I’m writing this from my bed in a hotel in eastern Lebanon, a short drive from the Syrian border. It’s been a tough day and I’m desperate for sleep but there’s a local family party hopping right outside my window. I’d have an easier time getting shut-eye lying on the pitch at a Croke Park gig (Bah-Humbug!). I work in international development so travel 2-3 times a year for work. Usually to Europe or a more far-flung part of the world like this fascinating country renowned for its delicious hospitality.
Tayo, tiny o's toy and my buddy for the week soaking up the vista of east Beirut
This means a week away from home. It also means navigating the pre-departure minefield of work trip anxiety before I’ve even put one foot on the passenger ramp to board my flight. Anxiety – Guilt – Adventure – sum it up for me. Anxiety about leaving tiny o. Guilt about the pressure this puts on Big O as a short-term lone parent. A sense of adventure for the new experience travel brings no matter where you go; it can be a real privilege. This week I’ve met Syrian families living as refugees on the Lebanese border whose courage would restore faith in our humanity.
Before I left the Emerald Isle, I scoured the net for travel tips from other working mammies. The internet goddesses answered and I discovered some maternal wisdom to test for this work trip:
There’s never an issue with me travelling, Big O is always supportive. In fact, I need to take a compassionate leaf out of his book. I’m still harboring a secret wee grudge from his trip to the Rugby World Cup in Cardiff when tiny o was three weeks old! 😉 His response is positive and pragmatic but still, when you’re used to sharing the load and the logistics of crèche drop-offs and pick-ups, one parent away adds pressure (as I’ve no doubt it does tenfold if you’re a single parent).
We have a sacred village of family, friends and neighbours who always do their utmost to help us out. For this trip, we called upon them with plenty of advance notice and arranged support for two evening pick-ups from crèche and one full-day of childcare. Tiny o loved the novelty of his Aunty “Ga-Ga” (Gráinne) collecting him one eve and his Nana and Grandad another, followed by a day spent chasing frogs in my folks’ back garden. It served as a positive distraction from me being away. It also gives me peace of mind to know Big O had support. We apply this same village approach when he travels.
If possible, I recommend taking a day off work before travel to harness your family time together. Before I left, I treated Big O and tiny o to a delish meal in our local harbour. This helped ease my anxiety. The three of us were in great spirits and it was a way for me to acknowledge Big O’s support for the week ahead. Then while away, when I have WiFi, I use WhatsApp to video-call home. Seeing my boyos’ faces is such a comfort. Be warned though, you might not always get the response you hope for.
The other evening, I video-called home but tiny o refused to engage with me. He stared at the phone but didn’t want to talk. He pouted and rebuffed all my requests for virtual kisses. This was tough and I wasn’t in the ideal frame of mind after an emotional day at work. I balled crying after the call. But, I understood why he was pissed off. He couldn’t comprehend why Mammy wasn’t home and as a 2-year old, he has limited capacity to articulate this verbally. This was his best form of self-expression to let me know how he was feeling. I accepted it and I appreciated it.
I’m a book fiend and believe they are a marvellous way for children to explore the world around them. And, the world inside them. I trawled through Goodreads for kids’ books about separation anxiety and decided to give The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn a worthy shot. In its foreword, it is described as…
… a story for any child who confronts a difficult situation, and for the child within each of us who sometimes needs reassurance… Parents and others who care for children will find an unforgettable way of communicating the message that all of us most need to hear – “You are loved.”
Our lead man, Chester Raccoon is anxious about leaving his lovely mammy, Mrs Raccoon for school. She reassures her little furball by sharing a special secret that will bind them together even when apart. This book is for 3-8 year olds so I’m not sure how much tiny o grasped but he loved learning the kissing hand technique – me kissing his palm and placing his hand to his cheek so the kiss could jump on to his face. Adorable.
The idea here is to bring a toy that belongs to your kiddo(s) and take snaps of this toy travelling with you. So, I decided to bring tiny o’s South Korean buddy, Tayo, a little blue bus. This was a safe bet as I didn’t want to bring a possession he’d be lost without like his comforter, Jean-Baptiste (don’t ask!). All seemed promising in theory but in practice, tiny o was not impressed as to why BOTH Mammy and Tayo were off on their apparent holibobs without him. But do you know what? Tayo gave me great comfort. It was grounding to have something so familiar from home with me in a foreign place. I think it could work well for older kids so Tayo may need to renew his passport for future trips with me!
I also planned to bring a gift back for tiny o. I wanted to choose something that reflected the local culture so that it tells a story. Like a children’s book. I was fortunate enough to visit a women’s workshop run by an incredible organisation, Basmeh & Zeitooneh (it means smile & olive tree/peace in Arabic). This helps Syrian women who are refugees in Shatila Camp, Beirut to earn a small income. I bought a beautiful handmade teddy. We called it ‘Walnut’. Tiny o was only delira with his present and I look forward to sharing its story when he can understand a little more.
Tiny o and Walnut, wee buds ♥
I started this blog in Lebanon and am finishing it here in Dublin. I can now safely say, despite the challenges of this work trip, I’m glad I went. It was a meaningful experience for me personally, and for my career. We had mixed success for sure. Yet, testing these ideas to at least try to reduce our inevitable separation anxiety was the most effective way to ease it. For both of us. I felt more in control as a result and it has increased my confidence for future work travel.
Remember these tips also apply to FUN trips away with your partner or pals! 🙂
I’m Jen Murphy, award-winning blogger and wellness advocate for working mothers. I created Working Mother Wellness as a platform for mums to share our wellness experiences. Sign-up to build your own Working Mother Wellness toolkit. You will receive updates on Kundalini yoga practices, wellness tips, and info on upcoming workshops and programmes.