Traveling with children (or without them)

This is my fifth time at the airport this week. As I sit in the food court area, I think about how much life has changed since becoming a parent. I chose an international life and that comes with a huge dosage of air time. It is still dark and I see a mom giving her daughter a glazed chocolate donut for breakfast. I catch myself going through the list of reasons why you shouldn’t do that. Then, I said to myself “what is wrong with you?” Life as a parent has showed me that the reasons why parents do what they do are way beyond my moral interpretation of the world. Sometimes, a morning sweet can be the life jacket dunking donuts throws at you as you swim in the open sea of traveling with children.

After a trip with my family, I take a trip to Mexico for work. I am not loaded with a car seat on my back, pacifiers on my pocket or a big yogurt stain on my pants. It feel like vacations. It is not, but it feels like. This is the invisible weight of the one thousand decisions that running a home imply, most of them, unfairly expected and assigned to women. This is why I feel like I am taking time off, because in many levels, I am. And while I am off my partner is carrying the weight for us.

There is a hint of guilt in my absence. However, I am learning that the best way to address this is to be as present as I can. If I am traveling with my family, I am on it, catering to their needs and support my people. Ironing my partners clothes for her work while googling “playgrounds near me”. If I am not with them, I watch a movie, go to be at 8 and sleep 11 hours. Guilt puts you in a place in the past where you no longer belong. So don’t go there.

I see a family traveling with two children and I notice their car seats have wheels; I see a mom pushing a stroller and I moved my bags and chair without them noticing. I see a dad asking three small children what they want for breakfast and they are not happy is this early and they are here. Sometimes parenting feels like humanitarian training, you plan for the best but need to be ready to respond to disaster on your feet.

My partner and I talk a lot about what it means to have a career that is meaningful while keeping our family and time together front and center. So far, we try to do it together and with the support of the extended family (shout out to grand parents). Also, It is a combination of privilege and need. So far, the exhaustion of traveling with our kid has met with the rewards of pulling things together.

You learn that a red eye flight makes your child throw up and they don’t sleep, so you spend a whole day traveling and get their energy out running across gates. You learn that routine makes the whole difference for them even if that means that you bring the pack and play everywhere, even if people give you the look of “it seems a little too much”. It means that you sit together inside the bathroom with the phone flash light on while the baby sleep and you talk about your day and the milk count for tomorrow. You learn how to wash pump parts and bottles in a tiny sink. You learn how to source for ice to keep milk frozen and learn how to change diapers in an airplane seat as your baby stands. I don’t know that one yet but my parent and baby have a dual degree on it.

It means that you come home exhausted ready to take a cab and as you load the truck you realized you forgot a piece of luggage and you scream. There is a piece of luggage in the carousel 7 of international arrivals going round and round on the belt, all through the town. It means that when you travel on your own, you go grocery shopping my before you leave, put gas on the tank, get as much laundry folded as possible, make some food. It means that you feel so happy to travel so light and so sad that you are alone in the aisle seat without them, asking to pass the water bottle or tapping your leg as your parent says softly “is he sleep”?

At work, I talk about taking care duty time off. I don’t hide it. I plan for it. We plan together to assure that we enable each other in our dreams, now that we are three on the mix. Women are expected to follow their male partners everywhere, to do it all and have it all, which is a cop-out. Care work is so undervalued and unappreciated in society because women are undervalued and unappreciated. This is the harsh reality we live in .And this needs to change, fast. So if you are a male identified person, you have to do your share at more. The bar for men as working parents and care givers is very low. So, let’s step it up. Let’s get the bar to a new higher. There is an opportunity to raise the bar, one trip at the time.

Love can be found in shitty places

In becoming a parent, the spectrum of emotions grows as if a plow removed the barriers from both ends; sorrow, fears and pain emerge as well as joy, and boundless love. Since I knew that my child was coming -almost 2 years ago- my life has been through a process of reassessing who I am. Not only my sense of self but also how others see me and how much that matters.

There are moments when the links that you create with your children appear in front of you and you are confronted with the opportunity to take them o see them go. Many of them appear during unexpected moments, so it is very important to be present. As men, we are taught in a very harmful way that our role is not at home. We are told that women are more caring, nurturing and suited to provide for others. We see this on tv ads and shows. These messages fill out our imaginary as a slow drip fills a bucket. Slowly but relentlessly.

The word shit appears more often when you become a parent. You deal with it on a daily basis. Literally and figuratively. You learn to read it as if looking at tarot cards. You count it as pulling off petals of a daisy: they pooped today, they did not.

Shit gets real. Adulthood hits you like a baseball on a windshield. When you look around and people ask about the adults in the room, they are talking about you. Shit gets complicated. Every day is a reminder of the fragility of the old status quo and the emerging nature of dealing with work demands, stomach bugs, family schedules and bill payments. Lately, I have been talking to myself as I look at my calendar, saying “you can get sick until the end of the month”.

Shit happens and when it does, you have to look inside and find the answers. They are not evident as our western, capitalist, patriarchal culture rewards productivity and profit over people. So when I have to take time off to care for my family, I think about the 150 things that are due and I feel the pressure boiling like a tea kettle.

But as shit gets real, when the moments that make you the parent you are arrive, you have to choose. For me, the choice is made with the huge amount of privilege of having a unionized workplace and a supportive network. But as a man, I feel the invisible weight of expectations on my shoulders. I can hear the voices saying “though it up. You have it easy”, “this is what moms do every day so don’t complain”. And when that happens, I think about how many of the things that I thought that matter are no longer important. At least, not as important as they use to be.

Does this mean that I don’t give a shit? Not at all. It means that if I don’t make a conscious decision about the kind of man I want to be, the kind of father I want to be, the kind of father I wish I had, I am losing my chance to be present when the opportunities to create long lasting bonds with my child show up.

As I walked around the park pushing the stroller, I listened to the call I cannot miss today. This is the moment I have been working and waiting for the past months. And I am not there. I am taking care of the aftermath of the chaos created by a day care bug. Thank you, day care.

The sun helps my child to get some energy and he decided to climb on the playground. I followed him, half making sure he does not fall, half listening to the questions emerging from the phone.

Then I heard my name on the phone and I saw the face of my son. Two places calling for my attention at the same time. Shit got real literally and figuratively. As I hung up the phone, I took him on my arms and I could see in his face the need for reassurance and solidarity. Reassurance that the adult in the room knows what to do now. Solidarity for the poop explosion that happened inadvertently. I spent the next 20 minutes walking with him on one arm, singing about a cat that lives next door while pushing the stroller with the other. When we are home, I gave him his first standing shower and spent several minutes debating if I should toss and burn my clothes.

Love can be found in shitty places. As I was doing the laundry, I felt that this moment was a chance for me, for him, for us to strengthen the invisible link that bound us. He will not remember this and I will try to forget about it. But deep inside, we both know now that when shit hits the fan, we are there for each other.