‘When are you coming back?’: How a parent handles business travel as the world reopens

Woman talking on the phone at the airport while traveling. Photo: Michael Duva/Getty Images

A couple of weeks ago my husband texted me, “Are you going to talk to your sons tonight?”

I immediately called, apologized and explained that I was with a friend at the hot springs.

“The hot springs?” my husband asked with mock irritation.

“We need a break after we’ve been writing all day!” I replied.

He teased; he knew I needed this long-delayed writing retreat. We were originally going to go in the spring of 2020, and after I did a weekend workshop in Denver, a friend and I headed northeast to Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

“Stop leaving us!” shouted Gege in the background.

Did you tell them to say that? I asked my husband. Even without seeing them, I could tell they were grinning.

Although I felt a little guilty, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. When my husband and I trade business travelers, the single parent often sends messages and pictures of the boys, but scheduling a substantive call can be tricky.

When he travels, although they miss him, I don’t remember them blaming him for abandoning him. Perhaps this is due to the duration and frequency: he traveled more often, and I was gone longer. Or maybe it’s because I’m their mother and the role has gender expectations.

The moon rises over the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where Vanessa Hua spent her writing retreat. Photo: Vanessa Hua/Special to The Chronicle

“Why are you on vacation without us?” Didi asked.

“This is not a vacation!” I replied with a laugh.

“When we work all day and then we take you to the pool, is it a vacation?” my husband asked them. The boys seemed to agree, but the truth is they were used to having both of us around during the pandemic when my husband and I were working from home.

“When will you be back?” Didi asked.

“Tomorrow!” I promised. I’ve already told them I’ll be teaching at another writing conference in Tennessee this summer, but they’ve probably already forgotten (and may well accuse me of abandonment again when we part ways).

The students in my weekend seminar were inspiring—they were diligently pecking at their computers and scribbling on their notepads. After lockdown and social distancing during the pandemic, the opportunity to write together seemed almost sacred.

After that, during a writing retreat, I had a breakthrough character work and also scheduled my class for the fall semester.

In the early spring on my first business trip of the year, I almost had a nervous breakdown when I spilled drops of hand sanitizer while trying to replenish my travel supplies. “I forgot my systems!” I exclaimed. Now I have things that I collect and travel; I am proud of my self-sufficiency.

As with everything else, we are yet to return to normal with travel remaining more onerous than before the pandemic: the way the ear…

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