I am the parent who stays home, while my husband’s income supports the five of us. He travels for work, sometimes frequently; I like to think my steady presence at home has contributed to our family’s overall financial health, even if I’m not earning anything myself. Meanwhile, while most of his trips are routine, many have been to some amazing places in various countries. I am (mostly) happy that he receives these perks, since, as I said, his hard work supports us all. But I work hard too, and thus far, nobody has organized a fully subsidized conference for stay-at-home parents in, say, Rome.
So, in more than ten years of parenting, I’d never been away by myself. Someday, I’d say, when the youngest is weaned, I’m going…somewhere. In 2008, “somewhere” came into focus. I began hearing about the Squam Art Workshops in New Hampshire…close enough to drive to, but I was pregnant with my third and final baby and it was a bit of a tricky pregnancy, so I didn’t give going much of a thought. I hung onto the idea, but I deferred until the timing was right and I’d be able to make the most of this time away without feeling split. Babies are welcome at Squam, and I saw several. But I didn’t want to juggle a nursling; I wanted to wait until this experience could be completely about me. I trusted that time would come, eventually, that the small cracks into which I fit my needs while tending babies and toddlers would grow, that my own self could gently expand once again.
When registration information came out this past January, I knew that this was my Squam year, yet still it wasn’t a snap decision. It felt like a big commitment of time—my husband took three days off so I could go—and money—none of which I earned myself—with no tangible return on the family’s investment. We were sending one member of the family on what was essentially a solo vacation. I wouldn’t be learning a marketable skill, or networking, or promoting an Etsy shop (I don’t have one); I was going so I could just be. All of this, I should point out, was internally generated. My husband said things like, “No matter what’s going on here, I really think you should do this.”
And that is why, the first week in June, I was able to be the parent who left for a while. Nowhere exotic—I simply drove two hundred miles north to the woods by Squam Lake. I stayed in a cabin with other women whom I’d never met before. I took classes and challenged myself. I learned that I’m still a bit uncomfortable in crowds, that I haven’t lost the ability to be by myself (despite having nearly constant company over the past decade), and that I still feel a bit insecure because my only job description is “mother.” But most importantly, for the purpose of this particular story, I mentally handed over all the responsibility for the children and household to my husband. I didn’t realize how fully my mind had quieted until the ride home, when it turned on again. It was glorious while it lasted.
Our last night there, as my cabin mates and I were preparing to leave the dining hall, I gathered up my sweater and bag and then gave my customary last glance over my shoulder to make sure I’d left nothing behind. As I did, my left arm extended behind me, hand open, instinctively reaching for a child’s hand. I am so used to gathering together not just things but children, and in that moment, I missed having a small hand to hold. I was ready to head home.
Wouldn’t that be the perfect ending? And yet, I arrived home not refreshed, exactly, but rather disjointed at the sudden immersion into the lists and chaos that is everyday life in a family of five. I missed my quiet mind. It’s my mission to bring some of that Squam Lake calm into my everyday life—and also to improve my ratio of getaway time. Four and a half days over ten and a half years seems a little…unbalanced. Now that I have some breathing room, I’m working on that.