In the last year, my husband has been to 6 countries for work. My only travel has been down one flight of stairs to my dimly lit guest room/storage room/office. I’m not complaining here—it’s a perfectly flexible gig.
But last week it was my turn.
In my past life, I used to travel sporadically for work. But since birthing three kids in a span of four years, and retreating from a downtown office building to work part-time from home—my travels have disappeared faster than my wallet when my kids hear the tell-tale melodies of the ice cream truck.
Preparation for my first work trip as a mom of three included writing a novel-length memo about my kids’ schedules and chauffeurs and fielding questions from my observant oldest child about why I was packing a bathing suit when I said I’d be spending the next 2 days indoors in meetings. Busted. So I told my snooping, quizzical 5-year-old the truth: because the conference hotel happens to be on a beach.
Then I gave hundreds of hugs goodbye, hustled out the front door, paused to allow a Cheshire Cat-like grin creep across my face—and left for my tropical getaway. I mean business trip. And in the next 56 hours, I learned a few things.
Time travel exists.
I used to be a naysayer too, but that was before a flight that was supposed to take me from D.C. to Tampa actually landed me back in time 27 years. When I strolled into the hotel ballroom for day one of the conference the next morning—fueled by a luxuriously uninterrupted full night of sleep—a fellow attendee struck up a work-related conversation, during which he mentioned that I look 10 years old. Umm. Thanks, Mom, for the youthful genes—but in my real life, where a make-up free, disheveled, 37-year-old me is sweating, swearing silently, and wrangling tiny people who almost outnumber my limbs—NO ONE would deign to believe (or even joke) that I wasn’t in my fourth decade of life. But thank you, business trip, for the chance to reconnect with a younger, carefree version of myself.
Sitting in meetings can be as refreshing as a dip in the ocean.
There’s no better antidote to that stuck-in-a-work-rut feeling than gathering with a couple hundred people who share your professional passions. During some of the more motivating and effective presentations, I looked around and saw smiles and heads nodding in unison. Including mine. Of course, there were some sessions that I missed completely because the pictures I was receiving of my kids were way more engaging. But, at the end of each day, I left with techniques and ideas that I was truly excited to try in my own work. And at the end of each day, I also threw on that trusty bathing suit and frolicked in the ocean like a child (maybe even a 10-year-old one). I’m not sure which of those feelings was more energizing.
Moms will be moms. Wherever we go.
You can’t argue with the youthful logic that ice cream tastes better when you’re wearing flip flops and sand in your hair. So, I took my rightful place in line at an ice cream shop—behind a group of 4, approximately 10-year-old (notice a theme here?) boys. I listened as they debated and calculated which frozen delicacy they had enough cash to afford. When the smiley cashier rang them up, their faces fell as they realized their critical mistake: they had forgotten to account for tax. Four tall milkshakes beckoned from the counter, but they were $1.25 short. Who else could save them but a mom? Theirs were nowhere in sight, so I pulled out my wallet and started counting coins. The deeply sincere thanks I got in return filled some of the mom void I was experiencing without my own kids.
Move over, Grey’s Anatomy: work travel is the ultimate guilty pleasure.
Yes, I would rather take a real vacation with my husband, carefully choosing our destination and relishing kid-free time together. But, between those few-and-far-between couple jaunts, sign me up for some more work-related escapes. Did I feel guilty? Yes. My husband had to take off some work time, and I’d also tapped a parade of family members to take on my offspring’s needs. But, my kids were fine, I ate meals with only adults, remembered the indulgence of needing an alarm clock, and even read a book. For pleasure.
It may be another year before my next solo travel stint, but in the meantime, I’ll look at my beach selfies and remember:
I love being with my kids.
But I also love being without them.