I travel for my job. Not as much as some friends I work with, but more than others. And not as much as those parents that need to leave for really extended times…members of the military and foreign service, folks on ships and rigs, actors on sets in Toronto (isn’t every movie filmed in Toronto?) and so many others. There are also plenty of nights when I have to work so late that I miss bedtime and might as well be in Toronto.
Every night away can feel like one too many. Here’s the truth, though. My kids are fine. Sometimes they miss me and, frankly, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes their lives are filled with too many other adventures to even notice that I’m gone. So why is it that I (and my fellow traveling friends) feel so guilty?
I’ll give you one reason: the people who look at me incredulously and say, “I don’t know how you do it.” I used to smile, and just acknowledge that it was tough but was just part of my job. Sometimes a statement like, “Wow, who’s taking care of the kids?” will follow. To that I used to laugh politely and say something like, “Oh, my husband is fine and we have other help too.” Not anymore. Now I laugh and tell them I found a special cat feeder in the SkyMall catalog so the cheerios and protein bars are dispensed at regular intervals. Other times I frantically look for my phone and say, “Oh shit! I need to get someone over there.”
If I’m not in the mood to laugh (and the question poser is not someone who’s paying for my time), I point out how strange and judgmental that kind of question is…how at best it’s insensitive and at worst it presumes that kids need their moms home all the time, at any cost, or they’ll perish and that dads aren’t capable parents. It’s presumptuous. It’s foolishness. It’s sexist. And it’s still a question that I ask myself sometimes. I ask myself if the kids are ok and ask myself how, or rather why, I do it.
Tonight, their dad is away. We had a call before bedtime and they told him about our new monster game. One that involves a monster (me) that chases them, then dips their heads in imaginary pudding because the monster doesn’t know a better way to eat pudding. (Gross, I know. But the first rule of monster is that kids make the rules so long as they don’t involve fire, a toilet or anything in the medicine cabinet.) They talked to their dad the same way they talk to me when I’m gone. There were no tears, no whining. Just a happy recounting of the day’s mostly mundane adventures. We hung up the phone and Peanut asked me when I was going away next. Sass wanted to look at the calendar and make sure the next mom trip was marked.
Then they ran off down the hall to their bedrooms and I heard Sass say excitedly, “When mama’s gone we can play pudding monster with dad!” Peanut added, “Oh yeah, he’s a really good monster.” Mo parroted Peanut with a garbled “good monster, dada. good monster.”
The kids are fine with it. They are fine. We should be too.
So to my friends feeling down in hotel rooms tonight, shake it off and take a deep breath. Put on the TV and find that movie filmed in Toronto that you’ve been wanting to see for years but haven’t had the time. Your kids are fine. You are fine. It’ll be your turn to be the pudding monster before you know it.