Like most stay-at-home mothers I know, I don’t really stay home. With one preschooler and one kindergartner, I’m up early getting lunches made, husband to work, children dressed with some sense of style and co-ordination, and me off to the gym to work off what I feel is my butt and the chair I write from becoming one. Around noon I do a mad dash of errands, pick up the monkeys, post office, etc. Somehow I also manage to teach classes online and one or two in the flesh. Once a week I get to practice the craft of writing fiction and poetry. I try to get to a number of civic things as well and spend time with that guy, what’s his name? that I married six years ago who comes home about 6 pm expecting something that resembles food to be on the table.

This all works fine for the most part. He bathes the kids and puts them to sleep and I jump online to work. But anytime this universe is altered it seems all manner of levels of hell break loose. I had to be gone five days last week. The universe came to an abrupt halt. My husband and mother decided I could go be a writer for a week, collect an award, do a reading, and have some time away. But the week leading up to my leave was the most strenuous ever. Buying groceries for a week I wouldn’t be there in the vein hopes that my husband would make something other than Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup and Gogurts consumed me. Doing every last bit of laundry and labeling outfits for the kids in days of the week on the dryer didn’t fill me with confidence in the husband/mother take over either. Oh my goodness, why did Picture Day have to be that Friday?! There was of course, my own packing and preparation (Should I read this story or that one? Does that dress make me look fat or is it my fat making me look fat? ).

But the worst part of all was leaving the kids. Not that I don’t trust my husband and mother. She’s a Virgo. I was quite certain they wouldn’t die or end up wallowing in their own filth with my mother around. My husband I knew would give them plenty of love and attention even if he did forget to brush their teeth or make sure our son’s homework was done. I did some good yoga breathing. Practice letting go. He knows what to do. Exhale. Inhale. He’s their father. Exhale. Yikes.

I left at the last minute. In the morning after I’d gotten off the plane, I called home. My son missed me and cried at night much to the cranky dismay of father and daughter. “When are you coming home mommy? I miss you. I love you. Come back soon.” What a sweet child that boy is. “What should I bring back from the trip,” I asked him. “Maybe a Power Ranger!” Okay. I can do a Power Ranger, I thought. And then he broke my heart. “I just really want you to come home, mommy. ” With that I really was ready to come home. They could send the prize money by air if they wanted. Who was I to say no to Diego ever so sweetly missing me?

I could feel myself caving in and looking for ways to fly back. I asked to talk to my daughter. She got on the phone and in typical 3 year old style she said:
“Hi Mommy. You’re staying with Grandma right? She has a store by her house with a red circle and a red dot [Target]. Go there. In the toy section towards the basketballs they have. They have Fischer Price doctor kits. I want one. Get it for me please because you went away on a trip. We need trip toys. Get some Power Rangers for my brother.”

The guilt totally set in.

Of course I did my the obligatory trip to Target, made worse by the throngs of children in there yelling the word Mommy. I don’t know how many times I turned around only to see someone else’s 3 and 5 year old cajoling them into purchases, not my own. I spent at least double what I planned to (tucked half a way as Christmas presents).

To make matters worse, I showed up at my grandparents’ house only to have my grandmother look around me and squat low and squint. I was staying with the other grandmother who knew my plans, but the behavior of grandma two said it all. “Mi’ja,” she said, “where are the kids? Why would you come without the kids?”

By the end of my five days, I wasn’t exactly sure why I didn’t bring the kids. Of course I wouldn’t have been able to have those two late nights partying with my girlfriends and they would have missed a nice chunk of school and more than likely interrupted my reading and I wouldn’t have been able to run errands for my grandmothers as efficiently. I know my excuses. Still. life seemed unusually dull and boring without them.

When I showed up back at my house on Sunday? Big hugs all the way around. They felt great. But I don’t think I was in the door when Paloma said, “You got the presents, right Mommy?”

I know of course, that I won't have the stamina or the guilt free mindset to go away again any time soon. But why is it my husband can go away, miss us, we miss him, and that's that? Why is it that there's something nearly unnatural about mommy going away? Why is it impossible for the house to be just as clean as I left it? Why does time out for oneself feel like bad mothering? Is it just the partriarchy weighing down on my head or is it something else?

I go away again in May. I hope before then I strike some sort of chord of balance and guilt free living. I'll probably come back with bigger presents for those two weeks in May. Who knows? But I wish I could shake it off and just come back with a smile, a hug, and a thank you for being good boys and girls.