I’m just back from a couple of days in Chicago, working in a real office. As always, traveling for work leaves me stricken with guilt, but not for the reasons you might suspect. I don’t feel guilty about leaving John and Matt to spend the time away. I actually feel guilty because I don’t mind it.
I love my husband and I love my son, but when I’m at home, I’m mommy. I’m the one who knows when we’re about to run out of milk. I’m the one who knows where everyone’s shoes are. I know what we’re going to have for dinner. I make sure everyone has clean underwear. I’m not complaining and I’m lucky that Matt’s home much more than many dads we know. This is just how it is in our family. And even when John’s not around, Matt and I often slip into the habit that I think many parents do: we talk about our sweet boy anyway.
When I go to Chicago, I miss Matt and John terribly. I leave notes for John for each night that I’ll be away, I call at breakfast time and we try to Skype before bedtime. But when I’m away, I’m a grown up, not just a parent. And that feels good, too.
For one thing, I really enjoy my colleagues in Chicago. They’re a diverse, interesting and very funny group, who seem to enjoy each other and who have lots to say about food, music, books and other things that I’d talk about all day if I could. We’re all busy, so we talk about work (mostly work) during the course of a regular week. It’s great to get some extra time with them just to catch up. And when I’m in Chicago, I stay with my cousins, so I’m with family, not just in an anonymous hotel room. They don’t have kids but do have very interesting careers, projects and perspectives, so it’s great to spend an evening talking with them.
At the heart of it, there’s this. On the road for work, I’m not in charge of anyone else’s shoes, getting anyone else dressed, or keeping anyone else entertained on the plane. I can read, stay up too late, and eat food that isn’t available in Middlebury (and wouldn’t appeal to my four-year-old picky eater). John’s safe and happy (actually, thrilled) when he’s home with Matt, and he’s always in my heart. But when I’m away, he’s not necessarily the center of my attention and my conversation the whole time. Being on the road gives me a chance to be more Katie than Mommy.
I think this is a tough issue to talk about. It doesn’t seem right to say you’re happy about being away from home and family. But quick trips actually help me hang onto a sense of self that sometimes gets lost in all the momminess. And surely that’s good for my family as well.