Twenty-four days, seven states, one trip across the ocean to another country …that’s what this roving woman’s July has looked like. How it’s felt…well, that’s a different story.
I knew July would be rough. Family vacation, followed back-to-back with work travel, a mini family trip, more work travel, delivering kids to camps and Grandma’s visits and, then, heading to see my Mom through surgery…big, scary surgery.
Well, for most, it is probably not a huge deal. It’s just joint replacement, but, for my healthy, strong Mom, who has never needed any major medical intervention, it felt scary.
That’s probably why the bouncing from state to state and country to country got harder as it went on. It was leading to that…surgery for my Mom…my best friend.
I thought about that on my morning run yesterday. My legs felt heavy, my lungs tired. That’s not normal for me. I stopped to do what I normally do on a new, interesting running route…snap a picture. And, it hit me. It hadn’t just been planes, trains and automobiles these past 3 weeks. It’s been a lot of running!
It’s been a lot of running literally and figuratively. I kicked off this crazy month by completing my first ever triathlon. It was supposed to be easy…a simple sprint distance. Turns out that triathletes are held up as superior athletes for a reason. It’s hard as hell. Even the short ones.
And, my July of travel was supposed to be pretty matter of fact too…fun, business and daughterly duties all puzzle-pieced together perfectly. Turns out it isn’t an easy puzzle, and when emotions are involved, even the hearty waver.
I have to tell you..there are great stories to tell from this particular set of journeys. Some really funny ones and some really great “I’m an idiot” moments to share. (Like “I’m an idiot for doing my first triathlon at age 43, on a windy beach with an open water ocean swim but I survived” stories teamed with “button-upped corporate types busting a move at a karaoke bar” stories.) I promise they are coming. For now, though, I’m taking a moment to catch my breath and then it’s off and running again.
Early Monday morning, I hopped on a plane to a new city outside the U.S. It was a meeting we had, in true corporate style, planned for nearly a year…planned, postponed, rescheduled, planned again, put on hold and, finally, decided to have. Having never been and enjoying seeing new places, meeting new people and learning about how people live where ever it is they settle, I was up for the trip. It didn’t hurt that we’d be announcing a promotion I just received during the meeting.
It all sounds great on the surface…and, in many ways, that is accurate. A summertime trip to a beautiful city with a strong and interesting culture, telling my team of 5+ years…my team of friends…I had finally gotten “the” promotion, and, then, a quick jog by the home office in another city (this time inside the U.S.) to tell the rest of the organization before heading home at the end of the week.
Yet, there’s always something. Something like knowing that my closest friend on the team deserves a promotion in his area more than I do in my area. Yet, my promotion came first. Something like changes the organization was making that would be unpleasant for a few for the role to even exist. Something like my own personal fears.
You might have noticed I have a bit of an imagination. And, believe it or not, I am a home body. Even more, I have a serious, no-joke, terror of flying. And, what I know that others may not see is that deep inside I’m an empathetic liberal who just wants to see everyone get along, coexist and do well. So, this change from my cozy team of friends that has left a couple people unhappy and will require me to travel globally feels like I might just be pushing my personal universal balance way out of whack.
So, all that was going through my mind as I checked into my hotel, made it through the first day of meetings and explored the city that night with colleagues. Announcement day was looming early the next morning, and, as the night wore down, I felt the need to share the news with my friend whom I knew would be happy and yet bristle from it the most. I didn’t want him caught off guard in a group. He reacted as expected…mildly happy for me, processing the information for himself and then…I watched it…the barely hidden personal sting he was feeling. It wasn’t about me. It was about him. I get it. I don’t know many people who wouldn’t have had the same reaction.
And, just like that, I felt the winds change…figuratively and literally. A storm rolled in and for the next 3 days, winds blew in and out, sun peeked through the clouds only to be overtaken by dark skies and lightning and torrential rains…off and on…no matter where I was in North America. My personal days matched. People happy, unhappy, celebrating, feeling their own personal feelings and covering them fairly well. Small talk, thanks, visionary conversations, congratulations, unsure moments, unhappy moments, and very, very little sleep or places to find comfort.
So, when I got ready for the final leg…the leg home…and I got on my plane to watch the skies open up and to hear there were also severe storms on the other end, it wasn’t a surprise. The world was putting me on notice. My worst fear in taking this new job was that I might find myself somewhere far away from my family when there was a problem for them. I looked out at rain and lightning on the tarmac as we waited it out, not knowing the full brunt of what was happening at home…a tornado hitting 3 miles from my house. Thank God, my family was somewhat unaware too. They waited safely in our home for the storm to pass and only had a few heavy winds and storms. But, still, it was like the scenario I had imagined as the worst possible was, in some way, coming true.
I made it home that night and emerged into a beautiful day the next day and the days to follow. It’s easy to see this as just a run of the mill summer storm and to see me as a run of the mill corporate leader…like the thousands and thousands of them like me out there. My imagination wants to take it farther. My imagination wants to go to the place that is about me and me alone, just like everyone else I encounter on a daily basis. Yet, let’s face it…the world does not have time to put little, old me on notice. It’s marching on…just like I need to.
Delayed air travel happens…leaving me to lighten the mood with bubbles. That’s a cheerful way of noting that I spent the evening drinking alone at the airport bar. 😉
From the outside, business travel looks like it’s a blast. There are expense account dinners, team building outings to national sporting events, nice hotels and more. And, that is all very real. Yet, look just a bit beneath the surface and you see reality more clearly. Actually, you see all kinds of things.
You see lots of hotel rooms that look fantastic a first glance. Nice bedding, beautiful views and “meeting gifts” greeting you. And, then you hear about your colleague who is staying just one floor beneath you and swears he had a bed bug on his arm that morning. Honestly, I saw the picture he took of it and I’m pretty sure it was not a bed bug…just a regular, run of the mill boring bug that doesn’t really bother girls of my ilk…you know…those of us from the South where it rarely gets below 40 degrees and bugs regularly grow to the size of small animals. But, it made an interesting story on the bus to our meeting that morning as we all passed his phone around staring at his picture of the so-named bed bug and began feeling itchy and unsure of the night’s sleep we might have ahead.
It also gave us an interesting look into people’s personalities and their limits. You see…after lots of days or weeks of travel…people get worn down. And, they can’t really hide their idiosyncrasies. This guy, in particular, reacted to his bug incident much like my small children used to act…a bit whiny, some fake bravado, and a quick evacuation. My bet is that there was a very real squeal when he discovered it…just before he called his wife and right after he took the picture.
It also gets real after an early morning of travel to rush through a new city and to an all-day meeting of serious topics that is, then, followed by a long, gourmet dinner accompanied by endless drinks at some fabulous local place. All, for me, normal and enjoyable things to do in and of themselves. Pile them into what turns into a 16 hour workday (not including a time change) and it may bring out the worst in people. I think that’s what happened when the woman across from me was served her meal at said lovely dinner and had a full, fledged hissy fit. Apparently, her steak and its gourmet portion was not large enough for her taste nor was it cooked to her liking, so she loudly said, “This is it?,” stabbed at it a bit with her fork and then…the capper…threw her fork down on the table in a huff. People rushed to fix it, there as a bit of a scene (they want the corporate expense account guests to return often) and then it was fixed. Yet, was it? We all saw it. We all have to continue to work with her. We will remember it. And, I…I will remember it with a bit of a laugh and a smile…because, let’s face it…it was messy, and funny and very, very real.
The next night after an early morning pick up, a very long morning meeting and an even longer afternoon on a trade show floor (walking and talking and standing and walking), we got to go to a major league baseball game where we walked and watched and talked some more and ate and drank and walked and watched and talked even more. When we poured into the bus at the end of the evening, I realized there was no need for pretenses…when you travel with people, pretty much ALL THE TIME, you know them well…well enough for one of the team members to ask if it was okay to curl up in the fetal position on the way home and for me to suggest a foot rub would be fantastic. No takers…and no real fetal position action. If only…because that would have made a great story, huh?!
Just yesterday, I was waiting to board a plane when a kindly little, old lady came and stood next to me. She smiled politely and noted that she had my same suitcase. Hers was larger, but she liked my small size for when she goes on bowling trips. I made light conversation with her and turned my attention back to the line as they called those who needed extra time to board. A family pushed through to get on the plane. There was a mother, a father, 3 small children and a set of grandparents. They happened to be Indian. Before I knew it, I felt a tiny hand on my back and a head on my shoulder with that little old lady’s voice attached to it, whispering in my ear a disgusting racial slur about the family. Startled, I looked at her oddly and stepped away, which gave her room to tap the next person pushing through on the shoulder and loudly ask, “Are you handicapped? How come you are going now?”
Seriously…no joke…that happened. And, I thought, you know…you just can’t judge a book by its cover. She sickened me and intrigued me all at once. And, because of that odd, awful encounter, I thought, it might be time to start telling stories again.
I love telling stories and I collect them all the time, especially while I travel. So, I think I’m going to re-invent this blog again…this time as a place to log my most incredible, sometimes disturbing, sometimes moving, sometimes mundane encounters while on the road, in the air and just living life as a corporate traveler. One thing is certain. I learn from each interaction…good or bad. I hope you’ll come back along on the journey, find something in it for yourself and share it with others.
I’d like to say I’m shutting her down but that seems so final. Really, though, writing this blog has not been happening lately. It used to just flow out of me. And, now, it’s something just hanging over me. So…in the spirit of trying to live life without putting unnecessary pressure or restrictions on myself…I’m going to hit the pause button on One Normal Woman.
My daughter gave it to me about this last night. She is furious with me that I’ve stopped reaching out to publishers on my book and haven’t been writing lately. She says I have to keep trying, keep going. She’s absolutely right. She gets that from me…her never die, “pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep moving” spirit. I don’t want to disappoint her. And, honestly, I never say never.
So, this isn’t good-bye forever. It’s just me putting my head down to rest for a bit. I’ll ping you when I’m back. Deal? In the meantime, enjoy your “normal” lives and when something crazy, funny, difficult, silly, challenging or just plain hum-drum happens, think of me and laugh about it. Hell…give me a call and tell me about it. It may just wake me up from this slumber!
There’s this amazing phenomenon that begins to happen as you move beyond young adulthood and into middle age. Time speeds up. Sometimes it’s in a “time flies when you’re having fun way,” but most of the time, it’s just time barreling forward. Take this summer for instance…a great summer, full of fantastic outings, outdoor activities and even a few lazy days, but it’s all happened in a blur.
Living in the South, my kids get out of school just before Memorial Day, so late May. It’s been 2 1/2 months since then…about 10 weeks. That’s 70 days; it’s 1,680 hours. That’s a decent amount of time. And, during that time, we’ve spent a week at the beach, a long weekend in the mountains, and spent countless evenings or afternoons at the pool. The kids did swim team for 5 weeks; my daughter, mother and I had the trip of a lifetime in London; and my kids even fit in several camps — my son focusing on science, cooking and drama and my daughter doing a high-adventure ropes sleep-away camp. Meanwhile, I’ve worked…taken numerous business trips, launched new programs and big, huge meaty events, communicated news to thousands of employees and worked some more. When you pack all that in, 70 days or 1, 680 hours doesn’t seem enough. No wonder it seems to have flown by!
This is where it gets serious though. Because in addition to all of that, we also learned this summer that my stepfather — my Mom’s husband…my kid’s grandfather — who has been fighting cancer, doesn’t have anymore treatment options. And, amid all the summer “stuff,” I’ve been watching my family suffer as they take in this news. All of sudden, it isn’t just an interesting phenomenon…this time passing too quickly thing. All of a sudden there truly isn’t enough time…at all…for anyone.
You see, this is the summer I officially became the sandwich generation…not because my parents need caretaking. They are strong, able, sharp people. But, because I’m in the middle of caring for my children and giving them what I hope is a wealth of experiences AND helping my mother face into a life-changing transition in her life. She’s caring for her husband. She’s scared and not wanting this to happen. She’s dealing with the unknown, and I want to help. My Mom and I have always relied on each other to a fault. And, in this case, I want to be able to ease the fear, make it all better, help her have the answers. Yet, I can’t. This is one of those things you have to live to find out what will come next. You can’t really shape it. And, that’s hard.
It’s hard enough that you just want to say, “Stop. Hold on. Let’s all take a break here; slow things up and figure this out.” But, time doesn’t allow for that. Life doesn’t allow for that. My kids still have needs. My job still has demands. And, time…it just keeps moving, in a blur. I tend to be a person who likes to be in control of things. So, why can’t I slow it down a bit? It’s because…and here’s a really profound thought, I know… time is fixed. Setting aside the dripping sarcasm of that last thought, the fact is every minute is still 60 seconds. It can be mind-boggling when you realize these minutes are the exact same as those I experienced when I was young, single, being cared for by my parents and was often bored watching the clock tick slowly by. The time going by now is ostensibly the same as when everyone was healthy and able and happy.
Time is relentless. So, it just keeps marching on. All the emails have started back up again…the “don’t forget the 8th grade band trip and all the paperwork you need to complete to ready our child for it” and the “sign up for drama classes or you’ll miss out” and the “be at student orientation by 8 a.m.” and “be sure you have purchased your $300 worth of mandatory school supplies by X date” emails. There are those and more pouring into my inbox. Work continues to demand my attention. Yet, all that really matters is that we ensure my stepfather and my mother are enjoying every minute of this precious time…the time when he’s still strong. We don’t know how long that will last. We hope it will be a very, very long time. In the meantime, life continues, for all of us, and we have to make the most of it. Actually, out of all of us, he seems to get this more than anyone. And, just like him, we have to embrace it. We have to embrace the time we have.
Sandwiched or not, that’s what I intend to do…continue living life even as it speeds up and goes by lightning fast. Blink and it could be gone. Or, watch and enjoy the light show. That, my friends, is the current dilemma of this one normal woman.