“My mom was a visitor in my own life,” my friend said explaining how she felt growing up with a mother who was constantly traveling. I sat there speechless. Sure, she had nannies and relatives to care for her – but not her mom. The morning after our conversation, as I looked at the clouds outside my plane seat window, I wondered if my children would feel the same thing one day.
Traveling for work is a privilege – not only for the monetary compensation but also for the validation of knowing that my professional skills are worth “exporting.” Nevertheless, being the mother of two young children means business travel is at times gut wrenching. I guess that’s the reason why I’m so amused to have my friends ask about my travels as if they were glamorous, or opportunities to visit interesting places and eat exotic foods. With few exceptions travelling for work includes none of the above. The glamour component is a mirage.
Besides the pressures of the work itself, business travel means missing holidays with the family, skipping birthdays and special occasions and the constant yearning for whatever is going on at home. It also means dealing with flight delays and cancellations and subsequent unexpected hotel stays in less than desired conditions, in cities you’re not familiar with. That’s of course, after a ride with a taxi driver who doesn’t speak English, doesn’t know the city and wants you to give him directions. Both of you lost in the middle of the night in a very dark street.
While cellular phones, texts and Skype have made it easier to remain connected, this new form of electronic communication has also thickened the imaginary umbilical cord that connects us to our children. The bad thing is that, at times, when the distance is far and the trip is long, the energy being channeled is more guilt than the nurturing children need from their mother.
It sometimes feels like I lead a fragmented life: the one at home, the one at the airport, and the one coordinating via texts, calls and emails the different moving pieces to make things work- who is going to pick up which child at what time and take them where?
Sometimes it works fine. Sometimes it doesn’t. One of my daughter’s first classroom presentations proved this point. She was in 3rd grade and her assignment was to present a historical character in costume. She wrote her speech, and we practiced it until she had it just right. Then we practiced some more. She was ready. Sadly, on the morning of her presentation, her excitement became frustration, as she was unable to put on her hairpiece. Her dad tried to help but, as all of us traveling moms know, there are certain things, moms do better than dads. She got a passing grade. I’m sure she did fine but chances are, she could have done so much better had I been there to fix her hairpiece and infuse some confidence in her.
The same thing happens with festivals or school activities. They come and go all the time, sometimes with you –sometimes without you. The one positive to all of this is I’ve learned to make the most of the time I do have with my children because I never know when I’ll be on the road next.
“I would think it can be a good thing, right?” comments the colleague I usually travel with. “I would think it makes your children appreciate you more.” Perhaps, but I’m not convinced.
What I know is that the underlying theme of motherhood no one talks about is guilt. And when it comes to traveling, it is the worst kind of traveling companion you can have.