I work in publishing by day, and take on freelance graphic-design work in the evening. It’s a bit like Clark Kent by day, glasses on, hair up, handling daily production of medical journals, like magazines. I yawn and drink more coffee than I should to stay awake. I like my job. Most of the time, it’s predictable. There are specific schedules — manuscript received, corrections made to papers, a print-date looming. Then the cycle starts over each month.
By night, the glasses come off, I let my hair down, and it frizzes in all directions. I put my feet up, take my bra off, and I’m allowed to get creative as I work on design. When I can, I also use this time to draw, paint, doodle, and sketch. I put on my favorite Crime-TV shows, and I become Superman, imagining I’m fighting crime, sending bad guys downtown in the paddy-wagon (they still call it that, right?), and… well, um, sitting in my pjs, sipping tea, and drawing.
It’s a good life.
When I was working part-time at the publishing job, I had two accounts I was really familiar with. I’ve been working on these titles since I started at this job, almost six years ago, and I knew the clients, their personalities. I could predict changes, and I had the time to focus all my attention on only those accounts.
When I went back to full-time in September, I was given more work, a new account based in Minnesota. Wonderful people, great account, and I’m thrilled to be challenged with new work, but my mommy brain is struggling to keep up. What is this? I used to be so sharp, on the ball. I used to multi-task with the best of the best. I could be taking calls, typing emails, in an online meeting, and still getting my production work done. Meanwhile, I’d be keeping a list of design work for the evening, and planning dinner. Now, once my task list reaches two or three items, I can do it, but… I catch myself grinding my teeth, tightening my stomach muscles, and tapping my fingers on my desk. Stress. Ugh.
My two-year-old daughter is only at day care an extra two hours now, but I feel more of a disconnect with her. She stalls leaving day care, stalls going in our apartment, because she knows that, once inside, there’s less time for her and more time dedicated to making dinner and getting ready for the next day. I try to include her, to spend more time together, even if it’s just while doing chores. But, the reality is, that it’s complete toddler-chaos during those few hours after work… when I used to be able to sit and put my feet up after a long day. It’s tough. I love it but, you know.
Last week, the publishing company sent me to Minnesota to meet with our new client. They told me that I didn’t have to go, but I was thrilled about the opportunity. I’ve never had a chance to work on a start-up account, to meet the clients I’d be working with, face-to-face. I embarked on a 24-hour “vacation” that turned into a 48-hour “vacation” (after flight delays) to Minnesota. On my own.
I had only ever flown with my husband or friends, so I was a little nervous. Also, I’ve only been away from my daughter, overnight, a few times. She was younger then and not as aware. This would be different. I spent as much time with her as possible before the trip. That helped. Also, she sent me off with a little moose figurine, Moosey, that was to be my “security item” while I was away from home.
Then, the switch.
From complete chaos, daily work and focus, parenting chaos, to… A quiet car ride alone, a flight over half of the Northern U.S. It was beautiful. I was called “Ma’am” instead of “Mommy,” the stewardess brought me drinks and a “blankie,” and said, “I’ll take care of you.” I’m pretty sure they say that to everyone, but I got a little misty-eyed anyway. Other passengers closed their windows, read a book, or went to sleep. I got a red welt on my forehead from having my face pressed against the window the entire trip. It had been so long since I had a view from above the clouds, since I had that “we’re so small” moment of reflection.
We landed in Minneapolis where it was an unseasonably balmy 72-degrees. I shed my winter coat, with faux-fur collar, and tried unsuccessfully to shove it in my tiny, carry-on suitcase. I met up with my co-worker who had flown in from another state, and we were whisked off to a beautiful hotel, meals expensed. The next day was a work day, in which I had to sit in a meeting and take notes. I was a student, a (kind-of) single woman. I should have been nervous, but I was so relaxed. I had just slept for eight straight, uninterrupted hours, hugging and snuggling four fluffy and cozy pillows, in a business suite, after I had taken a shower. I slept with the fresh, smooth feeling of clean hair. I watched Crime TV. Alone. I half expected a bellboy to come bursting through the door at any minute screaming, “I reeeeally need to use the potty!!” because it just didn’t seem fair that I should have all this quiet time to myself.
Because there were no emergency-like situations that would take me away from this glorious heaven, nothing to wake me from this beautiful dream, my mind created them. “I’m sure there’ll be an earthquake,” I thought, “or a fire drill.” “I better keep my pants close in case we have to run out in the middle of the night.”
Why couldn’t I just deserve to be there? Why wasn’t it okay for me to have a break? I tried to convince myself that it was. When my flight home was cancelled the next day, and Delta put me up in a hotel with free shuttle rides to the Mall of America, I took the bait and spent the evening wandering the mall and having dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. I had a glass of wine with an all-American meal of pulled pork and steak fries. A glass of wine.
The people of Minnesota were kind, friendly. I met another mom in a similar situation to mine, and we chatted while we waited for the return shuttle to the hotel. We laughed at the absurdity of being on our own. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves. We both went back to the hotel, vowing to enjoy laying in bed and watching TV alone.
Oh, and my family? Yeah, they were fine. I missed them, of course. Video chatting in the evenings helped, and I focused on photographing Moosey in interesting places, sending the pics to my daughter. But, mostly, this trip was about me. When “work” feels so much like “play,” it’s time for a mini-vacation, and I knew that my family would be okay, that my husband could handle being a full-time dad for a few days.