Work & Whiplash

I fell into a bit of an impromptu travel season this month – three back-to-back trips with a weekend between. Just enough time to empty the suitcase into the laundry cycle, to re-roll and re-pack once it was refreshed.

I know two things: (1) I love this job. (2) I love this family.

I am learning that one is not in direct competition with the other; that separation doesn’t always mean absence, that these two ideas are not mutually exclusive. That life, mostly, can be compartmentalized until it can’t.

When Ken and I travel for work – regularly for him, less regularly for me – we make a habit of not checking in. No Skype, no FaceTime. No phone calls. Just a few simple texts – the “safe and sound!”s, a few “i love you and miss you”s. Sometimes, a video of the littles, but mostly, space and silence.

After all, I’m in a New York diner and he’s wrangling a teething baby into a hot car seat, and wait a sec, my toast is here! – and would you just hold still?! – and hold on, you’re breaking up, and really, we know where this convo leads. The one who is away is away, the one who is home is home.

Hard jobs for entirely different reasons. No need to go around making a case for it.

erin loechner

Last weekend, Bee asks me when I’m leaving again. (Again was the word that caused the ‘oof’ in my heart, the lump in my throat.)

Saturday, I say.

She tells me that she’s not sad because she gets to watch TrollsΒ while I’m gone, but would I like to take her favorite keychain in case I get sad?

Yes, I say. Yes, yes, yes.

And so, I find myself in Kansas City, and 30A, and New York. I find myself in airports borrowing Wifi, in diners ordering toast. I find myself in the back of a car en route to a hotel with white sheets where I’ll fall into bed, a gilded keychain on my nightstand.

It’s an odd thing, to receive the very thing you wanted. To receive the quiet of an empty room you’d wished for only weeks ago. To receive the alone time you crave, the silence you love.

The whiplash of it all.

The release from responsibility in one area, straight into the throes of responsibility in another.

Are your kids with you? the woman at the dinner party asks.

I tell her no, that they’re home and happy and that my eldest is probably gearing up for a rousing night of Trolls.

She tells me that she never travels without her kids. That she hires a nanny, that she can’t bear to leave them behind, that they’re simply too close, that it’s physically impossible.

I smile. I get it.

I tell her I prefer to compartmentalize when I can, and she blinks a few times.

It’s about presence, for me, I’ve come to know.

It’s about being gone when I’m gone. Being home when I’m home. Being all there, wherever I am, and resisting the temptation to bow out of social hour because I need to FaceTime the littles.

(Resisting the temptation to bow out of family hour because I need to hop on a conference call.)

And although I suppose there’s something to be said for letting your kids see you work and for letting your work see your kids, I know myself well. Some trips/speeches/workshops take such intense preparation – such focused presence – that a spilled juice box on a blazer would simply undo me.

But then again: last week, a rat scampered across my hotel lobby in Tribeca and I shuddered-then-smiled. Bee would’ve loved that guy.

erin loechner

I’m home now, just happily drowning in domesticity. The library fines, the broken washing machine, the van recall. There’s cauliflower to chop and fingerpaint to mix and it all feels so familiarly foreign.

My time away was good, and it was hard for me.
My time away was hard, and it was good for me.

The mind is a fickle thing. Days spent in yoga pants and avocado smears, emptying the forks from the dishwasher, scrubbing dog pee out of the rug. Some nights we fall into bed dreaming of feeling seen, noticed, celebrated.

And there are those few times when we get our wish – an hour or two swimming in cocktail rings and champagne – and on those rare and lucky nights, we find ourselves falling into bed dreaming of anonymity, of comfort. Your own quiet life, your own soft pillow, eyes wandering to the gilded keychain where you belong.

erin loechner

But that’s just it, isn’t it? By its very definition, whiplash – the back and forth, the jostle, the snap – forces us to turn our necks. It just begs us to pay attention, to notice, to look a bit closer, right here, toward the left.

To surprise yourself over how you can race home with the same speed and passion and anticipation as you left it just days prior.

To wonder how on earth it is possible that you can conjure excitement for Spanx while, every other day, you lament the basic trappings of a mere bra.

To baffle yourself over the idea that a dirty hotel rat can make you shriek and smile in a matter of seconds, just knowing someone you love would delight in such a terrible thing.

To laugh at how dizzying it all is, the swapping of a cocktail ring for a 5-year-old’s keychain.

To smile at how, today, right this very minute, you can’t possibly think of a better trade.

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  • You are so gifted and it’s always a joy to read your blog. I was thrilled you got to experience 30A, (isn’t Alys something?) we are full time residents and the secret is getting out!

  • This is beautiful. I’m the parent who stays at home; my husband is the one who travels: in fact the one who flies other people on their business travels. Although we occasionally do the Skype/FaceTime thing, it’s not the norm. It always seems kind of cramped. I realized when I started getting away I didn’t necessarily want to do it all that much. To take time away from being away to communicate with children who see me nearly every day of their young lives. You’ve put this into wonderful words.

  • Totally get this, even though I’m not a work away mom. Because you mostly unplug from home when gone doesn’t mean you are any less attached or in love with your family! Especially with different personalities, some, like me, feel so much more renewed when coming home to dive right back in again after being away for a bit.

  • AS I get ready to do my yearly 2 week work trip to the other side of the world leaving my husband and three boys home. This. Was. Perfect. I caught myself saying, “ugh I just need a little time to myself” and yet I realized I was about to have some time to myself, and I suddenly didn’t want to go. That whiplash gets me every time.

    My time away was good, and it was hard for me.
    My time away was hard, and it was good for me.

    Thank you once again for your words.

  • This is so beautiful and so true. I’m a full-time working (single) mom, but don’t often travel for work. So I have this on a smaller scale, every day. Some mornings are exhausting and can’t wait to get to work. While at work, I see pictures my daughter has colored me and suddenly I can’t wait for the end of the meetings and writing and get home to snuggle her close. Whiplash.

  • Yes! I love this! I’m even torn about a yoga class tomorrow morning… some mindful exercise for myself vs. nice Saturday morning with the family, one of the few days we don’t have to rush. Thank you once again for your beautiful words.

  • Those rare times I’m totally away, out of state (in more ways than one!), no ability to do the bedtime stories and nag about getting dressed – we’re running late! – I both miss my guys dearly and relish in the time to be totally and completely on my own. You can keep the Spanx though. = )

  • This is so beautiful and brutally honest, as your posts always are. I’m a stay-at-home mom and crave space all.the.time. Even just something to call my own. This essay is the reminder I need that there is no perfect solution to life, no ideal balance. The best thing we can do is grow in gratitude for what we have in each moment. I’m slowly learning that sometimes what I have is exactly what I need, I just didn’t realize it…xo

    • You are so very right, wise Andrea! Mostly, what we have is exactly what we need. Thank you for your kindness!

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