Being Away

It usually starts with tip-toeing around the apartment in the early morning darkness, adding the last toiletry items to my suitcase and leaving a post-it note on the kitchen island with a last minute instruction about some detail that must be attended to in my absence. If time permits, a soft kiss on angelic foreheads of sleeping children and a light touch on De-facto’s shoulder before ever-so-gently closing the door behind me and heading down the stairs carrying suitcase and computer bag. Once out on the street, my rollaway valise is noisy against the cobblestone streets, rickety-rickety until the pavement turns smooth and the taxi stand is in sight.

A taxi ride to a train or a plane that takes me far away, and I find myself in a conference hotel somewhere, with the prospect of two or three or five nights without my family in reach.

“It must be hard, with all your travel,” people say.

It’s not. I like the fact that when I’m on a job – my work is intense, immersive and full-on – that I can be singular in focus. I can work until the work is done without having to switch gears to domestic matters. I need the hour of absolute quiet to wind down before going to sleep, and I need the hour of solitude upon walking up to keep my energy intact for the next day’s work. I actually like the break from my family.

I have colleagues who check in every day, more than once, keeping in touch with spouses and children. Oddly, De-facto and I don’t bother. He travels as much as I do, often leaving me at home with Short-pants and Buddy-roo for a week or more at a time. We’ll go days without talking to each other when one of us is on the road. An occasional email message will assure us that the other is still alive, but they’re usually short and sweet.

When the girls were little we thought it would be important to call home and touch base with them, like that would somehow be reassuring. It did just the opposite. My call would inevitably occur at the worst possible moment, interrupting the flow constructed by De-facto or by the babysitter. I remember De-facto was out of town and the girls and I were happily in our groove when he called to check in. At first, it was a delight for them, to hear his voice and have a chat. But once he hung up, they began to wail. All I heard for the rest of the day was how much they missed Papa.

I guess it’s a courtesy we give each other, De-facto and I, and it works both ways. When you’re gone, you’re gone; go do your thing and check in when you can. And when you’re home, you’re home; just keep calm and carry on.

It doesn’t mean I don’t think about them or that I don’t miss them. It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love for one of those cherubs to crawl in for the morning cuddle (quietly) or that I don’t long to have a strong hug from De-facto and his thoughtful ear to talk to about all that’s happening. But we’ve somehow struck a balance that permits each one of us to pursue the professional and personal activities that will nourish us, without turning the idea of being away from home into a big deal or a bad thing.

The girls voice their disappointment about our absences, but they soldier on with one parent – or with our good caregivers when both De-facto and I must be away – and I think this is important for them to understand: Mama and Papa do interesting things. Someday, I tell them, you’ll go off to do interesting things too. They’re learning to be a little independent, forced to manage without my care every waking moment. And most important, they know first hand that when I go away, I come back. This must give them some sense of security, and it gives me a sense of freedom, much needed.

Plus the reunions are always so sweet.

It’s rare that I have two week-long programs back-to-back, but that’s the case for this trip. I’m only halfway through and knackered already, but I’m happy. Happy to be able to travel and do the work that I do; happy to have a family at home that, even though they might miss me, doesn’t mind so much, me being away.

The photograph of the Parisian street by Peter Turnley.

5 Responses to “Being Away”

  • k_sam Says:

    I have to say that it is a really positive way of looking at things. Both my husband and I travel for work, and the constant separation tends to stress me out more then anything. I suppose it’s left-over baggage from my previous relationship, where my absences lead my ex to start sharing more with his female co-worker than he did with me. And if I’m honest, it’s a secret fear this time around, and why I get anxious if we don’t have our nightly phone calls. But it is reassuring to see that you two have managed such a great balance, and I think it is sending a really healthy message to your children to boot.

  • Jen Says:

    Keep calm and carry

    on being still in your peace

    walking when you wake.

    (You inspire me to write haiku!)


  • kunyi Says:

    I used to travel for work constantly, but because i do most of my work now via the internet, I am usually “housebound” – my office is attached to my house. My husband is the same, though he tends to travel more for conferences. I now LOVE having to travel for a conference, and the rare time I work in person. I love the solitude, and time away from the routine, and the chance to selfishly NOT think about all the routine that goes with home and family. It’s energizing, illuminating, quiet… and I really like re-acquainting myself with the non-housebound me. If I still traveled a lot, I might feel differently. But maybe not. I like the escape – doesn’t “escapade” share the same root as “escape”?

  • magpie Says:

    i rarely travel for work, but i do occasionally leave the premises for an overnight (or two) elsewhere. and i almost never call home. it just never seems necessary.

  • Andy Parker Says:

    I love the courtesy that you and Defacto are able to give each other. It fit, that you returned–in your next post–and he had an evening out to himself, shortly thereafter. That’s a good marriage.

    When the kids were young, I’d call every day, creating the same sort of mayhem when I did. That stilled, when I committed to calling at the same time, just before they went to bed. I’d say goodnight to my daughter, and would read a story to my son. As they grew, I’d stopped reading and began making them up off the top of my head. The ritual carried us through two years where we were two thousand miles apart. That was my Mayflower trip, my Camino de San Diego, where I had to lose myself, to find my way home.

    For a while after my return, the joke between the kids was that they missed their mom when they were with me, and missed me when they were with their mom.

    Four years later, the nightly calls are long gone. The only time one is made, is when one of the kids wants to chat, or if they’ve forgotten something. The latter sound like, “Dad, would you mind bringing X over?” That request is often followed by something like my saying, “I’m not home. Why don’t you pick X up?” Then, “why aren’t you home?” Thank you for my new reply, “I’m doing something interesting.”

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