It’s Saturday night, and I’m looking at the spattering of rice on the floor after a dinner of Indian takeout. I just finished Skyping with my husband Brian, who regaled me with tales of his first night in Thailand, and now I’m thinking of the best way to clean up this mess and coerce our daughter to take a bath.
Brian’s travel ramped up about four years ago. As a food, wine and travel writer and food and wine consultant, he’s experienced more in this short time than most do over the course of their lives: riding elephants in a vineyard in Thailand, crushing grapes for port in northern Portugal, dancing the waltz at a palace in Austria, conducting wine tastings for pre-Emmy festivities in Los Angeles.
It was more difficult when it was just the two of us. While I loved our life at home and my own career as a Pilates instructor and studio owner, heading to work as he was sitting down to a 10 course dinner in southwest France was hard to swallow. Not only was I insanely jealous because I love traveling, especially together, but I was worried that his exposure to an incredible array of experiences would cause us to grow apart and that I’d seem less worldly to him.
I don’t think I’ll ever get fully used to the stark contrast of our days when he’s traveling for work, but as our family grows and priorities shift, I’m finding ways to embrace this time alone and with my daughter Sophie, while becoming stronger personally and professionally.
One way I do this is to plan ahead. As a small business owner and now a real estate agent, I have a non-traditional schedule, which puts me in the unique and fortunate position of having flexible time. It also means I don’t have “regular” hours, which can work against me if I don’t plan accordingly. I’m upfront with clients about my situation and do my best to make it all work. I plan sessions and showings around dropoff and pickup times and enlist additional help on an as-needed basis. The meticulous planning coupled with help from family, babysitters and accommodating clients has helped me develop better time management and creative problem solving skills.
Another important survival tool has been to schedule something special — for myself and with Sophie. When she was a baby, this was more about me and my sanity, and I’d treat myself at least once a trip to a special outing, such as a massage or a movie. I still try to do that, but now that she’s almost 3 years old, it’s evolved to a special time we get to spend together. We embark on food adventures throughout the city, have mommy-Sophie slumber parties, experience spontaneous excursions such as a barge ride on the Delaware River in New Hope, Pa., wandering through the gardens at Chanticleer in the Philadelphia suburbs and attending concerts by the river.
Open and clear lines of communication at home and when he’s abroad have made for a smoother transition as well. When he started traveling, options were expensive and spotty. Time away was fraught with missed calls and frustrating connections. These days it’s become much easier to stay in touch — via Skype, FaceTime and email — and we’ve both gotten more relaxed about not having a “perfect” conversation each time. And now that Sophie is old enough to understand that her dad is in a different city, state or country, she gets a kick out of talking to him on the computer.
These experiences have given me a profound respect for single parents and a greater appreciation for the time my family does have together. Our lives are enriched from his travels, and it’s an incredible opportunity for our daughter to learn about the world. We’re creating our own rules and rituals, which, in turn, helps us grow as a family and makes me stronger as a result.