There are so many places I want to be, but curled in the corner of a crowded Las Vegas airport on a Friday evening isn’t one of them. Yet, here I am. My plane is delayed and I am aching for home. I can feel the strings that hold my heart together straining against the weight of my longing to be in a different place—my place—home. My heart strings are beyond frayed. As my work calendar fills up, I am increasingly aware that my ability to maintain a healthy balance between work and home is being taxed. Being a mom is a hard job. Being an eMOM is in its very own category of sucking.
It isn’t like my family needs me; they are extremely competent people and can fend for themselves. I am quite sure the way I imagine they fumble around without my motherly anchor to buoy their lives into some sort of organized chaos is probably not at all the case. However, there is some internal piece of me that rattles around like loose change in a dryer when I am away from home. Nothing rattles my heart more than knowing one of my kids needs me and I am not there. No matter how I spin it, twist it, turn it upside down eMOTHERING is just another word for failure.
What I have for the next four months is the equivalent of a shitty visitation schedule awarded to the non-custodial parent and weekend conjugal visits with my husband. I try to fill the interim time between brief visits home with texts, Facetime, and phone calls.The dogs act so sad when I get my suitcase out and they always act so frantically glad to see me when I return. However, neither mutt will Facetime with me, so I am starting to think they are just fake assholes. I find myself looking online for results from track meets that I did not attend and waiting for text updates from other parents about basketball games I am missing. I have texted my daughter’s primary care provider and written her notes regarding serious matters that warrant me being there in the flesh. I get pre-recorded calls from my daughter’s school informing me that she has missed part of the school day and I need to call the attendance office with an explanation to which I never respond. What am I supposed to say, “Hi, this is Sophi’s mom and I haven’t actually seen her in several days, so she could have overslept or was not feeling well, but the truth is I am not sure why she missed part of the school day.” What I can’t do is bring myself to make the call and switch the automated call system to my husband’s number. To do so would be admitting that I am this century’s version of a mom of a latch key kid.
I often see the inspirational quote, “It’s not about the number of breaths we take, but the number of moments that take our breath away.” Well, I call bullshit. The way I look at it, I have a limited amount of moments to spend with the people I love and I am doing a piss poor job of managing those moments. I have been afraid to ask myself about the potential repercussions of being the absent parent a large part of the time. It is infinitely sad to be scared of the asking the hard questions, simply because I know what the answer will be. Besides, it isn’t like I am off overseas fighting for liberty and freedom. There isn’t going to be a viral video of me returning home and surprising my unsuspecting kid at a packed sporting event with a tearful reunion. Most of the time I will arrive home to an empty house or “Hey, Mom, we are out of milk.” In the big scheme of things, I am not that special. But they are and that’s what keeps awake at night. What kind of mom doesn’t know when there is no milk? Seriously, when I am at home I know when we are out of milk and have a choice. I can make a list and go to the store and restock on essentials or I can choose to respond with, “I don’t care. I am pretty sure you can put water on cereal.” When I am away, I have no options.
If one was to scroll through my Facebook page, you would see me tagged in cool places like Las Vegas, Dallas, San Antonio, and I have, in fact, been able to see and do some pretty neat things. What I don’t post (because it is completely uninteresting) is the majority of my time away is comprised of activities which don’t even register as being remotely cool. Fighting crowds and long lines at airports, sleeping in strange places in an unfamiliar bed are just some of the uncool things I get to do week after week. I also get to lug huge computer cases that weigh almost as much as I do (or the weight on my driver’s license anyway), spend long days in nursing homes training people on medical software, and then grabbing dinner. I usually try to workout on shitty hotel fitness equipment and then review data until I am forced to switch to Netflix and binge watch until the wee hours of the morning. It’s damn near a glamorous life. Be jealous all you moms out there who know when you family is out of milk, because I am standing in front of a hotel vending machine debating with myself the nutritional value of animal crackers vs. Cheez-Its™.
The upside to my frequent travel is that sometimes I get to travel with my oldest daughter, Riley. This is probably the only thing that keeps me going. We don’t have to, but we room together on the road. We have laughed together and someday we are going to perfect our twerking skills. This time with Riley is a gift. I am not sure she feels the same. Riley requires a minimum of 10 hours of sleep, which is in complete contrast with my ‘four in a row and I am ready to go’ sleep requirement. She doesn’t like to chat in the mornings and she really hates it when I try to get my face as close to hers while she is sleeping and she wakes up and freaks out. Here are some of the frequent conversations we have had:
Riley: Are you about done with the light?
Me: Not quite
Riley: “Well I am.” Switches off light.
Riley: Shut the F up.
Riley: I brought my workout clothes. Do whatever you have to do to make me go.
Me: Hey, Fatass, let’s go to the gym.
Riley: I hate you so much.
Me: You said to do whatever to get you to workout.
Riley: How are you even a mother?
I get out of the shower and the mirror is steamed up. I scrawl in my scariest handwriting: REDRUM. Riley gets in the shower and the mirror re-steams revealing my ominous message…
Riley: Red Rum??? What the hell does that mean?
Me: Are you kidding me? It is from the Shining. You know, ‘murder’ spelled backwards and I gesture with my finger acting out the scene, “Redrum, Redrum, Redrum.”
Riley: Blank stare.
Me: I can’t believe you have never seen the Shining.
Riley: I can’t either, considering you forced me to watch Cujo when I was like 8! Who does that?
Me: Riley, if I were you I would never go in our hotel bathroom, ever.
Riley: What have you done?
Me: I ate fresh fruit plates the entire time I was in Vegas. Let’s just say, what you eat in Vegas doesn’t necessarily stay in Vegas.
Riley: Oh, God. This is horrible. You are rotten or something. OMG!! This is killing me!
Me: Here, put this washcloth over your face and breathe through it.
(Fifteen Minutes Later)
Me: I think it’s clear now. You can stop breathing through the washcloth now.
Riley: (inhales deeply) OMG it is NOT ALL CLEAR!!!!
Me: (laughing uncontrollably)
Riley: Lucky me. My mom has the same sense of humor as a 12 year old boy.
So, perhaps my remaining kids at home aren’t exactly missing out on much with me being gone so often. My mothering skills seem to be marginal at best. I guess I am feeling anxious about how close I am to being an empty nester. What I want most for my kids is for them to be happy with the person they grow into. I want them to treasure people over things. I want them to lead with kindness and never forget how to laugh at themselves. I want them to love someone so deeply that their heart strings get frayed when they have to be apart from them. I want them to marry their best friend and Facetime with their dogs (even if the dogs are fake assholes). I want them to stand up for the underdog, love God and America. I want them to know that I love them unconditionally and forever. I want them to know that I never check my guilt when I travel; I carry it with me always and it is by far the heaviest burden I have.