"Tales From the Road"
(An edited version of this essay was featured in the anthology Chicken Soup for the Soul: Parenthood (2013))
I pull out of the driveway feeling euphoric (and slightly guilty for feeling so). It's as if the absence of car seats in their usual places in my backseat has created an out-of-proportion buoyancy. I pull the Kindermusic CD out and replace it with a new audio book I've been dying to hear. I'm free!
I settle back into the car's seat to listen to my book and enjoy the drive to the airport for a semi-annual meeting. I blast the heater on this cool afternoon, without my eight-year old son complaining, "Mom, I can't breathe in here!" I'm not used to battling the commuter traffic, but I've got my audio book, and I'm alone -- gloriously alone. The traffic is getting worse, and I glance at the clock to make sure I will make my flight. No problem. At least I only have one deadline to meet. My husband's the one who will have to worry about school pick-ups, soccer practice, and homework today. Once inside the airport and through security, I relax again and enjoy my freedom. I have a half hour before boarding time -- an entire 30 minutes to myself! I treat myself to a latte and a chocolate croissant – pure decadence. Settled in a tiny café table with my indulgences and a magazine (one from 6 months ago that I've never found time to read), I feel utterly pampered. It doesn't matter that this café table is on a busy airport concourse instead of a quaint city street -- I already feel as if I'm a million miles away. Once I arrive at my destination and check into the hotel, the fun really begins. I close the door to my room and grin like a crazed fool. The next twelve hours are mine. I have no responsibilities, and no one to take care of but myself. I peruse the room service menu and choose things my kids would hate along with a rich chocolate dessert -- something my kids would love that I won't have to share with anyone tonight. When my dinner arrives, and I eat it propped up in bed with four pillows, watching old sitcoms on TV, not even glancing at Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network. After dinner, I sip my wine and enjoy some uninterrupted writing time. After awhile, I head back to the bed for an evening of mindless television, with no permission slips to sign or lunches to prepare. The huge bed seems a bit empty, but I have the remote control to myself. I flip through the channels recklessly, watching three shows at once (something that drives my husband crazy), and stay up way too late watching shows on HBO that I never see at home. I'm awakened with a start by the jarring sound of the alarm clock. It's an unwelcome change from my usual wake-up call, when my sleepy four-year old son crawls into bed with me and puts his warm arms around me. I groan at the early hour and curse all that late-night TV. A shower and room-service breakfast help perk me up, and I enjoy getting dressed in what another stay-at-home mom friend of mine refers to as grown-up clothes. Most mornings, the only clothing decision I face is whether to wear my "good" jeans or the ones with a hole in the knee. Today, I dress in a silk blouse, a seldom-worn suit, and real jewelry. When I'm ready to leave the room, I glance in the mirror and am startled by my own reflection. I look good! It's amazing what a little make-up can do for my normally bare face. I can't even see the dark circles under my eyes. The rest of my day proceeds smoothly as I attend my meeting. To my surprise, it's kind of fun. People listen to me when I say something and not once do I have to break up a squabble over who gets to use the wipeboard first. In fact, other people even ask for my opinion and pay attention when I answer. It's a refreshing change of pace.
By 3:00, I'm back at the airport, ready to begin the long travel process in reverse. After navigating through security, I look at my watch and see that I have an hour before boarding time. My husband is making his way to the school to pick up our oldest son right now, and I'm startled to realize that it's the first time all day that I've thought about the timetable that directs my life at home.
All I can find for dinner in the airport is a turkey sandwich, probably made two days ago. I munch on the tasteless sandwich while reading, but I'm distracted by the crowds of people around me. An adorable toddler squeals in delight as she runs away from her mother, and I smile reflexively at her antics.
I sit in an uncomfortable seat near the gate to wait for my flight, glancing at my watch for the tenth time in as many minutes. My husband is getting the kids ready to go to soccer practice by now. I wonder how Craig's show & tell went today at preschool and whether Jamie did well on his spelling test.
I try to lose myself in a magazine, but it has lost its appeal. I listen to the conversations around me -- a couple on vacation, a mother talking to her son, two co-workers heading home together. My back is aching from trying to fit my 5'1" frame into conference chairs and airline seats made for a 6' man. I notice my feet are starting to hurt and yearn for my red fleece slippers, my usual choice of footwear.
My flight is called, and I follow the line of passengers onto the plane. After a fitful nap and a little more reading, I'm back to my home airport. It seems to take forever to steer through the crowds off the plane, through the endless concourse, and back to the airport parking lot. I'm finally back in my own car. The 35-minute drive home seems to take longer, as I yawn and flip back and forth between radio stations.
As I approach my neighborhood, I perk up in anticipation of the welcome I'll receive. The kids will be all ready for bed and will greet me with hugs and kisses, telling me how much they missed me. I pull into the garage and turn off the car with a sigh.
As I close the door and set down my briefcase, my four-year old shouts, "Mom! Is that you?"
I call out in return, "It's me, sweetheart."
"Do you know where Biscuit is?" he asks as if I've never left, in his nightly quest to locate the tiny stuffed dog he drags everywhere with him.
"Mom!" yells my eight-year old son, "Guess what? My school caught on fire today!"
I slide my feet into my slippers, find Biscuit on top of the dryer, and head upstairs to my boys. There's no place like home.
© 2012, Suzan L. Jackson