I fell into a bit of an impromptu travel season this month – three back-to-back trips with a weekend between. Just enough time to empty the suitcase into the laundry cycle, to re-roll and re-pack once it was refreshed.
I know two things: (1) I love this job. (2) I love this family.
I am learning that one is not in direct competition with the other; that separation doesn’t always mean absence, that these two ideas are not mutually exclusive. That life, mostly, can be compartmentalized until it can’t.
When Ken and I travel for work – regularly for him, less regularly for me – we make a habit of not checking in. No Skype, no FaceTime. No phone calls. Just a few simple texts – the “safe and sound!”s, a few “i love you and miss you”s. Sometimes, a video of the littles, but mostly, space and silence.
After all, I’m in a New York diner and he’s wrangling a teething baby into a hot car seat, and wait a sec, my toast is here! – and would you just hold still?! – and hold on, you’re breaking up, and really, we know where this convo leads. The one who is away is away, the one who is home is home.
Hard jobs for entirely different reasons. No need to go around making a case for it.
Last weekend, Bee asks me when I’m leaving again. (Again was the word that caused the ‘oof’ in my heart, the lump in my throat.)
Saturday, I say.
She tells me that she’s not sad because she gets to watch Trolls while I’m gone, but would I like to take her favorite keychain in case I get sad?
Yes, I say. Yes, yes, yes.
And so, I find myself in Kansas City, and 30A, and New York. I find myself in airports borrowing Wifi, in diners ordering toast. I find myself in the back of a car en route to a hotel with white sheets where I’ll fall into bed, a gilded keychain on my nightstand.
It’s an odd thing, to receive the very thing you wanted. To receive the quiet of an empty room you’d wished for only weeks ago. To receive the alone time you crave, the silence you love.
The whiplash of it all.
The release from responsibility in one area, straight into the throes of responsibility in another.
Are your kids with you? the woman at the dinner party asks.
I tell her no, that they’re home and happy and that my eldest is probably gearing up for a rousing night of Trolls.
She tells me that she never travels without her kids. That she hires a nanny, that she can’t bear to leave them behind, that they’re simply too close, that it’s physically impossible.
I smile. I get it.
I tell her I prefer to compartmentalize when I can, and she blinks a few times.
It’s about presence, for me, I’ve come to know.
It’s about being gone when I’m gone. Being home when I’m home. Being all there, wherever I am, and resisting the temptation to bow out of social hour because I need to FaceTime the littles.
(Resisting the temptation to bow out of family hour because I need to hop on a conference call.)
And although I suppose there’s something to be said for letting your kids see you work and for letting your work see your kids, I know myself well. Some trips/speeches/workshops take such intense preparation – such focused presence – that a spilled juice box on a blazer would simply undo me.
But then again: last week, a rat scampered across my hotel lobby in Tribeca and I shuddered-then-smiled. Bee would’ve loved that guy.
I’m home now, just happily drowning in domesticity. The library fines, the broken washing machine, the van recall. There’s cauliflower to chop and fingerpaint to mix and it all feels so familiarly foreign.
My time away was good, and it was hard for me.
My time away was hard, and it was good for me.
The mind is a fickle thing. Days spent in yoga pants and avocado smears, emptying the forks from the dishwasher, scrubbing dog pee out of the rug. Some nights we fall into bed dreaming of feeling seen, noticed, celebrated.
And there are those few times when we get our wish – an hour or two swimming in cocktail rings and champagne – and on those rare and lucky nights, we find ourselves falling into bed dreaming of anonymity, of comfort. Your own quiet life, your own soft pillow, eyes wandering to the gilded keychain where you belong.
But that’s just it, isn’t it? By its very definition, whiplash – the back and forth, the jostle, the snap – forces us to turn our necks. It just begs us to pay attention, to notice, to look a bit closer, right here, toward the left.
To surprise yourself over how you can race home with the same speed and passion and anticipation as you left it just days prior.
To wonder how on earth it is possible that you can conjure excitement for Spanx while, every other day, you lament the basic trappings of a mere bra.
To baffle yourself over the idea that a dirty hotel rat can make you shriek and smile in a matter of seconds, just knowing someone you love would delight in such a terrible thing.
To laugh at how dizzying it all is, the swapping of a cocktail ring for a 5-year-old’s keychain.
To smile at how, today, right this very minute, you can’t possibly think of a better trade.