Paper Trail

This says it all (image by Jay Roeder, at

This says it all (image by Jay Roeder, at

It was 6:15 AM, and I was searching for a space in my house that would seem novel to Simon, so that I could entertain him while everyone else slept in.  I couldn’t face our dirty, toy-strewn living room, so I took Simon upstairs to Jeff’s office.

After accepting that Simon wasn’t going to peacefully sit in my lap drawing loopy “circles” with his new box of 64 crayons, I turned to the computer to entertain us both.

As I reached for the mouse, I saw a sheet of paper that had various cab and restaurant receipts stapled to it.

Jeff’s expense report, I realized once my eyes focused on the details.  In his orderly way, Jeff had labeled each receipt and arranged them to form a perfect puzzle of expenditures for the second month of the third fiscal quarter.

I moved the expense sheet and Googled “hot air balloons” for Simon who’s recently become enraptured by the sight of inflatable transportation.  My eyes kept returning to Jeff’s expense report.  Each 4 inch by 6 inch slip of paper formed a breadcrumb trail of his work travels — an early dinner eaten at Ray’s Hell Burger– (I hope he ate with someone else because the total was $54.58).  Later that week, he had some Gatorade at the National Airport Grill– (It was pretty cheap, only $2.25 at an airport no less).

I bounced restless Simon on my knee and tried to find images of something that would excite — quietly– a curious toddler.  “How about some giraffes? You love giraffes.”  Simon sat transfixed by images of giraffes, and I similarly transfixed by Jeff’s expenses.

Why was I so hung up on the record of the 8-inch meatball sub Jeff ate at Bozzelli’s Italian Deli in Arlington, Virginia?  I hate meatball subs, I reminded myself.

But those slips of paper proved something about Jeff.  They were tangible evidence that he was out in the world.  He existed because he crossed state borders and time zones and ate exotic sandwiches south of Mason-Dixon line.   Each receipt marked Jeff’s footprint in the big, wide world.

I rarely leave my zip code.

Jeff eats in restaurants I have never heard of with people I have never met. I rolled this thought around in my head as if it was the first time I realized that Jeff had to eat and socialize with other people on his trips to D.C.

It wasn’t that I felt threatened that Jeff had co-workers to eat burgers with or elite status on American Airlines.  I remembered having co-workers not so long ago, and I spent a lot of time thinking of excuses to avoid joining them for dinner or a Bulls game.  I also detested month-end when my secretary would send me email reminders about my expenses.  Begrudgingly, and always at the last minute, I would gather up receipts I stuffed, all wadded up, in my wallet.  I usually had to troll around asking co-workers for blank cab receipts so I could be reimbursed for my trips to and from O’Hare.

I hated that shit.

But, now I feel shame about how familiar my life is.  There are three places I eat: at home (standing up), at Wishbone Restaurant (because it’s exceedingly kid-friendly), and at the gym snack bar.  Jeff knows those places intimately.  Everything about me and my life is known to him.  And there’s no paper trail for my comings and goings, unless you count the trail of baby wipes and snotted-on tissues that fall out of my pockets.

I have the more familiar life, and I have made an uneasy peace with that.

In the face of Jeff’s expense report, however, I felt every inch of my unease.  It was like a layer just under my epidermis– it covered everything.

But that morning was different because I let that uneasy feeling be.  I didn’t try to fix it by brushing up my resume and pretending I would check for jobs that “look interesting.”  I let myself feel the free-fall of dis-ease without trying to distract myself or beat it back with platitudes about motherhood or choices.

Later that night, in the dark stillness, I felt the unease settle next to me, as close as my pillow.

What do you want to say to me? I asked it.

In the silence I heard, “It’s ok to want more.  There is more.  For you.  But for now, sleep, because you need your rest where you are headed.”

Hooking up again with the writers at Yeah Write. If you are curious, hop along for the ride. It’s about community and writing and bath tub gin, but you don’t have to drink to get the buzz.



76 thoughts on “Paper Trail

  1. I so hear you. I feel similarly. I remind myself that this time with young children is but a time that will be past at some point, and in that new time maybe new adventures for me – hopefully outside my zip code, or at least outside the gym snack bar. Though really I should spend more time at the gym and not less.

  2. Amen! So, so much more … I’m holding “beyond your wildest dreams” for you. Not a doubt in my mind. I could feel every word, every breath in this post. Loved how you settled in and then cuddled with your thoughts and feelings. Loved the answer you allowed in. Beautiful.

    • Cuddled….I like that. It was more that I was too tired to claw them back under the covers and I for sure wasn’t going to get up and try to escort them to the toilet. Let ’em talk, is my new motto.

  3. I liked this so much. You made it so easy to relate to the thoughts that creep up when we realize that maybe, just maybe, our lives don’t look exactly like we thought they would, or are even exactly what we want them to be. And I think that sometimes we all have to remind ourselves that wanting more, hoping for more, doesn’t diminish where we are.

    • Yes, I need some new discourse. IT’s so boring to be so black and white. Nothing against my kiddos or being home, but I miss dressing up or sitting at a computer or having a freaking expense report. But, I can’t do it for the wrong job/profession. It doesn’t take anything away from this special time that I sometimes want more. Hell, I know my husband does sometimes too. I like that part of me, but it sure is uncomfortable.

  4. Oh Christie. I love this post. I have so many close SAHM friends who struggle with this exact same thing. And then they listen to me struggle with being a working mother trying to make THAT work, too. Oh for the love, is it ever easy? I am so excited to hear that your unease has big plans for you, and I can’t wait to hear more…

  5. This is awesome. Having worked my whole life until my kids were 13 and 6, after now being “at home” two years, I can relate to this so much (my husband goes all over the world to eat with others – and I used to too). Mostly, it’s great but there are those moments…beautifully captured!

  6. I’ve been following for a little while, and this is, by far, my favorite piece you’ve written. It’s raw and vulnerable, but hopeful. My man is in Mexico today, Asia next week, having adventures and learning so much. My kids are older, but not ready for me to be career busy because of health issues that require somebody who can make a split second decision….sigh….worth it, and yet…..thank you for this.

    • Thank you. I was thinking it was sort of boring so it’s great to hear your experience. I’m not ready to be career busy either. I know I can’t do it all but I get anxious wondering where my path will lead.

      And excited.

  7. I had an assignment where I traveled like Jeff for a few years. At first it’s as exciting and interesting as you might imagine. Eventually it just gets tiring and you wish you could just stay home.

  8. It is so normal to want more. My “more” is not to have to go to work though. The thought of working 8 hours a day again plus trying to handle the home is too much for me. I enjoyed this post from you and the fact that it dives deep into the feelings behind the thoughts. Very well done.

    • Thanks. And I agree. I don’t want to be gone all day stressing about relieving the nanny or carpool pick up. Or missing my kids doing a job that doesn’t fulfill me. I’m not sure what the more is or what it will look like. I am curious!

  9. Lovely, honest post. The heart of innovation, wanting more, in a good way. Nothing at all wrong with that. I like the back and forth of your story from entertaining a baby and imagining Jeff’s life and yours when you find that more, whatever it might be. Nice.

  10. Great piece! It felt familiar….you captured those feelings really well. I am torn between ‘wanting more’ and being happy with the status quo. My husband also travels and submits expenses. In fact he’s away this week. It’s been rough here with Miss Cranky Pants.

    Whoa Nelly….you get to go to a gym? lol

    • I specifically joined my gym because…. Great free child care! Actually, the focus of it is tennis, which I have played exactly zero times in my life. And hubs is gone here too. All the coming and going– we make it work, but sometimes I wonder wtf I am doing. It’s better after a snack. Hope the teething gets easier for y’all.

  11. Well done. You really captured the frustration, boredom, and tedium that can come with being a SAHM. I used to feel this way almost all of the time, to the point where I was completely envious of my husband and his day-to-day life. Until I realized that I was imagining an unrealistic and nonexistent life. He was not having fun lunches with interesting colleagues and co-workers; he was dining with boring clients who were ruining his weekend with additional work. He was not enjoying “me time” and laboring away on work that fulfilled his soul. He was getting screamed at by opposing counsel. Heck, I’d take a screaming baby and lunch at home to that any day. Well, almost any day. It depends on how loud the screaming is and how bad the leftovers are.

    • It’s true!!! I made a fucking Picasso out of his expense report where he eats nasty burgers with stupid people. He will not appreciate me memorializing this here, but it’s true. It’s not glamorous to be four states away from your family or stuck on a conference call when we’re having a dance party in the living room.

  12. Wow! Making friends with your discomfort. It isn’t because you want to feel it, but because you want to hear what it has to teach you. Powerful!

  13. I had one of these moments today and let me tell you, you really underestimated the power of what you did. It is SO SO SO f*cking hard to sit with uncomfortable feelings. But if you can, if you do, the lesson is always far more powerful than just the “doing” that distracts our minds.

    This: “But for now, sleep, because you need your rest where you are headed.”

    This needs to be on T-shirts and coffee mugs everywhere.

  14. Even though I work, I still feel the exact way you feel. I have friends who travel the globe with their work, and I can’t escape this crap-ass cow town. And you know, because I have a 6 month old I am probably stuck here for life. Mostly I’m okay with that. It was my choice.

    But I want more too.

    • Yes, you said it perfectly. Right? Because you and I are supposed to be at work– you who works and I who teaches a writing class 2 hours per week, which effectively means I stay home. But, we are on the same side. I made all of my choices and I re-make them everyday. It’s good. It’s what I want and I won’t and can’t deny the hunger and passion that is within me. If I can channel it to being roommom for Sadie’s preschool, so be it. If not, I am going to be looking at the horizon now and again thinking about my “what’s next.” At least now you know you are not missing anything with Costco not being in your town…..

  15. Yep. Yep. Oh yeppity yep. I used to teach “Where is it Written?” by Judith Viorst, but it wasn’t until I was home with the kids that I really got it. And it’s not that I don’t like black bean soup for lunch. It’s that I would like to switch it up once in a while. 🙂 Really well done.

  16. You so clearly enunciated something I have felt with my husband gone. He’s seeing another continent, one I may never get to see. All I’m left with is home and baby. His life brackets mine. As I write this, though, I’m realizing that blogging and writing has become a big part of the continent I’m exploring without him – I talk to him about it now, but ultimately he doesn’t read most of it and doesn’t get it.

    • You’re totally right. I was thinking that he doesn’t know you or all the writers/bloggers I am meeting and that’s a new continent too. Great point. You articulated something that was just beginning to dawn on me. Thank you

  17. It’s such a hard balance to strike, and I love that recognition at the end, that you are going to want more for as long as you live this life. Yet, implied in that is the idea that you would want this life more if you didn’t have it.

  18. This is my favorite post of yours so far. Raw. Unsentimental. Honest. Hopeful. Relatable. Yay! Wanting more regardless. The grass is always greener.

  19. I swear you must have some sort of mind reading device. I have thoughts and stuggles, then i sit down with my laptop, and Boom your writing about them. Its great comfort to know im not alone! Thank you.

  20. I am so right there with you right now. I love my hubby dearly, but we moved so he could go to grad school, we moved for his job, and I put any forward momentum my career had on hold to have the kids and be the parent who is around when he’s working. But he’s going to be promoted to full professor at the end of this year, so then it is my turn to be “it” for a while. Loved this post SO much.

  21. This made me cry because I can so relate. It’s not even that it’s necessarily sad; it’s just the weight of knowing someone else knows that feeling and can describe it so much more eloquently than I can. Fantastic post.

  22. I can relate to this too. Even though I work nearly full time now, for a while I did not. I felt like I lost my identity after I had my son. I had been with one company until my maternity leave and and 2007 was the year everything went crazy. I’m only starting to pull it all back together as my son is older, career is going along again (for better or worse), writing is happening. Your honesty is so brave here and on quite a few posts lately. Love how you closed this post.

  23. This is definitely one of my favorite posts of yours and I love all of them. 🙂

    You are so spot-on in capturing that feeling of being left behind while imagining all the excitement your husband must be experiencing in the real world. When my kids were young, my husband used to get so frustrated with me for resenting his time away from home. He would say, “Do you really think I want to be anywhere but here?”

    When I went back to work, albeit remotely, I started to understand. I missed the time during the day with the kids, being able to drop everything to hang out with them. Now as I look for a new job and face the potential of going back to work in an office, I REALLY get what he meant. I don’t want to be anywhere but here either.

    I applaud you for recognizing that this is just one chapter of your life. There will be “more.” And it will be fabulous.

  24. I so get this. What used to be a hellish, quick turn around one day business trip to Europe or the west coast is now “up to eight plus hours – each way – of blissful solitude in which to read, sleep and eat in restful solitude.

  25. At first I thought you were heading towards finding out that he was cheating and I was so scared! But then it was so, so much better, because you took such an internal conflict and made it fascinating. So great!

  26. Yes yes yes. My husband travels a lot, too, and it’s hard not to be just a little resentful when he’s eating dinner on a beach in Cancun and I’m having macaroni and cheese. Again.

  27. Beautiful post. I almost always eat standing up, and (here’s the sad part) I’ve been doing it for so long now—thirteen years—that I actually prefer it. When I occasionally sit down at the table I feel antsy and miserable and don’t feel right until I’m standing at the counter again. Help! Just kidding, I’m good. I think my husband envies me for getting to be home, and I sometimes, not often, envy him for getting to talk to people all over the world and have lunch in restaurants. Given the option, though, I don’t think either one of us would trade places. Well done as always!

  28. My husband doesn’t travel, but I get this. I have my life, and he has my life plus his life. I envy your ability to let your feelings be. That’s something I’m definitely still working on. Probably always will.

  29. I feel like my actual physical world has become smaller since I started blogging, while my online world has grown immensely. My husband, on the other hand, seems to have a much larger physical world now. I really enjoyed reading this as I totally got it.

  30. “I have the more familiar life, and I have made an uneasy peace with that.” How truthful! I marinate with these feelings too as does everyone above. I thinks its okay to hope and dream and want. It keeps me going. Those thoughts make me happy. And our time will come. Lovely, honest post.

    • Yes, I really truly believe my time to be out there and not as much in here will come. Those thoughts make me happy too. And when I am out there and want to be back here I can remember precious days like today.

  31. I often save movie tickets as a reminder of time gone by. Of course now that I have a kid, I’ve been to a handful of movies in 3 years. But I still look at the old ones and remember the life we had as just a couple. Not in a bad way. Just differently.

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