High-flying mom enjoys her job, misses connections

March 07, 1995|By SUSAN REIMER

My children get out of school at 2:20, and at 2:35 my phone at the office rings and I begin the after-school routine of settling disputes or renegotiating rules.

When her children get out of school, my friend Susan is somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.

When my workday is over, I drag myself home and through the evening drill: dinner, homework, bath and bed.

When Susan's workday is over, she has dinner in Brussels, or shops in Zurich, or spends a quiet evening reading.

My friend Susan is a flight attendant. She has a husband and two children, but when she leaves for work . . . she leaves.

"When my children were younger, it was much harder," says Susan, who has a son, 11, and a daughter, 8.

"For a mother, there are all these issues of control. I remember when Joanna wore a pink sweat suit for her Christmas pageant. Her beautiful Christmas dress was left hanging on her bedroom doorknob, and I was just devastated.

"Now they are older, and when I am gone, I find that they do things their own way and they do just fine.

"I find that a lot of times, I don't want to know."

Her husband and children never pester her at work -- they can't figure out where she is or what time it is there. But when she calls to say the plane has landed and she is an hour away from home, they ask what's for dinner.

Susan comes home to a crunchy kitchen floor and no homework done. She bought a large mailbox because no one takes in the mail. But her children have a full measure of their father, and he of them. "If my husband and children weren't so flexible, I couldn't do this job," she says.

Unlike those of us who straddle work and home as desperately as we might straddle a flaming crevice in the earth, when Susan is gone, she is gone.

"I walk out and leave it all behind me," she says. "I have to. My job is to be pleasant, and I couldn't do my job."

And she tries not to focus on her children.

"When Paul was little, I would find myself singing his favorite songs the minute I was on my way home from the airport. But I never let myself sing those songs on my way to the airport."

A flight attendant bids each month on a new schedule, and Susan has never found one that fits well. She works full time, but is usually gone only three days a week. If she flies weekends, she has no social life and no time with her children. If she flies weekdays, homework suffers.

But the fact that she flies to Brussels, Zurich, Paris and Amsterdam and often spends her layovers in museums, cathedrals or fine restaurants garners good-natured ridicule from her friends.

"You fly to Europe, shop and fly home," says one of our friends over coffee. "Tell me again how this is work?"

"My job is glamorous when I am shopping on the Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich," says Susan. "But it isn't glamorous when I'm stuck in some crummy hotel near the airport, and I'm missing a party or one of the children's activities.

"Or when I'm spending 5 1/2 hours on a runway thinking about a room I could be painting."

While it is true that on layovers Susan reads foreign newspapers and magazines, using her French to learn how Europeans view Bill Clinton or "Forrest Gump," just as often she finds herself fretting about a sick child or a poor spelling test and making a mental list of all she will accomplish when she returns, only to find the time until her next flight evaporates in a haze of chores.

Susan shares with all working mothers the constant tearing between work and home. But while we might envy her the physical distance of her job and the emotional distance it gives her, she envies us the control our presence at the end of the day allows.

Though we dread homework and wrestling practice and yet another dinner to cook, she envies us stories and kisses before bed, seeing the base hit instead of just hearing about it, and the chance to drill spelling words one last time.

The gears of her family's life grind when Susan returns from a trip. She is exhausted. Her children crave her, and her long-suffering husband is quite ready to turn over the reins. After an especially tough trip, with her patience thin, her husband said to her:

"Just pretend we're first-class passengers."

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