I was not a mom this weekend. I was a teacher, a learner, a researcher, a mentor, a mentee, a friend, and a colleague, but I was not a mom. I spent the last three days engaged in professional conversation without the responsibility of meals, naps, and entertainment for my kids. This is not to say that I didn’t think about them. I did. A lot. I shared anecdotes about their habits with my friends; I kibitzed about the personalities of two-year-olds with other moms of tots; I waited in line for author book signings so I could bring each of them a brand new book to read. But I didn’t worry about where they were in the day’s schedule. I didn’t open the fridge to realize that we had no food in the house. I didn’t feel the guilty tug between work and home.
The weekend was all about me as a professional, and the experience reminded me why I continue to choose to be a working mother of twins. During the weekend I had to prepare two presentations, attend to committee work, and network with other professionals in the field. However, one of the items I carried constantly in my bag was an issue of Parents magazine. I am behind in my parental reading, and I thought I might catch up while I waited for presenters to begin their sessions.
Friday morning I woke early, around 5 AM. In one of the great ironies of sleep, I was not physically able to rejuvenate with rest on a morning when I had no kids to rouse me. I tried, for a while, to force myself back to oblivion, and then I grudgingly got up and went to the hotel gym. After my workout, I dressed, prepared my materials for my day, and looked at the clock. I had two hours before the first session.
Since my babies were born, I have not been able to enjoy the taste of food. I eat in one of four ways:
(1) in a rapid fire succession of fork to mouth that helps to clear my plate before one of my kids throws something on the floor,
(2) in a complete inhalation in one move of everything on my plate before one of my kids makes an impossible mess,
(3) in small bites leftover from whatever remains on my kids’ plates after they have eaten, or
(4) I don’t eat.
Because I had extra time on Friday, I ate breakfast more slowly than I have in over two years. I savored my food, amused by the frantic woman next to me who hassled our waitress, the water server, the hostess, and the busboy because she only had 10 minutes to eat. I understood her stress, and it made me enjoy my leisure even more.
After breakfast, where I remembered what bacon actually tastes like, I moseyed to the convention center for the first session. I use the word moseyed because my path was not straight, nor was it quick. I took a lesson from my daughter, who dawdles much like I did as a two-year-old, and enjoyed life while I walked. By the time I reached my destination, I still had half an hour to kill. I opened my bag and pulled out Parents.
While I was engrossed in an article about the need for moms to exercise and silently patting myself on the back for my early morning workout (ignoring the fact that I haven’t been to a gym in weeks), a colleague I have not seen in a while surprised me. We chatted for a bit, catching up on our lives, and I shifted to put away my magazine. “What are you reading?” he asked.
“Oh, this is my Parents magazine. I’m a little behind in my parental reading,” I said.
“Wow. Your life has changed,” he responded.
My life has changed. I’m not sure what I would have been reading three years ago as I sat waiting for a session to start. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been reading anything. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been sitting in the room before the session wasting time because I had woken so early, my body automatically telling me it was time to start the day – at 5 AM.
The session presenters started speaking, ending my conversation with my colleague. I slipped the Parents magazine back into my bag. I did not have time to read it again until Sunday, when I found myself with 25 unoccupied minutes while I waited for my last meeting of the convention. The final article I read in that issue offered moms advice for responding to “why do you have to go to work” when their toddlers ask. It encouraged moms to be honest with their tots, and it pointedly asked whether the reader was lucky enough to be able to answer “because I love what I do.”
I closed the magazine and reflected on the weekend at the convention. I realized that I had loved my time away from being a mom mostly because I had loved the professional conversation. It energized me more than it exhausted me, and I knew then that I was one of the lucky moms. When my kids make the turn from being excited that "Mama go on the train” to asking me “Mama, why do you have to go to work,” I will be able to tell them, “It’s because I love what I do.”