is the beauty of being on local teams with neighbors and friends.
So why am I feeling such stress?
Perhaps it has more to do with the prospect of being away from the heart of my family’s life for so long. While my husband is well plugged into the kids’ everyday activities and knows what they’re up to (especially because I will leave him a detailed schedule) I don’t think anyone cares about these things as much as I do. It’s more than remembering to remind the 10-year-old to bring his clarinet on band practice day. It’s remembering that the particular simmering of any one friendship on any one day, or the difficult test coming up, or the potential party after the final basketball game that needs someone to coordinate it.
It’s being in the middle of my children’s everyday lives. Yes, they are older and have their own secrets and their own rhythms that are no longer mine to guide. But I am still the parent who is around when they get home from school, who is here to make dinner, who often works from home and as such can offer a last minute ride home from finals and also remembers to make the every-6-week orthodontist appointment. I am still the meta presence in their lives that is hopefully reassuring and safe and allows them to venture further and further out into the world.
I will miss that.
When my oldest son was six months old, I had a one week international work trip that I was expected to take. Some of my friends with such little babies would have balked. Not me. I was so eager to throw off the newly acquired burden of the diaper bag and spend six days in baby-free bliss, I made tire tracks on my way to the airport. I had no doubt my husband, who had already spent a month home with the baby when I went back to work, would handle everything beautifully. Plus I had a wonderful nanny I loved and trusted.
In those pre-Internet and pre-cell phone days, there wasn’t much opportunity for me to be in touch with home. Not that I wanted to be. My baby wasn’t going to know it was me on the other end of the phone, and as I’ve often told my husband and kids, I don’t miss anyone for the first week. By the time I got home, it took me another week to get back in the habit of carrying a diaper bag out the door with me at all times.
Today, there are no more diaper bags. My children, while experiencing some low-level nervousness about my imminent departure, are not really terribly worried.They know that they will be given a lot of freedom in those two weeks, and that their dad will be home every night to give them a reassuring tuck in. And today there are cell phones and email and Facebook and Skype and all sorts of ways to stay in touch and ask me questions internationally.
So I am torn. I am so looking forward to this great trip. I will work hard, but it’s work that adore. I will be in a country I love. And I will get to visit a fabulous city I haven’t seen for 25 years, with nothing to do but walk and eat and listen and watch the people go by for a couple of days. Much-needed me time.
But unlike when my kids were babies and I looked forward to a break from the relentless tedium of taking care of them, today I enjoy my children’s company and I miss them when I haven’t heard about their days.
Perhaps this is a short window into what it will be like when my oldest leaves for college in 1.5 short years. A little joy, a little sadness. Bittersweet, like life.
Shalom and a bientot.
Photo by Sean MacEntee via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/smemon/4820389847/