Bing! The chime on my phone rings, indicating a new message. It’s a video from Chris, reaching across the country to me while I’m on a work trip in New Mexico. It starts focusing on Sprout, being a lump on the couch with his red velour blanket over his head. The camera then swerves to Little Bird, who is walking towards it. Walking! When the hell did that happen? At that moment, I realized just how long a week away is when you have young children.
This wasn’t my first work trip with kids, but it was the first since Little Bird was born. Between maternity leave and pregnancy, it had been almost two years since I had been away from Sprout for more than a day.
Despite that, I looked forward to the trip. I want to feel guilty for that anticipation, but I just can’t. I’m allowed to travel. No one is denying me that except me. The everyday grind of having two small children is exhausting, even when you aren’t the one staying home. Plus, this trip allowed me to focus on one of the non-human loves of my life – my writing.
As it turned out, the time away was exactly what I needed, in every sense. I slept in past 7 AM every day. Yoga – or at least some stretching – became a regular part of my routine. I went for a run, for the first time in almost two years! After dinner, I had no one to put to bed besides myself. As for the writing, the sessions gave me encouragement and support in a way that my website and social media metrics rarely can. Overall, it gave me a chance to step out of my narrow viewpoint and see the big picture, something that’s so difficult when you’re immersed in the muck of life.
At the same time, I do feel sad for what I missed. I wanted to see Little Bird’s big leap from uneasy, rare steps to toddling all over the place. I wanted to high-five Sprout on how well he’s listening to his body without us reminding him to go potty. I wanted to be there for dinner and bathtimes and bedtimes instead of just an image over a computer screen.
In a way, the week was a microcosm of the struggles of being a parent who works outside the home. Sure, you get representations of the day, in photos, videos, and conversations after the fact. But they’re always just artifacts. There’s key details missing or only half-recalled. It’s only on weekends that you get the whole story, the immersion in your kids’ everyday lives.
And yet, working outside the home can be good. You get exposed to new people and perspectives that you wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. You can help people outside your family and fulfill passions that are a separate part of who you are besides mom or dad.
Whether you’re gone for a week or just a few hours a day, working outside the home and having kids is a constant shifting of priorities and values, trying to give both their due. I suspect it’s something I’ll spend my whole life trying to learn how to do.
Each time I leave on a work trip, it’s a little bit different. For reflections on past experiences, check out the Three Stages of FaceTime with a Toddler and Travels without my Baby. If you want to keep up with us, be sure to follow the blog on Facebook!