Mommy is in Africa

This post is lovingly dedicated to my wife, who was told by the TSA worker that she was literally the last person entering the United States from Guinea who was required to undergo enhanced Ebola screening.    Congratulations, hon!  😉

I bring him downstairs in the morning and our toddler asks, “Where’s mommy?”  Mommy’s in Africa.  She’ll be back soon.

My wife and I are both international workers.  We knew from before we became pregnant that we would have plenty of situations where one of us had to be apart.  We also knew from family history how difficult it is when a parent travels.

Long Trips

1) Don’t do it.

2) See #1.  It isn’t worth it to your family.  There is nothing you can do to make up for 200 days a year of travel.  If you think otherwise, you are deceiving yourself.  A kid needs both a father and a mother, whether he’s 2 or 16.

On the occasions when we do need to take extended trips, we bring the entire family.  These have always been wonderful adventures.  Sometimes, my wife and I have to go to different countries for different objectives, and then meet later in a mutual country where we both have work.

These take a lot of planning, and cooperation (or at least tolerance) from our organization.  Traveling with a child requires significant preparation.  It is also expensive.  We foot the bill for everything child-related when we travel as a family.

On the other hand, it’s worth it.  He’s only two and he’s already swam in the Congo River, mooched blackened fish in Coutonou, bounced through the jungle in a 4WD to Ouida, and breathed Harmattan dust (ok, that’s something he could have missed) in Ouagadougou.

Short Trips

Most of our trips are to visit projects or partners.  Since our son’s birth, we’ve been making more shorter trips.  Right now they are generally two weeks plus travel time to & from.  These are difficult but doable.

We have planned from the beginning to ensure that our son has a set routine with stability, but without a “single point of failure” parent.  Nothing he does is always the same parent.  For example, each of us alternates every other night putting him to bed, so that if Mom isn’t there one night, it isn’t a major unprecedented breakdown.  We also make sure that occasionally someone else like Grandma or a sitter puts him to bed.

At either bedtime or breakfast, depending on timezones, we try to have a Skype call, Internet permitting.  He has invented the Skype-hug, where he does a Daniel Tiger uggamugga with the phone.  This isn’t a substitute for a real hug, but it’s a help.

The parent at home is required to get a good picture at some point each day.  The best photo gets texted or emailed to the traveling parent.  Traveling, this is a high point of the day.

We use an international phone SIM, which provides (relatively) inexpensive phone conversation anywhere on the planet.  This allows us to stay in touch frequently by voice or text, and gives a local US number that grandma can call which will ring anywhere on the planet.  We run up a fairly large bill, but just eat this cost; it’s worth it to our family.

There are a number of brands offering this capability.  We have used ( ) for several years and been pleased with their price & service.  While some phone plans are getting fairly cost-effective on Internet in Europe, be aware that there is no good inexpensive general-purpose solution for Internet in Africa.

Where would parents be without grandparents?  We rely upon both sets of ours to help with daycare pickups and general scheduling.  For the most part, this has worked out well and given grandmas their “fix” of the grandchild.  Both of us have crazy active parents, so getting on their schedule well in advance takes planning.

His Reaction

His reaction: stress but acceptance.  Our son’s tell is increased thumb-sucking, but it doesn’t get a real workout until one of us has been gone for a week.  His question, “Where’s mommy?” is the best motivation for us to keep trips as short as possible.  He accepts the temporary absences, but rejoices when we return.

International travel with a toddler is doable, regardless of whether or not you take him along, but takes planning and extra time in either case.  It’s worth it to be able to give him a cross-cultural upbringing.