Last week I was on a business trip and received a text from my husband at 6:30 a.m.
“What’s the worst thing you could wake up to, child-wise?” he asked, somewhat rhetorically.
Puke. Oh no. Puke. Someone puked.
Sure enough the baby had been hit with her first stomach bug. I was helpless, hundreds of miles away and riddled with guilt. My husband tried to assure me he was fine and all would be well, but I felt terrible. I looked down at my running shoes, fresh off an uninterrupted workout. Then glanced at my room service tray— complete with hot coffee unaided by multiple microwave warm ups. And tried to avert my eyes from the book peeking out of my bag that I’d actually been able to read on the plane.
Guilt. Guilt. More guilt. And throw in a little extra guilt just because.
Business travel is a part of being a working mom, and though I don’t always mind it, I am acutely aware of how much it impacts my family.
For my husband it’s a complete disruption of his work schedule. Daycare doesn’t open until 7, which is when he usually arrives at his school. With almost an hour drive after drop off, he has no choice but to ask colleagues to cover his classroom until he arrives. He assures me it’s not a big deal, but I know his mornings are much more hectic than he’s used to. There’s no relief at the end of the work day, because the second the last school bell rings, the chaos spills into the evening. He’s back with the kids doing pickup, dinner, bath and bed. Instead of working a 9-5 shift, he’s on the hook for 16 hours each day that I’m gone. And that’s when the kids are healthy. Throw in a puker and it’s a whole different ball game.
For my kids we’ve now entered the phase of parenting where I have to explain why I’m leaving, where I’m going and when I’ll be back. In some ways it’s harder now that my oldest daughter understands. I’m peppered with questions:
But who will take me to school?
But why do you have to leave?
But I will miss you!
I do my best to stay upbeat and set a positive example. We talk about keeping commitments and why working is important. I always say how much I’ll miss them, but try not to dwell on it.
For me I’m conflicted. I look forward to uninterrupted sleep, morning exercise and maybe reading the novel that’s had a bookmark in it for two months. But it’s certainly not a vacation. I tend to work longer hours while I’m away on travel and have to fight the urge to check in at home too often. I miss my family, but I know they will be okay without me.
• • •
Later that evening I called my husband to check in. He was in surprisingly good spirits as he recounted yet another episode of projectile vomit by the baby while our three-year-old shrieked in horror. He laughed with a “what can you do” attitude then asked me how my day had been.
I had wrapped up a full day at my conference with a little sightseeing and was enjoying a top-notch Italian dinner by myself. I was sitting in an open-air restaurant on a beautiful spring day, facing the sidewalk, people watching and sipping on a glass of red wine. My meal was stellar and still hot when I finished it. No one interrupted me. Even the server seemed to sense how much I was relishing in dining alone. He didn’t come by until I was very clearly ready to be rolled out with my gluttony.
“Oh you know how these things are. Meetings…networking and such…just grabbed some dinner,” I fumbled, trying not to give away how carefree the last couple hours of my day had been.
With a knowing chuckle, he said, “I’m glad you’re having a good time. We’re fine, but miss you. We’ll Facetime later.”
He said this with such sincerity that my guilt melted away—just for a minute. I was left with gratitude for a partner who truly steps up without resentment. My husband knows I feel terrible being away, but he also know we can’t change it. So he accepts it as part of the deal and jumps in seamlessly. Even when the special hell that is Murphy’s Law rears its ugly head.
Being a working mom is hard. While traveling and being away can feel brutal at times, I also know how lucky I am. As I hung up the phone, reveling in appreciation, I remembered no one was around to tell me I couldn’t grab dessert at the bakery next door. So I stopped in and indulged for another quiet minute before heading back to my hotel for a night cap of email.