I abandoned my husband and children for almost seven weeks. What really happened was this: a fantastic chance came up for me to teach a tropical biology field course. Through the support of my husband, kids, and friends, I was able to take advantage of the opportunity, even though it required me to be far from home for a while. I had the time of my life and worked with excellent students and a great colleague. And best of all, like getting back in touch with an old friend, I rediscovered a side to myself I hadn’t seen in years. We all came out the better for the experience.
Before I left, I had to repress the sense that I was abandoning my children. For weeks before the departure date, I’d find myself in tears as I imagined the day we had to say good-bye. When my daughter’s ballet teacher helped me get a sneak preview of the end-of-year dance recital I was going to miss, I ended up in the teacher’s arms to be comforted after I broke down sobbing over how much I was going to miss my kids. In preparing for my departure, I was honest with my children about my mixed feelings: excitement to teach the course but sadness about leaving them.
As usually happens with me, the anticipation is always worse than the event itself. We planned my departure carefully, and by the time the taxi arrived to take me to the airport, we’d already shed enough tears in the previous weeks. Quick kisses and hugs, then I was off. I let go and the world did not fall apart. In fact, the home world and the Liz world both thrived.
What surprised me was how quickly I became immersed in my new surroundings and experiences. For one thing, I was so busy there was no time to miss my family. We skyped, emailed, or spoke by phone as often as foreign internet connections allowed. But day-to-day I had many different responsibilities and new focus. I rediscovered in me a person I hadn’t seen in the twelve years since I’d become a parent. I felt like I was reuniting with a much-loved friend, except that now this person had grown up and projected the perspective and confidence that years of parenting brings.
Meanwhile back in Canada, my family was also so occupied with end-of-school activities that they didn’t have time to pine for me. My children took on new responsibilities and independence. I had no choice but to let go and have my husband take over in his own way. When I came home, the house was rearranged, and the fridge was stocked with new brands and different kinds of produce than I’d normally buy. But it was healthy for all of us to experience a bit of an upheaval.
Could we have staged a similar kind of minor revolution had I not left home? Could I have rediscovered myself in the same way had I not gone away from home on my own for a long period? I honestly don’t think it would have been possible. Several years ago I was hospitalized for nearly two weeks and was still somewhat incapacitated when I came home. My husband took over many responsibilities at that time but under frightening, emergency circumstances. As soon as I was well enough, I was eager to fall back into the comfort and safety of normal routine and division of duties simply because I wanted to feel like everything was OK again. This time the more positive circumstances of leaving home created opportunities for change at many levels, and we could prepare ourselves in advance as much as possible. And I realized how important it is for me to get kicked out of my comfort zone and forced into new situations.
I want to sustain what we’ve all learned during our time apart. So far the kids have kept up with their new chores and responsibilities. My husband and I have new-found respect for one another and for what’s involved in maintaining the household. Neither of us has made the other feel like we’re due some kind of payback or deserve a break. And most important I’m trying to keep up the connection I made with my old friend. I couldn’t have found her without leaving the comfort and security of home and routine. We’ve promised to stay in better touch from now on, even when family demands distract me.