His words are a Bowie knife thrust between my ribs, deep and devastating:
“Do you love to travel more than you love me, Mama?”
The question ricochets across my heart and into my lungs, causing me to catch my breath. I pull him to me, kissing the top of his head.
He often cries the night before I leave when I travel, and I tell him that it’s OK to cry. Men cry, buddy, I say. I’ve even seen Daddy cry.
“Really?” he says, wiping his tears. He looks skeptical.
Crying means you love someone enough to miss them, I tell him. And aren’t we lucky enough to have each other so we can appreciate and love each other so much?
“Can’t you quit your job?” he says.
Although I have worked since he was born, my now nine-year-old boy has mastered the art of the guilt trip, especially in the last year or two. One of the reasons I quit my corporate job in 2013 is because I didn’t want to travel around the world anymore; being half a world away sounded exciting and exotic to me before I met my husband and had a son, but now it feels too far from them.
When I started my own company, I no longer had to travel as far and my trips were shorter. In fact, I could – and have – turned down trips in order to be home with my family. That’s the benefit of having myself as a boss. On the other hand, now I am doing work that I love as a freelance writer, it is a dream to be able to follow my passions and help support my family at the same time. When I try to explain this to my son, he is stubbornly unmoved.
I desperately wanted to quit my job when my son was born; it pained my husband in ways I can’t fully grasp that it was not possible to grant my wish. Our family needed my income too. I did the best I could, but I had lost my love for both my work and the frequent travel along with it. Once upon a time, I’d find ways to take every trip I could to put distance between me and an unhealthy marriage. After my divorce, subsequently meeting the love of my life, and then having a baby together, the flames of my wanderlust were tamped down.
My son was three when I was required to take a business trip to Dubai, halfway around the world. A bucket list destination, I was both thrilled to go and terrified to go that far away from my son. It was an experience I’ll never forget, but one for which I no longer had a taste. Some parents have to travel frequently away from their children, and they have found their own ways to manage it emotionally and physically. I was failing at it. Soon after, I quit my job and jumped without a safety net into the freedom of owning my own communications business.
Now I can choose which trips I can and want to take, and my husband is a fantastic father; he works from home as well. I canceled a trip to Phoenix to schedule my son’s tonsillectomy. Abandoned another when he was struggling with chronic croup. I leave before dawn and come home after midnight to keep my trips as short as possible; trips that once invited extra days to go sightseeing and visit friends.
My son doesn’t see that, though. He only notices that mom is not there. And when he cries, it still feels like a knife to the kidneys. At the same time, I know he’s paying attention to what I’m telling him about fulfillment and doing what you love. Of all of his friends, each has a mother doing something completely different: some stay home. Some work with their spouses. Some own their own businesses. Some work in high-profile positions for large companies. Some make a commitment to taking vacations without the kids to reconnect with spouses and friends. He’s learning valuable lessons from each as he watches. I want him to know it’s OK to:
Pursue your dreams with passion.
Be your own boss
Fathers run households differently that mothers, but with just as much love.
Mothers can be powerful whether they work from home, work at an office or other location, or if their job is focused on taking care of children.
Missing someone means you have someone to love.
Sometimes, gifts arrive home in my suitcase, but more often, I’m the only gift, and he’s OK with that. In fact, he’s overjoyed to see me. And we appreciate each other that much more.
Kristin Shaw is a writer based in Austin, Texas. For more of her writing, you can find her at KristinVShaw.com for her essays and ThrillsandWheels.com for stories about positive, uplifting stories within the automotive industry. Her essay and video "I can still pick him up, so I do" has been seen by millions of viewers on the TODAY Parents platform.