Howie has been very faithful to me, which is something I like in a husband. His fidelity has risen to a new height since I started writing this blog: he reads my posts every day. It’s a touching display of devotion that is not lost on me. Yet the day has come that I am packing my bags and heading out. There comes a time when a woman–even one with kids–has to answer a call that lures her away from home.
I am making my second pilgrimage to the mecca for writers known simply as AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs Annual Conference and Bookfair). The first conference I attended was in Chicago two years ago, and this one is in Seattle.
Tomorrow morning, I will begin my immersion in a multitude of sessions with titles like Four Ways Blogging Benefits a Writer, Preparing for Exuberant Life Beyond the MFA, From Thesis to Book: The Stretch Run, Full Disclosure: How to Spill Your Guts without Making a Mess and The Author’s Children: The Intersection of Art and Ethics in Writing About Your Kids.
For three days, spread across three venues (Washington State Convention Center, Sheraton Seattle, and Western New England MFA Annex) attendees can sample from over 30 sessions presented simultaneously during each of six, back-to-back, hour-and-a-quarter blocks. In addition, a vast array of publishers will delight the masses sponsoring readings on three separate stages and a book fair that stretches as far as the eye can see and vibrates underneath it all. Writers from far and wide, at all points on the spectrum in their artistic development and partial to their own genre of creative writing will gorge on the offerings of this literary orgy.
I’m breathless just thinking about it.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Howie and Sophie will be left to fend for themselves. I should be ashamed.
As I said, my loyal husband has been following my blog, which is very endearing to me. He doesn’t offer his opinion, unless I ask him what he thought of a particular post, in which case he usually says,
“I liked it.” or “There’s a typo in it.”
He typically doesn’t take issue with any of my topics. Until my most recent one, the one I wrote about lessons I hope I’ve taught Sophie.
“Do people realize Sophie has two parents?” he asked, with a justifiable edge of irritation.
As I ready myself to depart for Seattle, I have to stop and appreciate Howie for another form of his dedication; he works hard with me to care for our young.
In the animal kingdom, males generally seem most interested in their females–their mates–and not as interested in their offspring. In traditional marriages, like ours, the male goes out hunting in the world and the female gathers food and tends to the children. This is not to say Howie doesn’t play his part as father or that I don’t work outside the house. It’s just a division of labor we’ve set up that happens to pair nicely with our skill sets and affinities. Some might consider it less-evolved, but it works for us.
If ever I’ve questioned our roles, I’ve been reassured by shows on Animal Planet or the Nature Channel. Elephant herds, for example, are matriarchal and the strongest bonds are among the females, especially between the cows and their calves. The bulls wander in and out of the territory mostly for breeding purposes.
The most disturbing televised display of paternal apathy I’ve ever witnessed was a year ago fall, when a cub was born to Mei Xiang, the female Giant Panda at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington. A week after the cub was born, distress vocalizations–called “chirping”–were heard coming from the mother Panda. Zookeepers found the newborn unresponsive but there were no signs of trauma, at least for the cub. An autopsy revealed the cub died from lung and liver damage. Mei Xiang was audibly and visibly grieved over the loss of her cub, continuing to cradle a found object from her den, so ferocious were her maternal instincts.
The father, Tian Tian, was caught on camera on the far side of the habitat munching obliviously on his bamboo.
My leaving town without Howie and/or at least one of our kids in tow is about as rare as the birth of a Giant Panda cub in captivity. Howie has traveled so much for work that he has earned Platinum status with Delta. When I fly with Howie, we’re often upgraded to first-class. When I travel alone, I’m lucky to not have to ride down below with the baggage (and any animals).
In anticipation of the coming school mornings when I won’t be home to kiss Sophie awake and attend to her as she gets ready for school, including but not limited to filling her water bottle, cutting an apple and zipping it into a Ziplock, and pouring coffee with cream into her traveler, I asked Howie,
“What time will you wake her on Thursday and Friday?” and he said,
“I’m not waking her. She can wake herself.”
What kind of fantasy world do I live in, I ask myself, where a high school senior needs parental involvement to get herself out of the house in the morning?!
But I know my presence in her morning routine will be missed. Who wouldn’t want someone seeing to their every need?
“Mom; will you throw me down a pair of leggings?”
“Mom; have you seen my glasses?”
“Mom; my wrist really hurts again, can you get me another doctor’s appointment?”
Sophie doesn’t even have to ask me to tend to her car. I’ve taken this job upon myself, as this winter continues to brutalize us. I throw Howie’s big overcoat over my nightgown, plunge my feet into my boots and traipse out to the driveway to clear any snow off or warm up her car. I feel bad if she has to get into a cold car.
I’m embarrassed to reveal the depth of my indulgence of this child.
Monkey mothers allow their young to cling to their fronts or backs while foraging for food and they spend hours grooming and doting on them. Sophie isn’t furry enough for me to have to pick nits off of her (though she has accused me of being nitpicky), but I succumb to my maternal instincts like any other mammalian mother.
I’ve been talking with her about how different things will be while I’m away and she’s alone with her dad.
“He’s going to treat you like a grown-up, which is what you say you want. You say I treat you like a baby, so you’ll probably like the mornings with Dad in charge.”
“It’s going to be fine. I don’t know why you keep talking about it. You’re only going to be gone a couple days.”
But in a couple days, whole worlds can change.