there is such a thing as too much free time

Seriously, there is. 

I just came back from performing Mother Load at three cities on the other side of the country. I left for the airport Thursday morning, as soon as the kids got out the door to school with my husband. I gave him a good-luck kiss and a typed list of everything he needed to remember for the kids between that moment and Monday morning: staggered pickups, playdates, dress up days, dress down days, two different library days, household object starting with letter-of-week day, gym bag day, and– most crucially– show and tell day at preschool. And then, for the first time in weeks, I was alone.

Many people dread a cross-country flight, but an unaccompanied mother is not one of those people. I watched a movie, I wrote ten thank you notes, I read until I was bored, I had Doritos snack mix (because calories consumed in mid-air never count). I spoke to no one for hours except to say “Coke Zero, please” to the flight attendant. I was in heaven.

By the time I landed, rented a car, and drove an hour and a half to the designated Courtyard Inn, I was a little antsy for human communication. I called the house. “They’re fine,” my babysitter said. “Anyone want to talk to Mommy?” 

No takers.

This was good. If they got on the phone they’d probably start crying, seeing how they must desperately miss me by now. Right?

I was up by 5 am the next morning, since it was 8 am on the East Coast– sleeping all day, in my usual life. I worked out in the teeny gym, I got coffee in the lobby, I blow dried my hair, and it was still dark outside.

I called the stage manager. Waking her. “We’re starting tech at 12,” she said. “But we’ll be focusing lights till about 4 pm. I’ll call you around then to let you know when we need you.”

It was 8 am. I was not needed until 4 pm. I should have been doing handsprings. Instead, I was slightly panicked. What was I going to do all day? I could write, but I was too nervous about the show that night to focus. I could… walk around the hotel parking lot, and down the highway to the In n Out Burger. I could check my email again. 

You may be reading this and wanting to throw something at me. What any mother wouldn’t give for a day without obligations! This is true- but when you are stranded, carless, aside an interstate, and when you have not brought those seven years of photographs to put into albums with you, you too might be a little bit at a loss as to what to do with your time.

The show went great that night, but by Saturday morning at 9 am, I was dropped off at a new hotel in a new city. “We’ll be back for you around 3,” the stage manager said.  I ate peanut M&M’s, I watched a Harry Potter movie on HBO, I called my husband, who said the kids were fine and didn’t want to talk. 

By Sunday morning, sitting on a park bench in the glorious sunshine while the crew focused lights at the third venue, I was a little bit out of my mind. After the matinee, we had six hours to kill until our red-eye home. We went to the mall. I tried hard not to cry at how much I wanted to be home already.

I was out of JFK airport at 6:30 am, raccoon-eyed and greasy, willing my taxi to go faster. At 7:30 am, I walked in my apartment and was toppled over by my deliriously happy children, who all talked at once non-stop until I had delivered each of them to their classrooms.

I staggered home. I only had about an hour to sleep before I had to pick Maggie up. I set my alarm, delighted to be busy, thrilled to have so much to do, humbled at the privilege it is to be a mom. It might be exhausting, frustrating, enervating work at times. But now I can say with satisfaction: when I am my children’s mother, I am never, ever at a loss for something to do. 

PS: My husband did pretty amazingly well, except for forgetting the letter of the week object, and neglecting to open Seamus’s backpack and find the “IMPORTANT!” note stating that class picture day was Monday. I’m glad he didn’t get it all perfectly right, though- that means that maybe I was missed after all.