At a talk I was giving to Communication students in a New York university, I was asked, “What’s the hardest part about being on assignment?”
“Being away from my daughter,” I replied without pausing to think about my answer.
I am usually selective when it comes to disclosing details about being a solo parent who also has to travel for work. But there I was, laying myself open and raw in front of a bunch of young students in a school far away from home.
I was in the middle of a 5-state university tour; packing was an increasingly unbearable imposition necessary before getting on the next plane or train.
Being away was beginning to take its toll.
On the road
I was on the road a lot last year for work. Of course, it’s not the first time that I’ve had to travel for work as the nature of my job demands it. But it was the first time for me to away for long stretches at a time. And when I was home, I was caught up with the logistics and planning for the next trip.
“Technology is on my side. Viber and Skype will cancel out the miles between us,” I bravely told myself as I kissed my daughter good-bye before each trip.
But that’s the thing about distance. It makes itself felt in a most innocuous way until it is simply difficult to ignore.
Distance is the echoing silence that makes even the smallest of hotel rooms seem cavernous. It is the woefully obvious absence of rituals that used to define my every day – like saying good-bye in the morning and good night in the evening. It is the resignation that comes with realizing that a call to ask how her day went might be seen as an intrusion of her peaceful slumber.
Then come the little things.
Like getting pictures of her first smile without her braces on email. I looked at the picture and blurted out, “Oh wow!” even though no one heard me. I wished that I had been the one who took the picture and told her to smile showing me her teeth, knowing that by the time I got home, “braces off!” would be old news.
I felt each hour of the time difference that marks separation as our rushed conversations on Skype were reduced to administrative matters about school and daily life. The reminder to drink her vitamins sounded hollow when I was not there to give her the usual quick hug that comes with the reminder.
I became more sensitive and fault-finding as I felt that my being needed was reduced to an email to please pay for her mobile bill before the line got cut off. (She’s 13. Cutting off her mobile phone would be like losing an appendage.)
I thought I had come to that point where working and being a mother complemented rather than competed with each other. I know at my very core that loving what I do makes me a better mother. (READ: The day I hung up my stilettos)
And yet, there I was struggling with the basic truth that there is no secret formula to being a good parent except being there. The time apart served as a reality check that even relationships encrypted in the immutability of a DNA code had to be nurtured with deliberate effort.
Bringing it home, bringing it to school
It’s not always easy to explain what I do to a 13-year-old and why I have to be away to do it.
Other parents have a “bring-your-kid-to-work” day to bridge the two world. But since I work from home, that was an indulgence unavailable to me. What I could do was bring my work to my daughter’s school.
I recently spoke at the Paris Model United Nations Conference and my daughter recently held the same activity at their school.
I spoke to her Social Studies Coordinator and volunteered to do my own little show and tell.
So one early Monday morning, wearing a skirt hand-stitched by the T’boli Women in Southern Philippines – the same skirt I wore in Paris – in front of over 800 high school girls, I talked about my work.
I told them the story of how the T’boli women cried when they learned that their designs were being featured in fashion magazines and sold in boutiques in Europe and the US. But most importantly, I told them that each hand-stitched piece sold by the T’boli women brought them closer to their dream of sending their children to school.
I shared the story of how a young Filipino teen named Joshua Camacho joined his parents in Marseille, South of France, after 13 years of being apart.
A consistent honor student even in the Philippines, Joshua now dreams of pursuing a college degree in an international school in Europe. His parents, both domestic workers, had fulfilled the simple wish of every parent: to give their children a life that is better than the one they had.
I spoke about the privilege of a storyteller in bringing such stories to others for inspiration, for questioning and rumination.
I ended by asking and extending my personal gratitude to my 13-year-old whom I gratefully could not see among the throng of high school students gathered before me. (There is nothing more nerve-wracking than facing your teen daughter and her friends.)
“Thank you for being so supportive of my writing career and for being ever so understanding of my sometimes crazy travel schedule. It’s because I want you to live out your dreams that I strive to set an example and run so hard after mine.”
I didn’t see her after I spoke as 800 pairs of feet in black shoes and white socks marched back to their classroom for morning period.
When she got home that day, I asked her about that morning. She said my speech was “fine” – that vague catch-all term used by every teen.
I decided to leave at that and settle for that teen equivalent of “acceptable.”
She crawled into my bed the following morning for some additional shut-eye before getting ready for school. I think the last time she did that was back when she was in the fifth grade.
I had been back for the last couple of weeks already, but that morning we were both truly home. – Rappler.com
Written with thoughts nudgingly provoked by the article, “Taking pictures, Raising Kids” in the New York Times and the Pulitzer Center assignment, “Who Takes Care of Nanny’s Children?”
There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.