Of Business Trips, Mom Guilt, and Airplane Bathrooms

I’m writing this on a plane home from a work trip to Phoenix. The guy in front of me has graciously reclined his seat so my computer is tilted at an unnatural angle and I can barely see what I am typing. My seat is located directly next to the bathroom and I swear everyone that goes in there is inexplicably flushing twice.

But I can’t complain too much because the middle seat in my row is empty and I love when that happens. It’s a nice place to put my phone, glasses and water bottle so I don’t have to keep awkwardly reaching under my seat to haul these things in and out of my backpack.

I also can’t complain because my trip was amazing.

I had never been to Arizona and I didn’t expect to love it there (snakes and such) but I did. It had a beauty I had never experienced before and the resort where I stayed for my company’s annual conference was absolutely gorgeous.

(Someone just double flushed again and now she is blowing her nose, in case you were wondering.)

I was also a speaker at the conference and I think I did all right. My initial comments—introducing myself and explaining just why in the hell I had the background to be considered an “expert” in content marketing—were a bit of a disaster. My hands were obviously shaking as I held the mike and my voice was noticeably trembly and high-pitched. As I realized how trembly my voice and hands were, I got even more trembly and high pitched, which was awesome.

It didn’t help that I was the first one to introduce myself, that I actually hate introducing myself in any detail besides my name, and having my boss and a ton of my colleagues in the room watching made the stakes even higher, at least for me.

But as the talk ramped up, I relaxed and got into my zone. The shakiness stopped and, as I watched the audience taking fervent notes as I talked, I became more confident that I was, indeed, an expert (of sorts) with some good information to share with them.

When it was over, the moderator (our Marketing Director) told me she hadn’t realized how much of the presentation she had placed on me but I handled it well, and my boss sent me a text congratulating me on “leading” the panel. I had several members of the audience come seek me out after the presentation and later in the day to let me know how much they enjoyed my talk and even asked a few more questions one on one.

In the end, I was proud of how I did.

Besides my presentation, I had great dinners every night with my colleagues and some awesome clients. I enjoyed the beautiful weather and the camaraderie of our team throughout the course of the conference.

I reveled in the solitude of my hotel room, with a huge king bed just for me and its own balcony looking out over some beautiful scenery of cacti, palm trees, and a pond with a bridge over it. I spent some time reading a book out there, slowly drinking my coffee…which I bought at the coffee shop that served Starbucks coffee and was only about 100 steps away from my room. (Bonus!)

(This just in—the person in front of me with their seat reclined is actually a woman in her 20s wearing a hoodie. I know this because she just went to the bathroom, and, in case you were wondering, she only flushed once. She has now kindly un-reclined her seat and I can see my computer screen clearly now.)

But guys, I didn’t write this blog to tell you about my lovely trip to AZ. (Well, I kind of did but there’s more.)

I wrote this blog mostly to tell you about how, as a mom and wife, I was sometimes guilt-ridden at leaving my family behind. My daughter didn’t help as, on the rare occasion I was able to call home at a decent hour given the three hour time difference and my busy conference schedule, she would say in a mournful voice, “Mommy I miss you sooooooo much.” (Cue knife to the heart)

I knew I was leaving my husband with a packed schedule that included ushering for me at church on Sunday, bringing Emma to her audition for Annie, waiting around for the furnace guy, taking Cooper to the doctor for a shot, and attending a cross country meet and a back to school Open House.

Because he has no flexibility at work, Drew had to take two days off to do all these things.

Then I was asked to stay an extra night in Phoenix following the closing of the conference to attend a “meeting of the minds” with some of our company leaders. I was honored to be invited and felt it was important for me to go.

I knew this was adding even more stress to my family because my husband would have to go in late to get Emma on the bus (after being off for two days) and Cooper would have to skip cross country practice to get her off the bus.

It has been extremely difficult for me to balance my enjoyment of my trip and my guilt at putting this additional stress on my family while I was gone.

I have often though that guilt is a useless emotion because all it does is steal joy, but this is easier said than put into practice, isn’t it?

But to me the statement still rings true, because what has this mom guilt served to do, anyway? In those guilty moments, all that happened was a diminishing of my enjoyment of a really great trip I took without my family.

It has been hard for me to grapple with this—I ENJOYED A TRIP WITHOUT MY FAMILY—and to me it goes back to the balancing act that women seem to face on a daily basis. I say this not to diminish the role that men play in day to day family life, but to point out my personal observation that women more often struggle with the guilt factor.

(Side note: another double flusher and I think I have figured out that most people seem to be flushing before and after they use the toilet. Mystery solved.)

It should be okay for me to go home and tell my family what a great time I had, but I will probably downplay that and instead focus on how much I missed them.

Don’t get me wrong, I did miss them tons and there were so many beautiful things to see that I wished at times they were there with me. But there were also plenty of moments when I was glad to be able to focus on work and enjoying my colleagues and a beautiful place without having to family multi-task.

I wore nicer clothes. I did my makeup full on and didn’t have to rush doing my hair or jump in and out of the shower because Drew was waiting to brush his teeth or hair and our bathroom is possibly the size of a shoebox.

I found the security checkpoint at the airport much less stressful than I usually do because I didn’t have to worry about being THAT FAMILY who holds up other travelers because the kids and all the stuff and the explaining to Emma that it’s ok to walk through the metal detector, because I swear I will be coming through right behind her.

I am enjoying this flight, the quiet and solitude to be able to write this blog uninterrupted. (Except, of course, for the constant stream of bathroom-goers.)

I am enjoying the time to myself and trying very hard to not feel guilty about that. (I am not always succeeding. Obvi.)

Because aren’t women always supposed to put their families first, often at the expense of themselves? I feel this pressure often and struggle with opportunities like this one to focus on me, on my career, and just the sheer joy of having some time to myself.

Time when I don’t have to worry about who’s done their homework, who has or has not brushed their teeth or hair, who is about to miss the bus if they don’t HURRY UP RIGHT NOW, or what activities are on the family calendar and how I am going to balance them with my work schedule.

It was like a vacation just for me. And I deserve to enjoy that.

Ultimately, I think the lesson here for me is that it’s ok to take time for myself guilt-free, even three days of stimulating and inspiring work in a beautiful resort setting with lots of great people and good food…and that I thoroughly enjoyed all these things even without my family.

Even as I write this I feel the guilt dissipating, and I will arrive home happy to see the people I love dearly. Because I did miss them, but it’s ok that I didn’t miss them every minute.

Another important lesson I’ve learned is that tons of people use the bathroom on an airplane and many of them are double-flushers, and generally speaking I’d probably prefer not to sit next to the bathroom again. So there’s that, too.

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Home Office Mom: A Love Story/Tale of Woe

I moved to a new team within my company about 7 months ago. Most of the team is remote, and for awhile I was doing a couple of days in the office per week, and a couple of days at home per week. But that just changed a month and a half ago–I am now officially a home office worker since my office consolidated.

I freakin’ LOVE working at home. I start early and I’m raring to go at 7am. I can get stuff DONE before the kids even leave for school. I have gotten into a pretty good groove where most days I have finished the bulk of my work to-do list by late afternoon and can help the kids with their homework/yell at them from my desk while I reply to emails/wrap things up.

I like the quiet. I get a lot more done at home. Of course, I enjoy office chatting, but it could always be disruptive to my work flow. Now, most of my chatting takes place via Skype and I can reply to a friendly chat in a few minutes after I finish up whatever I’m working on. Which is nice, because not replying for eight minutes to someone who is physically standing at your desk saying, “How was your weekend, Steph?” is just…awkward. But on Skype, it’s all good.

Also because of Skype, which captures my likeness in video from the waist up only, I can wear shorts/jeans/comfy pants every day and still be totally professional. I know there are some who would one-up me and say, “I work from home and I don’t wear ANY pants!” but I have not ventured into that expert-work-from-home-person territory yet. Maybe someday I will be so bold. Today is not that day, and tomorrow is not looking good either. I guess I’m just a pants person, ya know?

Anyway, I also find that since I’m already home and working away on the computer, I might as well just eat my lunch as I continue chugging along on my daily tasks.

Sometimes I admittedly play with Photo Booth during lunchtime.

Photo on 10-17-14 at 1.50 PM Photo on 10-17-14 at 1.52 PM

coffee

I do drink coffee until, and sometimes beyond, lunch. Coffee is delicious, and it loves me.

 

Anyway.

My point is that working from home is amazingly flexible, which is definitely what I need right now, and helps me get shit done better and manage my life with two kids who need me to drive them to all of their many activities.

But…but…

It also poses an inherent dilemma. Because I’m home every moment with the unmopped floors and the dirty socks and the dogs (who, I have learned, bark at Every. Little. Thing. All. Day. Long.) Because I’m supposed to be working but there’s laundry and dishes and even though I got the client input on the second round draft and I created a sales training and I kicked off a new poster program and sent about 50 emails of some level of business importance, it still feels like I’m a lazy slob if the house isn’t tidy at the end of the work day. Because I was here all day, after all, and I didn’t even walk the dogs.

And the kids, holy mother of gym socks, the kids.

Wouldn’t it be nice if they came home and just took care of the stuff they know they are supposed to take care of so I could finish my work and we could all have a lovely evening together? Wouldn’t that be lovely? Yes, yes it would.

But does it happen?

Nope.

I’m not sure why it can’t happen that way. I think it’s because my kids WANT me to drink more wine, but that’s just a guess.

Because really, my kids are old enough to know better. To get that they have responsibilities. They have A List. A List of Things for Which They Are Responsible for Doing After School, Even if Mom Is On A Call When They Get Home.

But they don’t heed the godforsaken (kidforsaken?) list. Why? Why don’t they heed the list? The list is easy. It is just four things:

  • Empty your lunchbox and backpack
  • Do your homework
  • Pack up your homework/folder/lunchbox for tomorrow
  • Do your chore from the posted list

Seems simple enough, right? Common sense, even. These are basic responsibilities that my old-enough children should be able to manage without me berating them. Maybe they like to be berated? I can never be sure, but it seems to be the only thing that actually works.

It often goes a lot like this:

Me (to child engrossed in iPod): What are you doing?

Child (with deer-in-headlights look): Playing on my iPod.

Me: Did you do your homework?

Child (honestly not sure): Yes?

Me: All of it?

Child: I think so?

Me: Did you get your lunchbox/backpack/folder cleaned out and ready for tomorrow?

Child: Oh, I forgot.

Me: What’s your chore today?

Child: Oh, I don’t know. I forgot to check.

Me: (dies a thousand deaths, then begins berating)

I just don’t understand it. We have had endless conversations where they repeat back the four simple things on the list. We have had meaningful and productive discourse on how quickly they can complete their responsibilities, and then have scads of free time to do whatever they want. They have each independently learned this lesson in a multitude of different scenarios. For example:

  • You were right, Mom. I wish I had started this project much earlier; I wouldn’t have had to give up my entire weekend to do it now. I’ll know better next time. (FALSE.)
  • Ugh, I should have listened to you, Mom, and put the clean sheets on my bed right after I stripped the dirty ones off four hours ago (said at 9pm by an exhausted 12 year old who had to make up his bed…but then did the same exact thing next time.)

Don’t they understand that hearing them say these things should be a cause for me to celebrate a parenting win? Don’t they get how hollow it makes my mom victory when they can’t keep the lesson in their head? How I can’t truly enjoy being SO RIGHT when they keep forgetting how right I was the very next day? It’s maddening.

If I was in the office all day instead, they would complete all their homework under teacher supervision at the after school program, and I could pick them up and badger them–I mean, talk about responsibilities with them–at home without having to divide my attention with work.

So, in the end, I learn again that no solution is perfect. I continue to try and focus on being grateful for this nearly-perfect-but-not-without-its-drawbacks solution that I am lucky enough to have, and wait for that glorious day when the lesson finally, blissfully sticks in their heads.

(That day is coming. It must be coming soon. IT HAS TO COME, RIGHT???)