I’m off to New York for a couple of days. I’m gonna see some people, do some stuff and head for this DoubleX comedy event. And I’m going to be alone, alone, alone, blissfully, Greta Garbo-y alone. Except for when I see people and I’m not. Everyone knows you can love your husband with extraordinary passion and your children suitably less so, or equally-in-a-different-way or however you want to put it, and still need a couple of days in your own head once in a while, right? My kids are chatterboxes, every last one of them, and they let no car ride, bathroom trip or half-hour observing me in the kitchen pass without a constant stream of inner-thought squelching conversation.
I mean, really really cute conversation. Of course. Adorable.
But leaving, as it always does, took some doing in the same way that Hannibal’s invasion of Italy via elephant required something of a strategic plan. There were rides to be arranged, schedules to be examined, breakfast foods that make breakfast easy to be obtained (hello, donuts!) (I do that for me when I’m without Rob in the mornings, too), lunch schedules to be explained, special requests to be made…and frankly, there’s not much going on over the next three days, just a little pre-season hockey for Sam, and apparently some t-shirt designing project for which he needs a white t-shirt by Thursday, which he told me at dinner last night, 20 minutes after we’d left a a store where such a thing could be obtained and were back in our own small town, where plain white children’s t-shirts are not available, which has, at least once in the past, resulted in his tie-dying a t-shirt that read “Dartmouth.”
So: to leave town, as every mother knows, is an endeavor. And I say “mother” advisedly. The men of my acquaintance, every last one of them, devoted and involved fathers all (when was the last time you hear the phrase “devoted and involved mother?”) leave with ease. Their business trips do not resemble an invasion of Italy, but Huck Finn setting off with his pack.
My colleague Liza Mundy, over on DoubleX, mused brilliantly on how the apparent freedom to leave with little more than a “Bye, Honey!” is what makes her envy fellow male writers, rather than the recent “Franzenfreude” angst over who’s getting the most space in the NYT Book Review. She called it “malenfreude,” and for me, she hit the nail on the head. I’m constantly reading other peoples work and thinking, damn, if only I could manage to, as Liza said, “talk to people in locations other than, say, my own neighborhood,” maybe I could do more reporting, write longer pieces, add a few different bylines in different places to my bio.
This isn’t a husband-directed rant, or an anyone-directed rant, really. I think we’ve got the equal parenting thing down as well as we possibly could. It’s just that someone has to man the iCal and arrange the rides and carpools et al, and that someone is me, the mother, just as it is in most families. Given the amount of brainpower that it takes, it would be ridiculous for us both to be able to be equally up on the ins and outs of four kids, two schools and assorted other details. It’s just that it is what it is, and what it is is a little stifling, a disincentive, a boggy-down encouragement to keep doing exactly what I already do, which is to focus entirely on, as Liza said, my own neighborhood (figuratively speaking) and leave the big wide world to the big dogs.
But my point, and it’s a positive one, is that it CAN BE DONE. I envy those male writers less than I do my more determined female colleagues, like Hanna Rosin and Emily Bazelon and Helaine Olin, all of whom I picture heading out with a laptop bag whenever journalism demands. (No pulling the scales off my eyes, guys, I need you as role models.) I am sitting on the Acela between Boston and New York, blogging away, and I will meet people and do things and talk to some folk and nothing will implode on the home front, or, if it does, it won’t be anything that can’t be glued back together somehow. If Hannibal can get his elephants over the Alps, I can get mine on the road more often.