If I’d known then what I know now, it would have been no surprise that three of my four children came into the world after waking me up from a sound sleep. (The fourth missed out only because we beat her to the punch and induced labor.) All these years later, they’re all still robbing me of my sleep.
I can be exhausted when I crawl under the comforter, but one nagging worry, one random thought of how long it’s been since they called or how they’re faring at school or work, and my eyes fly open and refuse to close.
Just as they were when they were babies, these grown children of mine are always on my mind, just under the surface, only barely covered by the details of my own day.
Last night, well after midnight, I was still staring at the ceiling. I couldn’t sleep because my mind was on my son who, the last time I’d spoken to him almost two weeks before, was heading out of India and into Nepal. I had no idea where he was or what he was doing. One part of me knew he was OK. But the other, involuntary, side of my brain kept playing out a string of possibilities and ‘what-ifs.’
I tossed and turned, irritating the cat enough stretch and give me a nasty look before hopping off the bed in search of a more peaceful spot, until I finally surrendered, turned on the light beside the bed and picked up my phone.
In a chatty “Not that I’m worried or anything…” tone of text, I sent a short email asking how and where he was and mentioning it had been a little while since we’d heard from him. I put down the phone, pulled the covers over my head and went to sleep.
The next morning, when I sat up, put on my glasses and checked the morning’s email, I saw what I’d been hoping for: a reply. He was safe. He was happy. He would write more later.
That was all I needed to know.
For the rest of the day I thought about the solace of communication at the right time and just how easy it is these days for us to stay in touch.
Like everyone else, I gripe about the flood of emails in my inbox, the frenzy of a 24/7 news cycle and the constant distraction of social media. But as a traveler and the mother of kids who seem bound to wander, I'm immensely grateful for technology. Imagine the wives and mothers of sailors and soldiers in the not-too-distant past who would have given anything for the comfort of one or two lines or a quick Skype call.
Of course, if I’m honest, there is a more selfish reason I depend on this modern ability to reach out and connect. It allows me to wander now, too. A freedom that was also denied to wives and mothers in the past.
Tethered by technology, I can fly away for a day or a week and still be within the sound of a voice should my family need me. I can send a text to say good morning or a virtual kiss at bedtime. I can send or receive photos from around the world. I can be the woman whose heart remains at home but whose feet still itch to travel new roads.
Technology is sometimes a nuisance, but it is always an amazing gift. Using Google Earth, we follow our son’s path through the Himalayas and with the aid of a maritime program we track our geologist daughter’s ship through the Pacific. Off on my own at even the most remote spots, when wireless is nowhere to be found, I can almost always sit down to a hotel’s computer and connect with the ones I love.
That’s why, on the table beside my bed, I keep the things that matter most to me so they are always close at hand: A family portrait, a pen and notebook, and the device—my smartphone—that binds us together wherever we may roam.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org You can read previous ‘Home Planet’ columns at www.spokesman.com/blogs/homeplanet