I'm sitting in the airport at SeaTac, waiting for my flight, thinking about Conan. I'm heading to Peru (Yes, Peru!!) for a business conference. While I don't usually get to go to such exotic locales, business travel is an increasingly frequent occurance for me. I enjoy it, for the most part, but it's without a doubt the most difficult part of my career to balance with motherhood. Luckily I have a wonderful husband who does a great job holding down the fort, but it's still hard on all of us.
I've learned not to tell Conan about upcoming events too far in advance, because he doesn't really grasp the idea of waiting for more than a couple days of future time to pass. So I waited until last night, when I was doing my final packing, to tell him I was leaving. "Mama's going away for a few days, on an airplane, for work. Then I'll come back!" He's always taken this in stride before, but it's been less than a month since my last trip, so he remembers it clearly. This is the first time he's really understood what it meant that I would be gone.
He seemed OK with it at first, asking some questions about where I was going, and what kind of airplane ("A big one? A really REALLY big one?") I would be flying on. He played normally while dinner was cooking, but then he refused to sit down and eat. That in itself is (sadly) not that abnormal these days, but he didn't even want to play "hungry Tyrannisaurus-T-Rex", which usually gets him to eat like a charm. He really started to act out - yelling "You don't talk to me!" and "Don't look at me!" whenever I spoke or looked at him, stomping his feet, throwing toys, and generally being as bad as he knows how to be. So, as is our practice, we declared dinner time forfeit and moved straight to bedtime.
He continued to misbehave, physically trying to push me out of his room, crying and demanding that Papa ALONE handle bedtime. Somewhat confused, I stepped out and shut the door. I stood in the hallway, wondering what was up, and feeling sad that on my last night at home this week I wasn't going to get to spend any nice time with my baby. Then, with one of those sudden 180 degree reversals only a preschooler can manage, from inside the bedroom came shrieks of "I WANT MAMA!"
In that instant I realized what was going on. This was not a standard dinnertime meltdown. This was "my mama's going away and I'm mad and scared so I'm pushing her away but I also want her and this is NOT getting me what I want but I don't know what else to do." I went back in the room, got down at eye level with him, and asked him "Are you mad and scared because I'm going away?" "Yes" he wailed, and colapsed into my arms. So we cuddled and hugged. We talked about the things we would do together when I got back. He calmed down, and we got his teeth brushed and jammies on, and then we cuddled some more and he went to bed happily.
This morning I kissed him goodbye, and he waved happily as he drove off with Papa on the way to Preschool, his fears and insecurities banished, at least for now. But it was a real wake-up call for me, that as he's understanding more ane more about how the world works, some things which didn't previously cause anxiety are now pretty scary. I'm not sure what I can do to make my travel easier on him, other than to make sure I tell him very clearly that I'm coming back, and that I love him more than anything.
And bring him presents, of course.