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The Must-Have Parent Travel Problem

Must-Have Parent

My husband is gone for work a lot. You've probably gathered that if you'd read this column before.

His leaving for a trip -- whether it's for two days or six months -- tends to look something like this:

A few days prior: He puts an empty bag in the bedroom chair and adds things to it when he thinks about it. The night before he leaves, he runs down his travel plans and asks me if I can take him to the airport.

The day of, he tosses his bag in the back of the car, and the kids and I get curbside kisses and hugs and promises of "I'm going to miss you all so much!"

(Aww.)

And that's it. That's what it takes for him to leave town. I certainly don't envy him having to be away so often, but I do envy how easy it is for him to leave.

Lately, I've had to travel a lot too. And by "had to" I really mean "get to" -- because when you're solo with kids most of the time, a weekend of PowerPoint presentations and airport food sounds a lot like a spa retreat.

When my husband is home to take over parenting duties, the handoff isn't usually particularly difficult. I make a list of all that the kids have planned for the days I'm gone, and I try to set him up so that the days will go as smoothly as possible.

But when he's gone AND I have to travel too ... aye yai yai.

Here's what that looks like:

Two months out: Call relatives to see who can watch my kids. Spread the requests out so I'm not always hitting up the same person. Begin negotiating details. Will she drive or fly to my house, or will my kids go to hers? (It's always a she, and this takes weeks.) Buy a plane ticket for the lucky relative after spending a couple of hours scouring travel sites and going back and forth on travel dates and times until I find an itinerary that doesn't cost $800 more than the exact same flight two hours earlier, and one that won't force her to run a sub-seven-minute mile through the Atlanta airport.

Three weeks out: Update the checklists of needs and preferences, organized by child, that I keep on my computer to reflect changes in needs, routines and schedules. (I have a 3-year-old; there are always changes. Also, I know this makes me sound anal. I am not anal. I'm really the opposite of anal, whatever that is.) A printed list works better because no one can read my handwriting. Even I can't read my handwriting. (See? Totally not anal.)

If the kids are going to stay at someone else's house or my babysitter isn't up for pet sitting too, I call the only kennel in town that has yet to ban my dog for his many (and really quite impressive) escape attempts, and I beg for a reservation.

One week out: Buy magic erasers and start deep cleaning my house. There are Anna and Elsa stickers on the dishwasher, window marker drawings on the back door, and some red stuff that looks like blood (Jello? Hopefully ...) on the baseboards. This could take a while.

Two days out: Buy enough groceries to last until I get back, with an emphasis on foods that are kid-friendly and easy to prepare. Do laundry and fill three laundry baskets -- one for each kid -- with all the clothes and sports gear they'll need while I'm gone so the sitter won't have to search for anything. Get my car cleaned and fill the tank with gas. I may be used to the French fries and goldfish in the seat creases, but my sitter probably isn't.

The day before: Send emails to my kids' teachers, informing them that I'll be out of town and my husband is gone. I don't want the teachers to be concerned if the kids seem a little scattered and want the teachers to know who can respond quickly in an emergency. Take the dog to the kennel and tell the kennel owner all about his diet changes and medications. Print out the checklists. Go to the ATM to leave cash for more food because I worry that the week's worth of groceries won't be enough.

Finally, at 11 p.m. the night before I'm due to fly out in the morning, I throw some clothes in a bag. I'm too tired to care what I pack, besides everything looks like an "outfit" when you add an infinity scarf.

The day I leave: Spend 30 minutes rushing around the house, shoving random tops and socks into my bag and telling the babysitter things I've already told her five times before. Give the kids hugs and kisses and tell them how much I'll miss them. Try to ignore the looks of betrayal they give me for leaving.

Wedge myself into the tiny airplane seat and try not to collapse out of exhaustion onto the person sitting next to me. Spend the last few minutes before I have to turn off my phone firing off texts and emails about everything I think I forgot to tell the babysitter.

The short verion of this? For a must-do parent, leaving town means a few minutes of packing. For a must-have parent, a weekend getaway means months of planning and work.

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Rebekah Sanderlin Military Parenting

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Contributor

Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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