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Working mom, traveling solo

Friday, August 08, 2008

 I hate the term “working mother.” It seems to imply that there are two types of moms: those who go to the office and put in their 8-hour day, and those who lie about eating bonbons and watching soap operas. In fact, any parent who’s truly engaged in their children’s day-to-day lives is, in one way or another, a working parent.

(The opposite term, “stay at home mom,” is not much better. What, she doesn’t hop on out to the local coffee shop from time to time, or take the kids to the Science Museum? Sheesh. And  “full time mom” isn’t any better…it’s not like I’m only a mom part-time, as if my role as breadwinner is entirely separate from my responsibilities as a parent.)

But nonetheless, I’m also aware that the experiences of those of us who do spend those 8 hours in an office (or at 30,000 feet, or on the factory floor) are different from those who spend those hours wiping runny noses, making macaroni-and-cheese, and hauling out the Chutes and Ladders game for just one last time. And one of the differences I’m beginning to suspect is in the way we see solo vacations, the way we feel about spending our vacation time away from our children.

From the time that my son was four months old, I’ve been away from him at least 40 hours a week, and often many more when my work puts me on the road. This is in many ways a blessing for both of us – he has very close relationships with his father and grandparents, and I have a career that fully engages my head and heart. But there is also a cost: During our usual day-to-day routine, we don’t get to spend enough time together as I would like, enough time to sometimes get truly sick of each other (of course, now that he’s a tween, I know this will be changing, as it’ll soon take less time to achieve that particular objective).

Starting with our first mother/son trip in 2003, Walt Disney World (and whatever other Disney Parks we can get to) has been a place for us to reconnect, spend some seriously concentrated time together, usually just the two of us. As action-packed as our vacations are, they’re definitely concentrated time together – a luxury we don’t have during the work/school week.  We have long conversations as we wait for overdue buses. We entertain each other in airports and airplanes with stories from school or work. We make new memories as we enjoy the Disney attractions, check out new restaurants, get together with friends old and new. We wail together over cancelled flights, and rejoice together when a new attraction or celebrity meet-and-greet is truly spectacular.

In fact, that very first mother/son trip was planned because I’d been on the road an awful lot that year, sometimes out of town for as long as 12 days. My business travel schedule has trailed off a bit recently, but it’s still not nothing. So, given how much time I spend away from my child already, it’s hard for me to consider spending any of my precious vacation time away from him. In fact, I’ve only gone on two solo leisure trips since he was born, and both were weekend getaways (most recently, a jaunt to MagicMeets).

I find it especially difficult to fathom spending time at Disney without him, since it’s our usual destination for mother/son trips. There was a time when I didn’t think I’d visit Disney without him again, at least not until he’d turned 18. But alas, MouseFest has forced my hand! I can’t stand to miss it again this year, and I can’t pull him out of his new, highly-competitive junior high school, so I’m now planning my very first solo Disney vacation.

I must admit that even through my guilt I can almost taste the freedom. If I want to book myself into the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, who’s gonna try and stop me? I’ll ride all the attractions he hates, maybe even go to one of those character meals that he’s outgrown.  I’ll watch the High School Musical Pep Rally, dance a little gig down Main Street, and indulge myself in all the other foolishness that once endeared me to my child, but now often embarrasses him horribly.

But as I plan this trip, I can also see there are many things I’m consciously avoiding, out of deference to his absence. I didn’t book a room at Pop Century, because it’s his favorite hotel. I might just skip a few of my favorite attractions, because they’re his too. I won’t book a dining reservation at the Sci Fi Dine-In, because those B-movie trailers just wouldn’t be any fun without him. I’ll probably skip Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, because he wants to go and hasn’t had the chance.

I have a feeling that MouseFest will find me alternately skipping down a merry path, and shedding a few tears in the ladies’ room. I’m glad I’m doing it, though; the other moms I talk to tell me that the first real solo vacation is the hardest, by far. So, if you see a short-haired, middle-aged chick wearing a Wildcats shirt, leaving a trail of tear-soaked Kleenex, and singing to herself as she traipses through Fantasyland, it’s probably me!