By day four of a business trip out of the country, my heart truly starts to hurt. By day seven, as I'm supposedly enjoying a final night out with colleagues it's nearly intolerable. And it's not just the third rendition of the Don't Cry For Me Argentina cover at the South American themed restaurant in Prague that's blaring from the speakers right into my ear.
My mind is skipping right to the moment I walk in the door, let my suitcase fall to the ground feel those little arms wrapped around me, break open the travel gifts, and cuddle on the couch like I never want to let go, jet lag be damned.
Yes, it's maybe 16 percent working mom guilt (a number that seems to be decreasing by the year, praise be). Mostly, it's the pain of absence.
Still, have you ever noticed it's different for the kids?
It's as if for them, the moment you return, the time you were away is already gone.
There is only now.
The longing of the past somehow never happened. Or if it did, the time is so bendy and twisty in a child's mind, it could have been a week ago or a year ago or maybe something in a dream once.
We so easily attribute our feelings to the children. I used to joke to my mother that she always said things like, "I'm cold...do you want to put on a sweater?"
(And now, I do it. We are our mothers.)
More and more I see that children do see the donut and not the hole; it's not what you're not doing with them when you're not home that matters, it's what you are doing when you are home.
I want to be in the now with them. Their now.
It's not always easy.
There are emails to return and birthday parties that need planning and dentists that need scheduling and camps that need their deposits and work emergencies that probably really aren't.
There is also a blog that has been neglected for a week.
I decided that the blog will be okay for another day or two.
Instead, I am watching the puppet show the girls wrote for the new marionettes in the collection, in which they spend more time fighting about who says what line or whether the sorcerer is really a sorcerer or just Ron Weasley in disguise, than actually delivering lines.
I am watching them fly across the monkey bars, showing me how they can now skip a bar, which is evidently the Olympic gold medal of all playground feats of athletic prowess.
I am sitting across the table learning the new clapping game while we eat, instead of scolding them to hurry up and finish. (Priorities.)
I am pushing for more interesting sentences in the "write 10 interesting sentences" homework assignment.
I am trying and make sense of Thalia's insanely long recap of a recess conversation between six girls that is about I have no freaking idea.
I am scratching Sage's back by demand, no UNDER the shirt Mommy, and don't stop until I tell you.
I am saying yes to ice cream. Yes to scooters. Yes to running around naked after bathtime.
(Them, not me. You're welcome, neighbors.)
I don't think children's minds will work this way forever. I think like tooth fairies and elves under the bed and the belief that anyone can grow up to be an astronaut-princess-kindergarten teacher that some very beautiful aspects of childhood give way to adolescence and there's nothing we can do about it. The moment will change. The longing or resentment may kick in. They will become more like us. They may need that sweater after all.
But for now...there is now.
And there is a puppet show on the couch.