Last Sunday night, my BFF and I were debating (as we often do, after a long weekend and several bottles of Coppola) which one of us has the more glamorous life and which one of us is the greater Superhero. On the latter point, I win the debate by a million every time. She has twice as many kids and twice as many dogs as I do. Plus, she saves lives for a living. Clearly she wears the cape. On the former, well, she wipes a lot of asses and cleans up a lot of vomit while I get to travel the world speaking, teaching, and meeting people. Cocktailing, wining, dining; dressed up and in heels.
It’s a grass-is-always-greener type debate and as far as “glamour” it drives home the point that we only see about 10% of peoples’ lives – specifically, the good and the bragworthy – on social media. I recognize that based on the photos I text my girlfriends and post online, work and travel may look glamorous. But there’s a lot of working/traveling mom life that goes unseen.
Traveling as a mom is exhausting and de-stabilizing.
It’s fucking exhausting. It’s de-stabilizing. To the point I sometimes look forward to coming home just to do laundry and put clothes away. I often fly through the night, or early in the morning, and always have to hit the ground running, wherever and in whatever time zone I land. I recently landed in Boston at 8.15am and at 9am walked into a board room of 30+ people from all over the globe, to whom I had to deliver a speech on U.S. law and policy. The remainder of my day – from 10am until 3am – was blocked out in half hour or hour increments, back to back. Sure, it’s cool to be meeting with lawyers and clients from all over the world. But the pressure and stress to be “on” 24/7 is draining. And it makes it more and more challenging to shift into Mommy gear for the scattered two-minute snippets when I get to check in with home.
I do not stay in glamorous hotels when I travel. It has nothing to do with cost and everything to do with the fact that a hotel room is completely wasted on me. I use it to store my shit and brush my teeth. I’m in it to change and freshen up for no more than 20 minutes at a time and I barely sleep while traveling. There are the late nights entertaining and drinking with clients and the early mornings starting the cycle all over again. To be honest, I prefer to spend as little time as possible in a hotel room. It’s lonely.
On more occasions than I care to admit, I’ve returned to my hotel room in the wee hours of the morning, after a night out with clients, and simply packed up and left for the airport. Fortunately I can sleep on planes but I’ve had many TSA agents ask me if I’m OK or if I need special assistance.
Even without travel, I often go 4-5 days at a time without seeing my kids because I get home from work after they’ve gone to bed and leave in the morning for work before they’ve woken up. Sure I do the invisible things like laundry and packing up camp essentials and meals for the next day, but as far as my kids are concerned, the floors in my house are magic and if you crumple your dirty clothes in a ball and leave them on the magic floor, they get washed, folded and packed up for the next day.
I miss my kids. I hate how often bedtime is FaceTime. A few weeks ago while about to take the stage as a panelist at a conference in London, I got a panicked FaceTime call from home. It was my son’s last day of First Grade and he was sad (ok, legit pissed off) that I did not remember to pack him $25 to buy a yearbook (wildly unnecessary for a first grader but that’s another story). I consoled him (o.k., I caved and said “yes” to the yearbook) from the other side of the ocean, but how many more times will he melt down to me over a phone before he decides I’m not really available? Incidentally, the last day of school conversation also reminded me that – in the single night I had home between a D.C. trip and leaving for London – that I’d forgotten to pack in my kids’ backpacks their gifts for all 97 of their teachers. I don’t let these things go.
The hardest thing to admit is that sometimes the most challenging part of being away from my kids is coming home to them.
Here’s the hardest thing to admit: Sometimes the most challenging part of being away from my kids is coming home to them. When I am away from them I miss them so much it’s like my heart is exposed and bleeding. It stings. I want nothing more to hold them. To smell them. But I’m a boy mom and they’re 7 and 3. There’s brief hugging when I first return home from work, but the welcome wagon quickly dissolves into questions (demands) about where a particular sock is, or where a Nerf bullet is, or why I didn’t pack the “right” fruit snacks for lunch (WTF?!) or why I forgot to send my 7 year old to school with an empty yogurt container, seven pennies, and a cotton ball for his science experiment.
I realize that for my kids, my travel is like a wrinkle in time. In their eyes, nothing happens in my world while I am away, and once I am back they expect me to pick up exactly where I let off. It means switching gears very quickly with no hangover or residue from one to the next. It’s hard to do in any conditions let alone jet-lagged. Believe me, when I return home I am the furthest thing from glamorous. After going days just re-applying makeup on makeup, my face is like the Berlin wall. The best dry shampoo in the world can’t keep birds from trying to inhabit my hair.
It’s 8pm on a Tuesday and I am currently at my office downtown waiting for a limo to pick me up and take me to a studio to do a live television interview for an international news network (don’t get too excited – no hair or makeup and I was instructed to arrive “camera ready”). My social media posts later tonight will absolutely make this night look glamorous. What will be missing is the fact that my kids go to bed at 8pm. There are no glamour shots of me getting home at 10.30, exhausted and starving, my kids already asleep. Doing laundry and packing up lunches and camp back packs at 11pm and finally getting to sleep at 12.30am, only to wake up at 4.30am the next morning and do it all again.
Glamour is only surface-deep. It’s the glitter and sparkles you see, but there’s a lot of tough and not-so-sparkly stuff underneath. The ratio of glamour to hard stuff is most decidedly not balanced, but it’s the hard stuff that makes all working mamas Superheroes. Glamorous or not.