This week I am taking my first business trip in 16 years. The last time I went away for work I was seven months pregnant with my eldest child who turns 16 in a few weeks. This trip was my choice. I was heading to TED Women to hear dozens of brilliant women make their TED talks on topics ranging from artificial intelligence to sloths, from elephant seismology to sexual violence. I felt excited but ambivalent about my choice to leave home.
The night before I left, as I finished overpacking my suitcase with three extra outfits I would never wear, my husband asked how I was feeling about my trip, since it had been so long. I told him that frankly, I was I wondering why I was going away. He very sweetly reminded me that I would have all this time to myself to absorb the new ideas with which I would be presented. He pointed to the opportunities to think about my work and connect to new people. While I appreciated the pep talk, as the next day loomed over me with a 3AM wake up, a six hour flight and a two hour drive, I was not feeling nearly as sanguine as he was. I am accustomed to my husband getting up at crazy hours to bomb around the country, but that is not my purview. My purview is to have a career that allows me to stay close to home where I can always participate in the daily rituals of my family. But not this time, this time Mommy was going on a business trip.
It is only when I am about to leave my children that I realize how much I do for them. To leave home, if only for a few days, requires the logistical planning of a military operation: menus planned, Fresh Direct ordered, school pick-ups and drops-offs assigned, sports activities navigated, and that’s only the practical aspects. The emotional concerns are equally burdensome. Will my son study for his test in the subject where he needs to pull up his grade? Will my daughter resolve the issue with her friend while I’m gone? Will my kid get enough playing time in his basketball game?
I hope to enjoy the ability to be myself while I am away, a self who is not defined in relationship to my children and my husband. I am excited to be someone who for three days will move through the world unburdened by meal planning and school meetings, someone who can begin and end a conversation without worrying about who needs help with math homework and who can’t find their soccer uniform. Is it terrible if I admit that I am excited not to have to turn to each member of my family and ask: “How was your day?” It’s not that I don’t care about the answer to that question while I’m away, it’s just that by asking that question and needing to listen to the answer robs me of the intellectual and emotional energy I’d like to use for something else. For the next 72 hours I will be unburdened by the give and take of being a mother and a partner. I am simply me.