As it so happens, in my marriage, I am the one who travels. As far as arrangements go, this is quite the reverse of the ‘dad travels – mom stays back in town.’ When it is book launch time, I can actually go through a couple of months of living out of my suitcase.
The spouse on the other hand, as a stock market trader, is in a profession where he is at his desk all day and home after the market shuts. Between 8.30 to 3.30 he is completely unavailable. Post that he is completely available. He can be counted upon to be at home when I’m not.
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Last year, the offspring’s midterm exams came about at the same time as my third book, All Aboard was released. As is mandatory during book launch time, I was shuttling between events and cities. Well-meaning mommy friends gasped in shock. “Can’t you reschedule your travel?” they asked. “After all, it is the midterm exam.”
“But his father is right there,” I replied. The censorious gaze was unblinking. Bad mom. Bad mom. Bad mom. It had been printed out in bold and slapped onto my forehead.
I spent all my travel and events berating myself with self-inflicted mommy guilt and then, when the results came in, I flagellated myself with the mandatory ‘cat o’ nine tails’ of maternal guilt. This year again, the midterm exams come when I must travel to Kumaon, as part of the planning board member of the Kumaon Literary Festival.
A mom who puts work-related travel before a midterm exam is made out to be the one who is intractably selfish. The worst censure one faces is from other moms. I find myself apologising for my selfishness, sometimes. I find myself wondering if I am an aberration. After all, aren’t we expected, like Aarfa in Sultan, to put our hopes and dreams and ambitions into a little tin box, lock it and throw away the key once we sign up to bear offspring?
While travel for work is viewed with some grudging wistfulness, travel for pleasure, alone, with friends and without family is viewed with greater censure.
A girl’s weekend without the kid and spouse? The husband says “Go, of course,” with the wholehearted taciturnity that marks him. This is what lets me go. He’s there. And he will be, for those few days, parent enough for both of us. After all, if he had to go, would I say, “Stay?”
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Wouldn’t I have just manned the fort the best I could, for the both of us? Isn’t that what a marriage is about, being there, sharing the load, doing the best each one of us can and being each other’s bedrock of unstinting support?
Within a marriage too, the changing gender equations are leading to a lot more unconventional arrangements based on convenience. A friend I know is abroad on deputation for two years while her son studies for his board exams next year. She could only do this because her husband stays back and is a complete hands-on father, and is totally involved with her son’s studies. “There’s Skype and there’s WhatsApp. I don’t really feel I’m not there for him, because we have long chats every day. But yes, this has raised a lot of eyebrows specially because it is board exam year, and studies are crucial in this year. I try not to worry too much, but sometimes, the reactions make me wonder if I’ve taken the wrong decision.”
Though she and her husband took the decision for her to accept this posting in consensus, she admits it has raised some eyebrows. “My in-laws have shifted in to spend the next couple of years in our home so that there is someone at home when my husband is at work, to watch my son. Nonetheless, I keep hearing ‘How lucky you are that your husband allowed you to go,’ from some friends. I had never thought of ‘permission’ being needed from my husband. All we had thought is how we could make this work in the best interests of our son. But still, no matter how well-qualified, or successful, or professional a woman is, the concept of ‘permission’ from the spouse still exists.”
I hear her. “How lucky you are,” some tell me when I am in one of the manic stages of travel. “You can leave everything and just travel. How lucky you are that your husband allows you to go.” I hear the wistfulness in their voices, and I can offer no palliative. I am lucky in that I have a great support system in my mother-in-law who lives with us, and a well-oiled clockwork system of domestic helps, which is half my battle won. And yes, I am lucky in that the husband understands that my work is important to me, and therefore it is important to him, because I am important to him.
When I’m traveling, I’ve learnt, as the husband has, that when he is in charge, he is in charge. And I need to let go a bit. This is something we are equal partners in, both the marriage and the parenting. And by letting go, I repose my trust in him. And by letting me go, he too reposes his trust in me.