When I travel alone, I forget about my children. Not the second I’m out the door, not even on the airplane. But after hours of absence, after I’ve stowed the hotel room key, I become the person I am at the core, without attachment. It takes a disturbingly short amount of time for me to revert to the person I was when I was young, the person I’ve always been, who now gets buried in the heaps of responsibility and role.
It’s harder to make this break when I travel for pleasure. Girls trips have their own brand of baggage, and no matter how much lip service I pay justifying the escape, a knot of guilt stays in my stomach for the duration. This is not true for work weekends, though both are an equal investment in myself. When I’m away with a productive purpose, I block out everything else. Any reference to a life at home leads to a pause while I reshuffle my brain.
You see the other women in the broad hotel room hallways, seeking quiet outside of buzzing ballroom speakers. The mothers are leaned against door jams, overstuffed totes on their shoulders, bags under their eyes. Their gaze is always far away, aimed at the oversized flower vase, not seeing it.
You can tell the ones who are saddened by this phone call, whose heart is wrenched over the separation from the high-pitched voice on the other end. You know that she is restless at night under hotel room blankets, mentally going over the lists she left for her husband, her mother-in-law, the housekeeper. You can tell the mothers who stand in the same hallways, with a similar tote, who are making the phone call out of duty, because their phone alarm went off reminding them to call before bath time. They are pacing slightly, anxious to get back in the ballroom, milking every ounce of the expensive weekend.
I slept the whole plane ride back to Los Angeles after four days in Salt Lake City. My on switch had flipped to off and with that came a physical longing for my husband and the two little beings we’ve created. The driver pulled straight into my driveway without any direction from me, and I walked into a kitchen full of guests, their night just beginning as mine was ending. I forced my dehydrated lips into a weak smile and was relieved to tag out.
It was cool in the house with the January breeze flowing in and out of the open french doors. I dozed off while reading a friend’s manuscript and awoke with a start some minutes later. The house was quiet, but I realized I should turn on the hall light so my daughter wouldn’t awake to darkness. I had some time, but I couldn’t shake this menial task. My eyes wouldn’t close again, my face muscles wouldn’t relax. I got up and hit the switch. So I was a mother once again.