The other night, I was sitting in a restaurant in San Antonio, sipping a margarita the size of a baby’s head and chatting about balancing motherhood and work and travel with a writer from National Geographic. “It’s hard sometimes,” I said. “I know that my husband finds it challenging when I’m gone one weekend and then again the next weekend and then again the next. But we manage. He does a lot of his work from home.”
“And he doesn’t mind?” she asked.
“Oh, he minds, sometimes. Parenting solo is hard, and it’s even harder when you know that your partner is off somewhere drinking a margarita. But the roles are reversed when his work schedule is busy, and I have to do it all by myself, so it balances out, mostly.”
“I hope that you know how lucky you are,” she said. “Because you are. You’re very lucky to be married to someone so understanding and supportive. You’re very lucky that you can be a mom and do this, too.”
We clinked glasses. “Of course I know,” I said. “I’m very lucky. I know.”
I am lucky, if by lucky you mean, recognized what a phenomenal man my husband is when I first met him and and actively determined to grab on to him and never let go and also have a husband who recognizes that marriage and family and parenthood are a joint enterprise and maybe also am willing to just sometimes go ‘sorry dude, your turn.’ I mean, he’s lucky too, of course, but I recognize that I’m especially lucky that he’s able and willing to bend his life around so that I can go to San Antonio and drink margaritas. But when I went to bed that night – in an obscenely plush king bed with a plate of chocolate at my side but nonetheless alone – I thought, that luck is kind of complicated.
I am lucky to have my husband, who is so willing to take on the mantle of Parent In Charge as often as he does, so that I can pursue this work that I love, work that involves going to San Antonio to research the Missions and see the Alamo and drink margaritas under murals of Bill Clinton, but is nonetheless work, margaritas and murals notwithstanding. This is work that is, no question, less onerous than getting up at dawn with cranky toddlers and changing diapers and soothing savage tempers when favorite Spiderman snowboots go missing and figuring out the exact correct proportions of tomato sauce to spaghetti noodles so that picky eaters will consume said noodles and washing tomato sauce out of Hello Kitty t-shirts that must, must be worn to kindergarten the next day, and I am lucky to be able to do it. But it’s also work that requires that I forgo, for a few days at a time, hugs and kisses and cuddles and giggles and the sort of memory-making that is just, you know, different in kind from the sort that I do on my own on trips like these.
This work, the work that I do that sometimes takes me away – literally, as when I travel, and figuratively, as when I lock myself in my office and shut everything and everyone out in order to write for hours – is work that takes me out of the story of my children’s lives (a story, I should say, that I am deeply and intensely involved in when I am the Parent In Charge, which is often). It is work that redirects the narrative arc of my own story such that it diverges from those of my children, my husband, my family, and proceeds along its own solitary path. And that’s wonderful, in some ways, ways that involve me getting to think my own thoughts and do my own thing and – in the case of travel – eat chocolate without having to share and sleep through the night without small hands grabbing my hair. But it’s also sort of counter-wonderful, in some ways, ways that involve not thinking constantly about the people that I love and not doing things together and not having anyone to share my chocolate with and sleeping all alone. Because it’s the memories of those latter things – the story that contains such things as tiny faces smeared with chocolate and the feel of small hands in my hair – that I know I will cling to most tightly, more tightly than I will those of the way the sun looked rising over the Alamo or the sound of the mariachi band at the Mass at Mission Concepcion or the taste of that margarita under that particularly awesome mural of – have I mentioned this yet? – Bill Clinton.
So I am lucky, yes, but it’s a luck that has nuances and complications and that involves compromises and and trade-offs and sometimes I wish, just a little, that life were simpler and Kyle were, say, an insurance agent or accountant and worked standard office hours and I stayed at home and participated in every single moment of my children’s lives and didn’t ever miss a thing.
But then again, maybe not.
I love my work, the writing and the thinking and the social media’ing and the traveling and everything in between. I love that it allows me to work at home – to stay home and spend so much time with my children – and also that it allows me to leave home – to go out into the world and do my own thing and live my own story, whether that story involves drinking margaritas underneath a mural of Bill Clinton or tittering at Marcus Aurelius’ compromised nethers or having my heart burst over the awesomeness of an amusement park designed to empower special needs families (more on this tomorrow) or attending Mass for the first time in over a decade or all of the above. I love that it allows me to come back, to have the experience of return, to cherish and relish anew the way that it feels when my family wraps me in their messy, sticky, sweet embrace. I love that it gives me the opportunity to miss them. I love the pang in my heart when I curl up alone in a big soft bed, miles from home, knowing that I won’t be woken by the soft patter of little feet running into my bedroom and that I won’t feel small hands in my hair and that I won’t wake in the morning in a tangle of arms and legs and blankets and sunshine and love. I love it in a complicated way, because it hurts, but I do love it, I do, because it reminds me that I am a mother first, and everything else second, and that I am lucky to have a life that is full to overflowing with the riches of both, because each makes the other – the motherness, and the everything-else-ness – more satisfying. I love it, because it reminds me of how really very lucky I am.
That, and because it affords me the opportunity to drink margaritas uninterrupted, but don’t tell my husband that.
Do you want an opportunity to go away and have margaritas and be reminded of how really very lucky you are? The San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau, who hosted my trip to San Antonio, are offering the same trip to one of you, which you can do as an ‘I’m so lucky I’m going to take a few days off with a friend’ getaway or as a ‘I’m so lucky and I totally don’t need an escape so I’ll bring my family with me’ holiday. It’s totally up to you. Leave a comment sometime this week telling me how or why a getaway enriches your parentness or your everything-else-ness – or both – or if you’re not a parent, your you-ness – and you could win a two-night voucher for the Emily Morgan Hotel, vouchers for dinner for four at two of San Antonio’s most awesome restaurants, a $1000 Visa gift card to cover airfare, and passes to some of San Antonio’s most fun attractions, including Sea World and Six Flags Fiesta Texas and the Witte Museum and more. Trust me, you want to go. San Antonio is an awesome place to indulge both your parentness and your everything-else-ness. Or neither, as the case may be. The important thing is, the margaritas there are bigger than a baby’s head.
Aaaand… we have a winner! Congratulations to Fickle Feline. You are going to drink margaritas in San Antonio!