One of the great joys in my life has always been travel. When I was younger and worked in politics the extensive traveling I did during campaign season was exciting and interesting. It was the chance for my wide-eyed twenty something year old self to explore and experiencing the world. In my thirties, as a mom, I traveled much less for work – because of the babies. Travel became my escape hatch, my chance to recharge my batteries, reconnect with my girlfriends – or let’s face it – get a full night of uninterrupted sleep.
You may have even seen the pictures of my on my girl’s trip to Santa Barbara last year. Heaven. That trip was Heaven. Lot’s of wine, lots of girl talk, and no anxiety of having to make sure the two squirrels I call my children weren’t destroying private property. What bliss!
Then on the night of may 21st that all changed.
I remember exactly where I was: a hotel lobby in Flagstaff Arizona with my work soul sisters. The three of us had decided to stay the night before a seminar we were presenting at so that we weren’t pressed for time the next day and of course to get some quality girl time in. That night we were prepping for the next day while sipping on cocktails when I made the fateful decision to give a call back to base camp to say good night to the squirrels. The good nights to my husband and oldest son were unremarkable. But when my youngest got on the phone that all changed.
He started sobbing.
And through the sobs he was saying crazy things like I just miss you so much, mama. When are you coming home mama? I was broken-hearted. I started to tear up. I wanted to jump in the car and drive two hours back home and scoop him up in my arms. And though my work soul sisters immediately brought another glass of Pinot Noir over to help dull the pain it was too late. The damage had been done. I was awash in guilt. Working mom guilt. Ugh.
As much as I tried to move past “the incident” it nagged at me. Mostly because I knew I’d be ditching the kids three weeks later for a work trip to St. Louis. So I spent the next three weeks telling both boys about the cool presents I would bring them back from Missouri. Like a prison guard at Gitmo I relentlessly drilled into their heads that this would be a “very short trip” and that they “wouldn’t miss me at all.”
Between the bribery and the brain washing it seemed to do the trick. I came home last night after being away four days and am happy to report that neither boy seemed overly concerned I was gone.
Here’s the kicker though. I spent so much time feeling anxious and guilty about leaving them that I barely slept while I was away. Yes let me repeat that: I had a quiet room, all to myself, with no dog hair in the bed, I could watch whatever I wanted to on tv, there were no squirrels or 120 pound dogs trying to cuddle me at 3am and I had three nights of the worst sleep of my life. I can hear your collective gasps.
So while I’m not willing to give up on trips without kids, I am realizing that my relationship to travel has transformed yet again. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that my kids like me enough that they want me around. I just have some work to do to reconcile myself to this new reality – the good and the bad parts.