Jen took a business trip for three days - the longest she had ever been away from her son - and comes to appreciate the difference between "time away" and "quality time."

This week I had to go on a three-day business trip. It's probably the last travelling I will do until after the baby arrives. It wasn't a particularly long trip, or particularly distant, but it was still away. And I'd been saying I needed a break.

As the time for the trip drew nearer, I wanted to go less and less. I realized by the middle of the trip that what I needed wasn't a solo break from home, but just plain old time.

Leaving was harder than I thought. This was the longest I had ever been away from Aaron, and the longest I had been away from my husband in about a year and a half. A well-meaning friend had dismissed my misgivings about the trip and said it would be good for me. While that was probably true on some levels, in the end it wasn't true on all levels. It wasn't like this trip was the only adult time I'd have for a while - I have about nine hours of adult time every day while I am at work, and that is generally plenty! And it wasn't exactly pleasure time, as the trip was for work.

The morning I left started early - too early. Even so, my son came stumbling into the bathroom while I was getting ready, held tightly to my neck and said, "I didn't want you to put on your shoes." I promised to take them off again and meet him in bed for a couple more minutes of snuggle time before my taxi to the airport. I readily admit I am addicted to my son's hugs and kisses, something for which even a nice uninterrupted bath is no substitute. I crawled into bed with him and he kept his hand on my neck (his comfort zone) until I absolutely had to leave.

Maybe I'm doing it wrong, but I find business travel to be overrated. When travelling alone to a not-well-known city, I'm just not likely to hit the local hot spots, pregnant or not. And my company expects me to make the most use of that travel time for professional purposes. It's their nickel, after all. This trip was for training, so I wasn't required to schmooze with clients or other employees, but I was expected to learn as much as possible in my time there.

Due to our office administrative assistant booking my travel plans somewhat late, I ended up in a very nice hotel. I was looking forward to this. I arrived at the hotel after a full day of training and checked in - and realized that this would be a whole lot more fun with my family here to share it. But I noted the size of the tub in my room (big!) and went off to forage for dinner. The hotel was attached to a nice mall, so I browsed a little, found a cardigan sweater on sale (yes, in August?the training room was ultra-cold so I needed it!), bought a book, and settled in for a meal at a nice restaurant. I was amused to note the number of solo diners like me.

I was back in my room by 7:30pm with a whole evening ahead of me. I could do some work, I could knit a little, read a little, watch TV, or take a bath. Seems like stunning array of choices, but I was lonely. I could do all those things at home! Though perhaps not all in one night. I missed my boys. I called my boys and wanted to be there to give and get a certain three-year-old's goodnight kisses. To give and get a certain thirty-four-year-old's goodnight kisses. Then I did a little work, read, knit, and watched a little TV. I took a bath. It was 10:30. Time for bed. But I didn't feel any sense of rejuvenation. Sure it was nice, but it wasn't the great event I half expected it to be.

That's when I concluded that there's a real difference between "time away" and "quality time." Though not mutually exclusive, to get the most out of any time, the real need must be clearly identified. I probably could have been as happy and relaxed to have a quiet hour at home to take the same bubble bath. Or use that hour to zone out in front of a stupid television show just to let my brain relax a little. The key there, of course, is making the time and actually taking it.

There is also a difference between this kind of quality time, and life supporting task time that is more quickly accomplished solo. For example, Saturday morning errand running. That doesn't count as that quality time, I think. While it might be nicer, easier, and faster to pick up the dry cleaning solo, and might contribute to feeling more balanced simply by being out alone, it is not on the caliber of a pedicure.

I'm sure there are others who would have relished such time away like this, and I don't begrudge them. Perhaps I would have felt differently if my husband had been able to join me and we could have used the time to just plain be a couple. Perhaps I would have felt differently had I not been seven months pregnant and had felt more up to using the time to wander local museums or galleries. Perhaps lots of circumstances, but none were the one I was in.

All in all, I found those days to be a real mix of emotions. I felt guilt at not "enjoying" the time more, but also resentful that I had to be so far away - alone - at all. Most importantly I think I changed my definition of what I need when I say I need a break. I don't necessarily need time away, but I do need to make and use quality time.

Coming home to my boys was wonderful, of course. Aaron was so excited to see me it took him a couple of minutes to stand still long enough to actually give me my long-awaited hug and kiss. Walking through the airport, I felt more relaxed to be back where I belong, with my


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