The dollar bill left as the waitress’s tip changed everything.
It was a single dollar. The waitress earned every penny of it. She brought out a custom dessert, sent me home with a bursting take away bag, and even bused the table herself. I left the dollar on the table, and as I walked out the door, she chased me down: “Is this for me? Is this real? Like, I can buy something with it?”
To my four-and-three-quarters-year-old waitress, a real tip from a pretend game of restaurant was a serendipitous windfall. That dollar bill’s wow-factor bought me a whole additional hour of an eagerly helpful “waitress.” With the waitress’s good graces bought and paid for, I thought, erroneously, that the Business Trip Curse had turned.
I’ve settled on a theory that Business Trips carry a Curse for the spouse left behind. I should disclose that my research is limited to being the spouse left behind. It seems to me, given my limited research methods, that Bad Things opt to string themselves along like a strand of rotten pearls as soon as the plane wheels lift skyward. I’ve tried for years to deny the Curse. I thought, if I didn’t pay the Curse any mind, or better yet, if I gritted my teeth and triumphed through every frustration and could still smirk in the end, the Curse would pout for a bit, then give up and go bother someone else, huffing off in a puff of sulpherous smelling smoke. After the last four days of Big Friend being located somewhere in the already-frozen tundra of Canada, I’m conceding defeat. Curse, you win.
The Business Trip Curse goes something like this: the breakfast burns, everyone in the house (from age 33 1/2 to 1 1/2) has a clothing crisis, running late everywhere is inevitable, so is locking everyone (plus the indoor cat) outside the house, three people come down with a cold at staggered intervals so that every day someone new is newly miserable, the fridge is bare of lunch options, the milk gets forgotten in the car, the dinner burns, the house conspires to vomit a mess of various belongings all over itself, the sickest child coughs until she vomits all over herself, all living beings in the house (including the indoor cat recaptured and put back inside) wake at predictable intervals all night long, and then the supply of Kleenex runs out. And that’s just Day One. Remember the string of pearls analogy? The Curse is just cracking its knuckles and getting warmed up.
The spiraling course of prayers uttered during a business trip goes something like this:
Day One: Thank you, Lord, for the gift of these amazing children who wring my heart with love, even on the most difficult of days.
Day Two: Dear Lord, help me make it through the rest of this day, preferably with some semblance of sanity.
Day Three: Forgive me, Lord, for everything.
Day Four: OMG.
There’s something unique about the horrible days that arrive with the Business Trip Curse. It’s not like I haven’t had bad days before in my previous professional life. Like the day that I had parents–both mother and father–crying in front of me and the school principal because I wouldn’t change a grade so their Precious One could make honor roll. That was a bad day. But at the end of it, I got to go home where I found a compassionate husband and a warm dinner waiting. The difference with a Business Trip Curse day is that the bad invades my personal space. My bad day happens on my turf, on my time, with my people, and affects my things. In other words, there’s no escaping the bad. The best thing to do is go straight to bed after the therapy bowl of ice cream and squeeze my eyes tight shut so the Business Trip Curse won’t have a chance to play just one more trick before the clock strikes midnight.
Of course, the traveling spouse will have plenty of valid complaints about the rigors of business travel. But can I just be honest about the view of the home front spouse? Plane trip alone (on which books may be read, naps taken, and no apologies made to every living being within tree seats’ radius for noise, toys thrown toys, or seats kicked.) Restaurant meals alone (chewed at a leisurely adult pace, no dishes, no cooking, and certainly no debating between the fried chicken fingers or macaroni and cheese.) And then there’s the three most magical words ever uttered in the English language: Hotel room alone (bath, book, tv time minus animated characters, all for me, all uninterrupted, and all followed by the potential of a solid night’s sleep.)
I’m somewhat humbled to note how rotted-green with envy my heart has become, but that’s an unavoidable side effect of the grass is greener phenomenon when I’m coming off a night when the cat, with a perverse wish to be returned to the animal shelter, woke me with meowing twice, the baby woke me with coughing three times, and my resident waitress demanded (and earned) a sleepover in my bed and proceeded to wake me five times with snoring, kickboxing, and head butting. My wake-up count has ticked to 10 between the hours of 11:30 pm and 4:32 am. But yeah, the Business Trip must be rough on the traveling spouse. Trade?
The most cursed part of the Business Trip Curse is the moment when I slump with exhaustion and think, “Surely, I’ve reached the worst. It’s got to get better from here.” Oh my. Beware. That’s the moment when you’ll look at the baby in the bathtub, the barest outline of a question will form in your mind: “Why is she squatting so oddly like that?”, and then the poop will float to the surface.
The first time the baby poops in the bath will be during a Business Trip. Guaranteed. And it will be a bathtub filled with every. single. bath. toy. you. own.
Sometimes, the hardest moments of parenting are when you look over your shoulder to find everyone else has taken two giant steps back in line, leaving you the unwitting volunteer standing lone sentry in front. Like the moments when the poop floats to the surface of the bathwater. Ain’t nobody stepping forward with a kind word and a pat on the back then. You and your lonesome roll up your sleeves and fish that slimy floater and all its little feathery offspring out. And you choke back the vomit, because there’s just no way in God’s green earth you can deal with one more drop of bodily fluid in this day.
It’s as useless to fight the Business Trip Curse as it would be to purchase a round-trip ticket for a whitewater rafting expedition. I’ve found that if I do my best to float, fetal position and feet up, through the rapids of my days, we somehow reach calmer waters in the end. And if a small hand pats my shoulder at some point in the midst of the fray and a wee voice offers to clear the dinner dishes from the table, well, my goodness, that waitress deserves a serendipitously generous tip. That’s the best dollar I’ve spent all week.
By the way, the only method of ending the Business Trip Curse? Ending the Business Trip. Big Friend gets home today. My entire existence is currently staked on the possibility of a nap, hotel-alone style. Enough said.