“I can’t believe you’re leaving again.” My husband is watching me pack my bags with a look of despondency on his face as he anticipates the long weekend ahead of him, single-parenting four children. He’s a modern man, fully in favour of his wife having a career. It’s when that career takes her away from home that the situation gets problematic.
The Voice inside me begins its familiar tirade of relentless questioning. “What kind of mother leaves her children? Is this trip really so important? Are you sure you have your priorities straight? Look at these children! How can you leave them?”
My father’s judgments don’t help either. He reminds me of my late friend Andrea, who died at the age of seven when she suffered a major asthma attack brought on by anxiety. The source of anxiety was the absence of her parents, who were travelling overseas at the time. They came back to a funeral, and a life forever changed.
The reminder is terrifying, prompting a knee-jerk reaction to cancel everything, stay home and guard the door in the event that something happens to the kids while I’m not on duty. It’s every parent’s greatest fear that something terrible will befall their children. But we have to balance that fear with reason, logic and practicality. Will a three-night trip cause irrevocable harm to the children? Probably not. Will they be safe and well cared for in my absence? Yes. Okay. I attempt to banish my Jewish guilt and keep packing.
But in the hours before my flight leaves, my efforts to answer The Voice and its insinuations of parental neglect sound less valid and more feeble with each passing minute. “My work makes me feel good,” I tell The Voice. “It’s important for a modern woman to have a feeling of professional satisfaction. I feel competent at what I do, and I want to keep doing it.” Moreover, I’m teaching my kids that it’s okay for a mom to work and still be a good mom. It’s okay to want both. That means when they become mothers, they won’t feel compelled to be tethered to the kitchen and the carpool schedule. They’ll know they have choices.
Still, the choices aren’t always easy or simple ones, and judgments abound from every direction. In my case, the nature of my professional getaways tends to make others doubt the credibility of their status as ‘real work.’ I’m a travel writer. Look over one of my itineraries and you’ll see my time is jam-packed with interesting people, beautiful hotels and fun destinations. “That’s not work,” my friends say. “And it’s hardly lucrative,” my husband reminds me later, as we climb into bed.
I agree, travel writing has its perks, but nevertheless, it is work. There’s pressure to deliver great stories, even when the destination is not as perky as its brochures would have you believe. There’s solitary meals in the company of my laptop and lonely nights in hotel rooms with the phone clutched to my ear, wishing I could teleport back home and kiss the kids good night. I love my work, don’t get me wrong. But it doesn’t feel much like a vacation.
He’s right about the money. Though it’s repeatedly voted one of the best careers in the world, travel writing is not a good way to pay the bills. But money cannot be the exclusive reason to pursue something you love. My work brings me profound satisfaction, and each time I do it I feel a surge of passion, exhilaration and excitement. I return home with renewed energy, refreshed and with a different appreciation for my family and home life.
So I continue to answer The Voice, mustering all my determination. I hoist a backpack on my shoulders, kiss the family goodbye with as little fanfare as possible, and board another plane. When I get home, I know everyone will be glad to see me. And I’ll be a happier mom for following my heart to a career I truly love.