Read Before You Hit the Road Overnight or Longer…If Nothing Else You’ll Feel Better

I’ve been a traveling writer mama for five years now. It started, believe it or not, when I was invited to be on “Good Morning America.” The producer contacted me out of the blue when an article I wrote for came up at the top of a production assistant’s Google search on the topic of one of GMA’s back-to-school special series topics.

We’d recently moved to Oregon. I didn’t know a single person I’d trust to watch my daughter. My husband was starting his job as a high school English/Theater teacher that same week. Actually, the day I was on the show was his first day teaching. So, I took a poll with friends and family about what I should do.

My father-in-law had the strongest opinion. “You have to go,” he said.

He was right. I knew he was right. I had to go. His sister, my husband’s aunt, offered to come up from New Jersey to watch Samantha while I was on the set. After all, when “GMA” calls and offers you an interview with Diane Sawyer, you don’t say, “I’m sorry it’s just not convenient right now.” You figure it out.

I got up the nerve to ask the producer to not only fly me but also to fly my two-and-half-year-old daughter, Samantha, to New York. He agreed without even missing a beat. So I planned to take Samantha with me and kissed a good night’s sleep goodbye for the next ten days. Nothing we moms aren’t used to, right?

Five years later, I still never sleep through the night when I am traveling away from home. It’s even worse in the hotel the night before I give a presentation. Even if I’ve given the preso a dozen times already, I simply cannot sleep. It’s absurd, I tell you. I’m up every hour checking the clock making sure I don’t oversleep.

And trust me, I never oversleep. You’d have to actually sleep to oversleep.

So now that I’ve painted what I hope is a fairly realistic picture of what it’s like to be a traveling mama, let’s get down to some more of the nitty-gritty truth about being a traveling writer mama.

Realize that getting ready to go and coming home are the hard part. This makes no sense, I’m sure. You are likely thinking before your first trip that savoring those final moments with the fam’ and your ultimate reunion will be pure bliss but getting ready to go is about as close to water torture as you can get and the return is a pretty stiff mix of joy and cleaning up old hairballs. At least that’s one of the pleasures that typically greets me when I get home.

So, here’s some advice: Start getting ready to leave days in advance. In fact, pull out your (large, if you like to over-pack like me) suitcase and start slowly filling it in a place where family and pets can see it. This will prompt a conversation about “Mommy’s trip” that can help everyone get a jump on how rough it’s going to be. Pets can begin anxiously over-licking themselves and children can ask questions (sometimes hundreds, sometimes just the same question over and over). Infants and toddlers will probably not really understand what’s going on but the bringing out of the suitcase can become a symbol for them over the years that a new routine is coming different than the same old same old they expect when mom is around.

Author Cheryl Strayed, author of the literary novel Torch (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) and the forthcoming memoir Wild (Knopf, 2010) puts it all in perspective for us:

I had two kids under the age of two when my first book came out. They went with me wherever I went for two years—on two national book tours and a bunch of side trips. But then, when they got a bit older, it was time to go alone. I was so worried about leaving them, but I was so FINE. And so were they. Once I was gone, I saw that. I missed them, but focused on the up side of traveling alone: the ability to focus on my work, to do something other than entertain kids in the down time, to go back home feeling so happy to be their mom and also grateful for my career. It’s all about balance. Sometimes being away helps restore that.

To be continued…


2 Responses to “Read Before You Hit the Road Overnight or Longer…If Nothing Else You’ll Feel Better”

  1. 1 Jenn June 2, 2009 at 7:07 am

    This post is incredibly timely for me, as later this month I leave for a 10-day MFA residency (and leave my 3-year-old overnight for the first time — gulp!). We’ve talked a bit about mama going to “school” just like she does, but your post has gotten me thinking that I should do a little more prep for her about the actual trip. Thanks, Christina, from one sleepless-with-worry mama to another!

  2. 2 Luci June 2, 2009 at 9:48 am

    And here I was thinking of how glamorous it must be being such a travler! Um..not really. I do like how Cheryl said its all about finding the balance. Always seems to be the case.
    Welcome back Christina!

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