What I Missed in 24 Hours

… And how I made peace in my battle of solitude vs. parenthood

I enjoy travelling, always have, but it was a nice-to-do rather than a necessity. Once my first child was born, I didn’t set foot on a plane or foreign soil for over a decade. Two things have since happened to rekindle my travel opps: our increasing ages and my increasing awareness as a writer. My three children are now school-aged, intrigued by the world around them and fun to travel with (seriously), so our family trips have expanded from day trips to month-long treks west and a week in the sunny south. At the same time, with hands and time freed from diaper bags and baby carriers, I discovered that solitary travel -be it for an assignment, conference, or self-imposed retreat – provides a focus and rejuvenation that can complement but cannot be found in the daily grind of life.

With an empathetic and capable spouse at home, I can leave my family for brief periods with a clear conscience. My husband travels for work as well; we function as a team, whether home together or pinch- hitting in the other’s absence.  However, even though my children at 13, 11, and 7 are increasingly self-sufficient, a recent overnighter for me brought home how much can change in their young lives in a mere 24 hours.

I left home on Friday afternoon. That night:

  • My teenager played a piano sonata flawlessly, after struggling with the ending for  two months
  • My tween and her dad put the finishing touches on her costume for the school play, transforming her into a 19th century country schoolgirl and cementing her love for the performing arts. They emailed the picture, her grin wider than the brim of her straw hat. I smiled, stretched languidly in my pillowy queen bed, and then wished I was home.

On Saturday:

My youngest got to be, and I quote: “Door-Holder Girl, Put-the-Chairs-on-the-Deck Girl, (as they unpacked and set up our outdoor furniture), Miner Girl (crawling under the deck for the plant pots) and then,” her voice lowered for effect, “Senior Miner,” where with bike helmet firmly fastened, she tunneled under the deck again to help attach the cords for our outdoor fountain. She was still beaming at 9 p.m., when I hefted my suitcase through the door, home at last.

A few moments in time, affecting no one but those in the room. But, these were also milestones for three young lives, a perfect moment for each of them  in which their entire purpose in life was realized: milestones in which I was a participant, not as Drink Fetcher or Site Boss but as an audience. “Sometimes it’s good to be in the crowd, ” my son said to me once, when his theatre troupe got the night off to watch another cast perform. “You learn a lot being on the other side of the curtain.”

I didn’t miss the pizza: two slices were waiting for me in the fridge.  And I didn’t miss the point right in front of me. As inspiring as lush B&B rooms and seaside vistas and writing workshops can be, so to are the myriad of tiny little mundane moments that I spend a large portion of my days trying to cope with or work around. I can’t see the forest of aha moments for the trees of “I need …” and  “When’s supper?” and “Where’s my ballet skirt?” until I leave the forest. But just for a little while. The trees still need their mom. And I will always need their words of wisdom.

Do you have a need for solitude? How do you balance it with the demands of life? I look forward to hearing from you.