On The Road (Again)

That’s a wrap on St. Louis!

I’ve spent a ton of time this summer with my cohost for the project I’m working on. Together we drag suitcases down hotel corridors, crawl into Suburbans for five seconds of sweet, sweet air conditioning, and commiserate over our mutual dislike of the straight-from-a-box scrambled eggs that hotel chains all over the country offer up in their “delicious! complimentary! breakfast bar!” We also talk and talk and talk, because that’s what you do when you’re hanging around on a set all day.

My cohost is more of a veteran of television work (and the associated travel schedule) than I am, so I’ve been picking his brain for hints about what life will look like should our project continue beyond this summer – basically, should our show get picked up for series and should neither of us get replaced (something I won’t know for a couple of months at least). I ask question after question…but whenever I hear his descriptions of “life on the road” I feel my heart rate speed up. He talks about evenings spent perched on top of washing machines in Holiday Inn basements because you’re fresh out of clean clothing. About waking up and not being entirely sure what city you’re in. About weeks going by without a single glimpse of home. These words don’t just “bum me out” – they put me into pure fight or flight mode.

I won’t do that. I’m serious: I won’t. I can’t. (Not the “Holiday Inn laundry” part; I rather enjoy doing laundry, in a Holiday Inn or not. I’m talking about the “weeks away from home” part.)

On this trip – my third time in St. Louis this summer – I woke up around 5:30AM every morning not because my alarm went off, but because someone punched me in the face. Or at least that’s what it felt like. (Remember on my last trip to Missouri, when I got up and was all ready to head to the airport, and only once I was fully dressed and about to walk out the door did I realize that it was the actual middle of the night and I just hadn’t…noticed? Sort of – or, OK, exactly – like that.)

It’s the same old thing; a thing I’ve known all my life, in one iteration or another. This time it happened while laying in an anonymous bed in an anonymous room somewhere off a highway I don’t know the name of. I was laying there, feeling exhausted but relatively happy (and at the very least content), and then all of a sudden there they were: the images, playing at warp speed on the movie screen in my head. 

Brushing my daughter’s hair. Reading chapter books to my son. Their faces when they first see me in the morning. Just them, exactly as they are. 

I miss them when they’re sleeping. (Well, sort of. Mostly because they are adorable and silent when they are sleeping, which allows me to forget what they are like when they are awake, which is screamy.) I cannot let go of this no matter how many times I turn it over and over in my mind: How can I possibly make a choice that takes me away from them, when being away hurts in parts of my body I didn’t even know existed?

Early this morning, in a Holiday Inn somewhere in Missouri, it happened: the rocketing out of bed, the images. I was laying there, desperately trying to find a way to get that last hour of sleep before my wakeup call, trying to meditate or trying to reason with myself or trying to just shut off the noise in my brain…and then I had the strangest moment of clarity. I’m not saying that this moment “fixed” me or erased my worries – but what I realized was that it is my choice to take a job, or not. It is my choice to set boundaries, or not. And then it is other people’s choice to be willing to work with those boundaries…or not.

What my “life on the road” looks like is a series of decisions that result in a creation of my very own.

I had dinner with my children on Thursday night, even though I was about 2,000 miles away. Kendrick set up his phone so it was pointed at them while they ate. I picked trail mix out of a paper cup while they ate their ravioli, and we talked about what happened at school and whether my mouth is, indeed, pink (lo and behold, it is, and my daughter finds this fact endlessly exciting). Indy threw a basketball hoop across the patio, and Kendrick and I – together – told him not to do that again. Goldie started crying, and I sang “Twinkle, Twinkle” to her, which is what I always do to calm her down. And it worked.

It’s not the same as being there all day, every day; seeing their faces on a screen is the palest approximation of what it feels like to hold them and bury my face in their hair. But I have to believe that even if me traveling becomes something that’s a more frequent part of our life, it still won’t be the grim scenario my cohost described, because we won’t let it be. I’ll figure out my own take on a reality that many parents deal with, and do my best to navigate my circumstances so that my family gets at least an approximation of what they need from me, and I from them. And if I can’t do it, and I have to say “I can’t; I’m out”? That’s a choice, too.

This is my life to shape, and no one is forcing me to do anything. For better or for worse, I think that’s an important thing to own.

traveling for work as a mother of young children what it's like to be a working mother who travels

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