It happens every time. The night before I leave for a work trip, at least one of my three kids gets upset. I thought it would get easier over time and as they got older, and in some ways it has, but it's still hard for them to say goodbye . . . even if it's just for a day or two.
Through the years, I've experienced just about every emotion, with guilt being at the top of the list. When the kids cried about me leaving, I would cry. I did my best to never let them see me cry but I admit that I wasn't always successful. Now that I've just begun my fourth year of consistent travel, I'm feeling much better. Not because I've gotten used to being away, but because I've finally figured out some ways to make my kids feel better when I'm gone, which in turn, makes me feel better as well!
1. Put your travel days on a calendar that your kids can see.
For so long, I found that even if I told my kids ahead of time when I was leaving, often times they would still be surprised when I began to pack the night before, and the mood would usually go south from there. So I printed out a generic online calendar, filled in the days I would be gone and drew an arrow to the day I would be returning. I posted it on our family bulletin board, right above where they hang their backpacks.
Now, they can see exactly when I'm leaving and maybe more importantly, they know exactly when I'm coming home. Not only does that eliminate them asking me how long I'll be gone (which in their eyes is always too long, which makes me feel more guilty . . . ) it helps them feel as if they are "in the know," and gives them something to look forward to as they begin a countdown to my return.
2. Bake banana bread (or a family favorite).
One of my kids' favorite things to eat is my homemade banana bread. And you know us moms — if we find something that everyone likes, something that makes everyone happy, you make it a "go-to" for your family! So I do my best to bake a loaf of fresh-baked banana bread whenever I leave town (or make a few at a time and freeze the extras for future trips!) There's something about knowing that they're eating my homemade banana bread when I'm gone . . . I guess it kind of makes me feel like I'm still "needed," even though they're just fine with my husband in charge.
There are times when I forget, or just haven't had time in my travel preparations, which means I'll be in the kitchen at midnight baking, but as tired as I am while doing it and the next morning, I'm always so glad that I made the extra effort. You know that old adage — sometimes the little things go a long way — well in this case, I believe it to be true.
3. Write notes.
No matter what time of the day or night I leave the house and head to the airport, I write each kid a note. 99 percent of the time they're short and sweet and on a little sticky piece of paper, which takes no time at all. I stick them on the mirrors in their bathrooms so they see them when they wake up in the morning, or when they get home from school in the afternoon. One of the coolest things I've noticed since I started doing this is that I've found stacks of my sticky notes that each of my kids has saved. They've put them in drawers, in medicine cabinets, or stuffed in between a pile of clean clothes that need to be put away. Regardless, it's proof that those short notes really do mean a lot to my kiddos. Again, sometimes the little things go a long way.
4. Use FaceTime or Skype.
As much as technology has gotten in the way of some of the simple, traditional ways of communicating, in this case, I thank the technology gods every time I go out of town because the ability to call home and SEE my kids' faces while we chat is simply priceless. It has made the biggest difference with my 12-year-old son who HATES talking on the phone, but for some reason, once he sees my face on a screen, he opens right up. You should see the smile when he answers the call!
I try to take at least 5 minutes to FaceTime or Skype with each of my children, and they retreat to their rooms to get their own private time with me. Not only do I cherish it, I know for a fact that they do as well. They almost always drop whatever they're doing to have a conversation, and when your kids are a bit older, you know how big of a deal that is!
I will never forget what happened when I was covering the World Series in Chicago on the night of my daughter's freshman homecoming dance. Needless to say, I was devastated to miss it, and devastated to not be able to help her get ready, as only a mom can. But she agreed to FaceTime me while she was getting ready, and it was unforgettable to "be there" to help, and to simply tell her how beautiful she looked. I fought back tears the entire time, and am still so thankful that I didn't completely miss such a special night. Seeing each others' faces is absolutely priceless.
5. Take them with you . . . if you can
Once or twice a year, I am fortunate to be able to take my kids to work with me. Each of them gets a minimum of one trip . . . a one-on-one trip with Mom. Obviously, this is only something that can be done once they are old/mature enough to be able to handle themselves in a professional environment, but boy, these trips have turned into special moments that none of us will forget. The fact that they get to see what I'm doing when I'm away from home is very helpful — they like being able to picture exactly where I am and with whom I spend time. But most importantly, the ability for them to get to spend solo time with Mom, and that Mom gets to spoil them a bit is something that means the world to all of us!
Sage Steele is a mother and ESPN commentator who resides in Arizona with her husband and three children. She joined in ESPN in 2007 and currently serves as the lead host for SportsCenter on the Road and for the weekend editions of NBA Countdown including NBA Saturday Primetime on ABC and the ABC NBA Sunday Showcase. Steele's lead role for SportsCenter on the Road includes on-site coverage for the biggest sports events of the year including the upcoming Super Bowl in Houston. Since she is often away from her family, Sage has become an expert in finding ways to stay close to her husband and children even when she's away from home.