"Mommy always comes home."
That's what I tell my kids - and myself - whenever I leave on a work trip. Speaking on the phone from far away places, I reassure them that "Mommy is coming home on Friday." Or "in two days." Or "tomorrow!"
I travel for work three, sometimes four, times a year. Mostly for five days or less, occasionally more. Usually to Europe and other developed world destinations. I miss my husband and kids a ton while I'm away, but I also enjoy the luxury of focusing only on work and the pleasure of escaping my working mom juggling act for a few days.
Before I leave, there are lots of preparations. Birthday party presents, aftercare arrangements, playdate appointments, etc. And while I'm away, my husband deals with all the daily logistics, managing the care and feeding our two still-small children on his own. (Thank you, honey!)
It's complicated, but my comings and goings usually are relatively simple. I get on a plane and fly away. And then, magically, Mommy's home! Well, "magical" doesn't really describe getting groped at the security screening and smacked by someone's carry-on luggage. But you know what I mean. Generally, I arrive home within a few hours of estimated landing time.
But not last week. Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull Volcano erupted and exploded my travel karma. If you didn't follow the flow of ash that shut down European airspace for almost a week and grounded nearly 9 million travelers worldwide, here's a link to The New York Times' stories about the largest closure of commercial airspace since World War II.
I was stuck in Paris.
I know that probably won't get me much sympathy. (Especially because I did do some sightseeing over the weekend and attended a sensational Yves St. Laurent retrospective at the Petit Palais.)
But it was stressful. No one knew when the volcano would stop spewing ash and European airspace would re-open. (When Eyjafjallajokull erupted in 1821, it lasted on-again, off-again until 1823.) French train workers were on strike. The rest of France, it seemed, had pre-booked all other available means of transport out of Paris for school holidays. And the lines at Paris' Gallieni bus station stretched as far as Frankfurt. Still, I had a place to stay, friends and colleagues in Paris, a U.S.-based travel agent, and my government credit card. I wasn't out of cash and camped out on a cot with small children at Incheon International.
All the same, it was unsettling. Disruptive, physically and emotionally. My husband and kids were at home. I was supposed to be there, too. I missed them and they missed me. (And did I mention that my four-year-old threw up in bed and woke up a fever of 102.2 on the third day of my extended stay?) It was hard to believe that I could not simply fly back to the U.S. as scheduled because of a volcano erupting more than a thousand miles away from Paris.
Mother Nature had messed with my "Mommy always comes home" mantra. And made me think about the the issue that's usually stowed safely away: "What if something awful happens and Mommy never comes home?" It's a painful question. I can't imagine anyone answering it.
Luckily, my boss and I made our way back home five days later than planned by auto, taxi, bus, and plane via Bordeaux, Biarritz, San Sebastien, and Madrid. Before you get the wrong idea, you should know that our visits to these locales consisted mostly of short stops at either a train station, car rental kiosk, taxi stand, or airport hotel.
It would have been a lark, though, if I'd been single or childless, unencumbered by family (or work) responsibilities. But I'm not. The idea of a sabbatical in San Sebastien was enticing, but only for a minute. All I really wanted to do was get home, hug my husband and kids tightly, and announce, "Mommy's home!"