Walking the Mommy Line While on Business Travel
Business travel can be fun, tiring, illuminating and exasperating. At times, business travel can be a necessary evil; other times business travel is a way to understand further the context of ones work by breaking bread and traveling the road of others. I hate the actual act of flying but I do get a feeling of exhilaration when doing presentations, meet and greets and trainings on the road. However, there is one part (besides the actual flight) that weighs a bit more heavily on me. That is the act of traveling without my son. From early on in his life, I have had to travel.
My very first trip without him was emotionally and business-wise very difficult. In working with the government, there was a meeting date for which they refused to budge on. The fact that I was ostensibly on maternity leave did not sway them into delaying the meeting date by a month. All the people I was meeting with were women. Eventually, one of these women went on to maternity leave herself and hopefully she was easier on herself than she was on me. On that trip, I was still in the middle of breastfeeding, thus I learned very rapidly about machine pumps, ice packs and getting through airport security lines with liquids. However, I was determined to not let work stop me from breastfeeding. As such I breastfed for 16 months, carrying ice packs and machinery through airports across the country. One hard lesson I learned was to not pump my pump in the overhead carry on space. Even though my bag was small, others had carried on even larger bags and for some reason my bag then got gate-checked without me being able to first pull out my machine pump. Lesson learned thereafter.
When my son started pre-school, travel got a little tougher. He would note my absence in a way that he didn’t before. He became much more aware of my comings and goings. In particular, I drop him off each morning. If I have a trip that has me leaving on a flight earlier than 10am, he will note my absence immediately as I then cannot drop him off. Kids like routines and this became all too apparent to me on one particular trip to St. Louis. Upon landing, the school nurse called me to let me know while he was physically fine he had been crying in his pre-k class. I asked to talk to him but he refused to come to the phone as he was angry with me. The school nurse had a certain trill to her voice that indicated she was judging me. The guilt at that moment, before I was to hold an important business meeting was overwhelming and distracting. All together that incident told me, there and then, I had to travel in a way that would not be as disruptive to his routine and mindset. I realized that business travel had to become a normal part of his life that we would manage.
I started talking to him about my travels beforehand relating them to our family trips. I would tell him I was going on a work trip where I was going to “see things” like we had done in Japan, for example. He asked if I would take photos. That triggered in me the realization that I needed to document my work trips through photographs that I could share with him. Talking about the trip beforehand gives him the opportunity to mentally adjust and ask any questions that he may have. He still does not fully understand the “why” of my travels. However, he now knows that even when I am gone I still love him and think of him.
When possible I pack my travel clothes with my son serving as an aide. He will help me roll my clothes or stand on my luggage so that I can zip it shut. While we are packing together, I ask him if I can take one of his toys with me. I then take photos of that toy throughout my travels. I try to text him those photos at the beginning of my trip so that he has an immediate sense of what I am doing and that I am safe with his toy.
I call home everyday to speak to him while I am out on the business road. Admittedly, it is hard to call at night as I often have to do it in between meetings and business dinner. At times, I will call from the car as we are heading out to a business dinner. Depending on the time zone, I also like to call him in the mornings before he heads out to school. Talking to him early in the morning swells my heart with joy and help sets the mood for the day. Furthermore, this way the routine of having me in the mornings is somewhat maintained. I try to have the same conversation threads in person and on the phone. I always end the conversation with a declaration of love.
In order to not miss any or at least as few as possible major events, maintaining an up-to-date integrated work/personal calendar is essential. The second the school sends a notice about an upcoming event –even if it is months and months away-that goes onto my calendar. There are certain things that are non-negotiable. Graduation day and the first day of school are two of those non-negotiables. There is no business meeting that is more important than those events. To many maintaining an integrated calendar may not seem like a big deal but it is indeed a vital tool. I even try to fly later in the morning so that I can still drop him off at school or at least see him right when he wakes up in the morning.
I grew up with a sense of resilience relative to the context of where I grew up. My son has that same well of resilience that we tap into for handling mommy trips. He no longer gets angry at me for traveling. He does miss me and I, of course, miss him. Yet, we have managed to integrate work travel into our lives and routine. On a recent trip where I was giving a presentation that was webcast, he got to watch me doing the presentation live. I gave him a shout-out in the middle of the presentation which seemed to weird out some of the audience members. I didn’t care. I wanted him to know that even while doing a presentation for work, I could talk to him. Technology these days really is a key resource for the traveling mom. Throughout all these trios, the key is finding ways to involve my son in my business trip so that we remain connected. Do I wish I could do more to maintain that connection? Absolutely! Do I, still feel bouts of guilt? Absolutely! What is one great takeaway from all this? My son gets to see and have a powerful, successful woman as his loving mom and role model. That, at the end of the day, has to be a key part of the constant travel work schedule. That is the line that I must walk as a business traveling mommy.
Inspired by: Walk the line