I say this with such an air of confidence.
It’s a friday night and the girls and I are out for drinks. Just the four of us from the “Mom Dept.” We have been colleagues for years, but bonded for real when we popped our spawn with a few weeks between us. There is an easy compatability, a disarming honesty and an abundance of belly laughs in this group. Most importantly, a complete absence of judgement.
E is telling us about a co-worker who moped through an entire weekend trip to London, longing for her children. That’s when it slips out. “I’m definitely not that kind of mum!”
Quite honestly, I’m not. This was no false bravado. I have a career that requires travelling. This is one of the reasons I love what I do as much as I do. At regular intervals, I am sent to see wonderful cities in (often) fascinating countries, equipped with a generous expense account. And then occasionally, I have a five-hour stop in Schiphol on the way to a deadbeat Belgian town. You can’t win them all.
I love travel and I love to meet people. I enjoy demanding work. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to surround myself with seriously interesting and cool people on a Saturday night (or a Wednesday for that matter!) and party my hiney off without having to worry about anyone but myself the next morning. Its not that I don’t miss my family or that they are not on my mind. More often, it is the combination of a packed schedule and the delicious feeling of not having to be seen as someone’s wife/mother/daughter for a few days. Of being free to be just me, unfettered by my usual qualifiers. I relish that immeasurably. It baffles me that anyone would spend any amount of time openly moping for WHAT YOU WILL HAVE IN ANOTHER THREE DAYS FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! instead of breathing in and enjoying that moment.
As you may have guessed by now, I am destined to choke on unimaginable quantities of humble pie.
Last week, I had five days in St. Petersburg. A gracious, opulent city spilling at the seams with history, beauty and culture. The kind of city that leaves you drunk on baroque and slack-jawed with admiration for its intense passion for culture. And then it was on to a tiny, sleepy university town in Wales called Newport, where unbeknownst even to its inhabitants, spring was upon us. The grass was green, the sun shone and warmed the earth and tiny, exquisite flowers timidly reared their head. In both places, I met great people, experienced the wonderful culture and hospitality, engaged in interesting conversations, did my work and retired to my room.
Utterly miserable. Miserable that the Viking and I have been bickering so much lately and that we have been too sleep-deprived to enjoy anything much. Miserable that the kids were sick/upset again and missing me. Missing being able to comfort them and just being home. What really caught me off guard was how achingly I missed the physical closeness that is such a given with children in your life. How after a certain period, your body reacts to not being hugged with wild abandon and smothered with kisses. How I almost have to restrain myself from scooping up a beautiful Russian babushka-like child I see on the street to hold her close. The longing for chubby little hands and gentle brown eyes!
A couple of bottles of wine later, I am closer to an explanation of what I consider to be my bizarre behaviour. I love my family. But lately, it has been hard to love my family. Let me rephrase that – it has been hard to love my family well. There has been a lot of work and there has been a lot of illness. There have been packed weeks and even more packed weekends. Sleep has become a precious commodity. Place these factors in a sensible matrix and the result is pretty much the same.
A big sucky stew.
At some point, wading through this unlovely morass, you look at your work. And you like it because you control it and it responds to efforts in a predictable manner. Hell, you LOVE it. At work, you are serious and responsible and everything gets done on schedule. People send you e-mails telling you how much they appreciate your efforts. They pat you on the back and say, “good job”. You are generous and diplomatic and sane. You are validated.
You come home and everything is not only insane, but also entirely out of your control and going belly-up. Kids will not eat properly, kids will not sleep properly, you bicker over basic chores and all those wonderful skills that helped you steer that board meeting? – it is as if you never had them. You no longer have your firm, controlled voice or your solid arguments. You waver perilously between fascism and pleading. And you flounder hopelessly without a manual to help you steer this life, these people.
So back to my coherent explanation. In the periods when one loves well, one is more free of guilt and therefore less prone to mope in the absence of love-objects – having given freely of oneself in the moment and all that. Subsequently, when we do a deplorable job of loving well, and living and loving in the moment with our families is about as delightful as repeatedly punching our own ears, we must give into mope attacks in the absence of said love-objects. Am I onto something here? Will Rhonda Byrne co-author with me?
I am on my way home and hanging out for a couple of hours at Schiphol airport. I do my usual round of shopping, check out designer labels I will always ill-afford and saunter towards the sushi bar. This is my sacred Schiphol ritual. An hour before boarding, I will hit the sushi bar and place the “usual” order. Six sushi rolls, four maki and a glass of their best champagne. With enough wasabi and ginger to put your rear end on fire. I relish my final moments to myself, by myself.
I catch a glimpse of myself in the bar mirror. Well dressed, confident and assured. Plate of sushi in one hand, glass of champagne in the other. Sleek hair, cute pumps and funky bag. I suppress a near-hysterical giggle as I survey my personal mirage – the young, 30-something corporate traveller. Is that me?
It is a part of me, maybe a part of me that needs to live and breathe just as much as the frazzled mum-of-two who is always behind on her chores, low on domestic motivation and trying to ignore her frizzy hair and awful skin. The mum in godawful peejays and t-shirts from the 90’s, who still hasn’t shed her baby weight. The mother who hears with a heavy heart about the Turkish airline that crashed just beyond Schiphol, aching for those who would never be re-united with someone they loved.
Just like that, my weariness and occasional resentment fade to nothing in the face of an immense gratitude for this rich life, with all its inherent challenges, complications and choices. Gratitude for a hearth, a home and three lads who, inspite of rough patches, always make choosing easy.
Ultimately, I am their screwy kind of Mum. And then some.