Mama’s Leavin’ On A Jet Plane: Learning to Love the Work Trip

Last week marked the first of a spring filled with work-related travel. My destinations include Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Diego, and…get jealous…Indianapolis. Each destination is exciting for different reasons—great sights, an escape to sunshine in February, and presenting exciting research with colleagues in my field. It also presents challenges. As a 40-something working mama, with a household that depends on my weekly menu-planning and multi-tasking mastery, being gone is not as simple as packing my bags and printing my boarding pass.

Oh, the days when my biggest worry was remembering to refill my travel-sized shampoo…

My first job out of college was in college admissions at my alma mater. I spent the better part of the academic year traveling to high schools, college fairs, and professional conferences in many different cities. While some places were more exciting than others—eating potato-shaped ice cream treats in northern Idaho was not as cool as hanging out on the beach after a college fair on Oahu—it was fun for this small town girl to be on the go as a young professional in my 20s.

For weeks on end, I would pack my suitcase, head out for the week, arrive home on a Friday evening just in time to go out with friends, sleep in on Saturday, and then pack again on Sunday to do it all again. My home base was a tiny studio apartment. I didn’t have pets. My houseplants and I had an agreement that being thirsty was character-building. In short, I could come and go worry-free.

These were the days before Facebook, Netflix, and iPhone, so I could truly be “off the grid” in my downtime after work on the road. I devoured books and magazines, and ordered room service ice cream in time to catch Alias (don’t you just miss Jennifer Garner?). I wandered to the local movie theater to catch the latest movie without having to consult with anyone else on my film choice, mixing peanut M&Ms with my popcorn for dinner and a movie. 

Along with my solo work trips were those with colleagues. These were perhaps the best of all. Long days at college fairs or presenting at conferences were capped off with marathon sessions at a BYOB karaoke bar in a city, or taking over a small-town dance floor. We were extroverts on the go!

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Fast-forward to present day, where even Mr. Bubbles, my daughter’s goldfish, has a routine. I don’t have to tell you that managing a household and all that it entails is basically a series of tasks that begin anew every. single. day. Weekends, too. Being a mom also brings a certain martyrdom mixed with a splash of self-importance that makes for pre-trip anxiety when I’m preparing to leave.

How will this house run without me? What about my child! My husband! The puppy! My meal-planning calendar!

To ease my anxiety, I self-medicate with pre-trip freezer meal prep and strategic placement of reminders, written in all-caps and exclamation points. Because nothing says, “I miss you honey” like yelling at your husband via post-it note. DON’T FORGET DR. APPOINTMENT THURSDAY AT 10:00! AISSA’S ANTIBIOTICS MORNING AND NIGHT…SHE LIKES TWO SALTINES FOR A CHASER! SET OUT DRY-CLEANING FOR PICK-UP ON WEDNESDAY!

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I tell myself that I have to make sure the place doesn’t fall apart while I’m gone, but really my worry and pre-planning is just my way of saying, “You need me around here, right?” After realizing that I could get over myself and enjoy these times away, I decided to embrace the opportunity to travel and nurture my personal and professional self.

On my most recent trip, I spent the day learning and sharing good ideas with grown-ups in my profession, before returning to the delicious silence of my hotel room. I gave myself permission to let out a little squeal when taking in the king bed with crisp white sheets, flat screen television, and fluffy towels that I didn’t have to launder. I took in local restaurants, enjoying Cuban food one night and a historic tavern the next, neither of which offered a kids menu.

After a full night’s sleep, I woke up so rested that I forgot where I was for just a second before getting ready (without yelling “Shoes! Put on your shoes!” for the fifteenth time). Instead of bedtime stories, I ended my day reading the latest issue of OK! Magazine. I felt smug as I read about Princess Kate, shaking my head and thinking, “Poor princess has to get up with little George tonight…”

I felt indulgent, rested, and rejuvenated, both personally and professionally.

It also helps that I have a highly capable hubby who dotes on our daughter. He makes her scrambled eggs and doughnuts for breakfast, and even returns the library books on time without me (gasp!) reminding him via post-it note. Most importantly, these short trips away from home provide the reminder that many mamas need: Alone time is good. Nurturing our professional identities fulfills us in a way that being a partner and mother can’t. And getting uninterrupted sleep with black-out curtains makes me a better mama when I come back home.


 

Sherri is a transplant from Oregon who came to be a Hawkeye in 2006 and stayed for the sweet corn...and for the Iowa boy she met along the way! She and her husband (Kyle) have a 9 year-old daughter, Aissa. Sherri earned her Ph.D. in Higher Education and Student Affairs at The University of Iowa and works for Ruffalo Noel Levitz as an Enrollment Marketing Consultant for colleges and universities. When she's not working, you can find her with her family, enjoying Iowa City and cheering on the Hawkeyes.

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