For the past five months, I’ve done a lot of travelling for business — I’m on the road just about every other week — and I expect that to continue into the foreseeable future. This wasn’t what my job was like previously…if I traveled at all, it was once or twice a year to a conference or to training. Then, six months ago I had an opportunity to take on a major project that ended up requiring a lot more travel than I had anticipated. So far, this new job opportunity has been a rewarding experience. But, it also means that I’ve been spending a lot of time away from my family.
Over the summer, my absence hadn’t been too much of an inconvenience. My stepson spent half of the summer with his mother, and for the weeks that I was away when he was home, my absence didn’t really upset the household routine all that much. I work in I.T., so my family is used to my working long or odd hours, disappearing to work in my office because a system is down or something needs my attention. At least I was still physically available though, when they needed me.
Now that school has started, however, we’re all feeling my absence more acutely. The first week of school coincided with one of my trips, so I’ve consequently (and necessarily) been excluded from the daily routine. Last school year, I would get up and, while also getting myself ready for work, get GT and my husband out of bed, make GT’s lunch, feed the dogs and give them (GT and my husband, not the dogs) their hugs and kisses as they made their way out the door, before heading out myself.
This year, when I got back after that first week, I found that all they needed me for were the hugs and kisses. My husband used to work as a teacher and his experience is that establishing the routine during the first week helps set the tone for the entire school year. So, once that routine is set, we stick to it. They didn’t need me to get them up. My husband made GT’s lunch and prepared his breakfast. GT fed the dogs (a fact I didn’t realize my first week back, so the dogs enjoyed a double breakfast for a few days.) This all makes me sad…I liked my part in our morning routine.
While the morning routine adjusted well, the rest of the week’s activities were much more difficult to manage. Juggling two jobs, GT’s school schedule and twice-a-week Taekwondo classes, as well as his own weekly orchestra class at the local university, has my husband stressed and frustrated. Add to that a 20 mile commute each way for a person who hates to drive, and it’s easy to see why my husband is the only person on the planet who is counting the days until his son is old enough to get his driver’s license.
Then there are all of the other little interactions that I miss out on. Helping with homework. Dinner discussions. Updates on Minecraft or Skyrim or whichever other video game GT is playing at the moment. Parenting decisions.
Being left out of parenting decisions is the hardest for me, because I have had to fight so hard to be an equal partner in the parenting to begin with. Even though I have been a full-time mother to GT for six years — half of his life — I am still the “stepmom”, and my husband feels like it’s his prerogative to be the primary decision-maker when it relates to his child. When I’m around, I can make myself a part of the discussion. When I’m gone, all bets are off. I get to hear about it afterward, with no say whatsoever in the matter. Even if we talk on the phone, and my husband does consult me on these decisions, I’m missing out on context and all of the extra information I can get, or influence I can have, by participating directly. As a step-parent, I am already somewhat marginalized in the parenting role. When I’m traveling and away from home, that marginalization is amplified.
I like traveling. Despite all of the inconveniences of air travel (especially from an out-of-the-way location like mine), and despite being away from my family, I enjoy my business trips. I feel important — that my skills are valued enough to justify the expense of sending me to places where I can be of use. I enjoy getting out of my meat-and-potatoes environment, so I can go to places with a wide variety of cuisine to indulge in. I especially enjoy the freedom of having my spare time all to myself, so I can work at my computer all night without guilt, or sit on my bed watching a marathon of Fast N’ Loud without anyone’s judgement, or go out to eat at some new and interesting restaurant without having to consider what will satisfy my seventh grader. I get to be single again, even if only for a few days at a time — with the benefit of having a family to come home to.
There will be other projects, and more travel, after my current project is completed. My challenge is to find ways to continue to be involved as a parent, even if I can’t always be physically present.