This is my last night in Portland, Oregon, for the Startup Champions Network Spring Summit before flying home to Toronto (which still feels foreign to say but that’s for another time). It’s eight p.m. and my 14-months old just went down. You better believe I am having a glass of bubbles with my feet tucked under me and wrapped in the hotel bathrobe. A reading light hovers over my right shoulder while the rest of the room is drenched in darkness so my daughter can sleep.
I knew this conference experience was going to be different, I just had no idea which parts would be the hard ones. Time zone change? The conference daycare/nanny solution? My own psyche? Logistics?
We got up at 3 a.m. on Monday for a 4 a.m. arrival at Toronto Pearson International. Door to door, our trip to Portland took eleven hours. Until it was time for my first meeting with former B Corp CEO Colleen Slinkard, my daughter had been a true champ — little whining, mostly sleeping or observing the travel hustle and bustle. Colleen and I navigated the streets of Oregon while catching up over coffee; walking kept my daughter distracted enough from how tired she was. Things, however, escalated rather quickly when I attempted to take my second meeting with another B Corp CEO and his local B Corp committee. I ended up hopping into the restaurant where the whole group was having dinner, giving Cameron a quick squeeze and hello, only to drag my own tired body and an exhausted toddler back to the hotel room ten minutes later. Neither meeting had gone as hoped, which gave rise to a sense of foreboding about the coming three conference days…
On Tuesday morning, and every morning since, we were up by 5 a.m. The combination of exhaustion and jet lag had worked me into a state of nerves and overwhelm. The mean voice gave me a run for my money as I walked to the conference location with a heavy purse = mobile office draped over one arm, and a day’s worth of baby food, toys, diapers, clothes, snacks on the other, all while pushing a stroller. What had I been thinking attending a three-day immersive conference on ecosystem building three time zones from home with a one-year old in tow? It felt like trying to be a baker and a chimney sweep at the same; contradicting schedules, different skill sets and very different ideas about a job well done (create and nurture or clean and repair?)
When I arrived at the conference venue, a lovely elderly lady walked towards me with a warm smile and hand stretched out and introduced herself “Hi, I’m Deborah! I’ll be looking after your daughter.” I could have wept with relief. I may have wept with relief. Somewhere in my mind I had braced myself for a 19-year old college student looking to make some extra cash. Instead, Deborah, a mom of two, was the embodiment of calm, warmth, serenity and patience. I hugged her hard. As I walked her through my daughter’s routine, likes and dislikes, and asked whether she wanted me to check in with them regularly, all she said was “I’m here to make your life easy. YOU tell me what you prefer” And with that, I handed over my little girl and confidently walked into an eight-hour board strategy session, fully present and mostly guilt-free. No tears for either of us.
Having childcare on site was a massive relief; it allowed me to give my best and be 100% present. Yet I would be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling a little lost after Deborah left in the afternoons. There were happy hours and ecosystem tours, receptions and dinners and war stories to be shared. Instead, we found ourselves on the floor of my hotel room, eating from the same Whole Foods hot bar container that I had picked up for dinner. Instead of socializing and reconnecting with old friends and new members, we were attempting baths in the sink, trying to keep sticky hands off of velvet furniture, hand-washing bibs and singing lullabies that put me to sleep before the baby.
The logistics of it all took more candle power than I had accounted for. You would think that by the time your kid is 14 months old, you have a lot of the routines fine-tuned. But mere details in everyday life morph into intricate puzzles once you’re on the road living out of a backpack.
- What can I grab for dinner with actual nutrients that she can feed herself?
- Where do I get the exact right sippy cup since she refuses the 360 bottle, brand new straw bottles that only come in a double-pack and every other version that I bought over the last month?
- How do I time her naps that she is in good spirits but just tired enough on travel day? Because everyone knows your kid sleeps exactly when you need her to. Ha.
- How do I coordinate check out, luggage storage, rental baby gear and airport transport that doesn’t require a car seat with my speaking part at the event?
Constantly thinking three steps ahead and accounting for eventualities drains your brain juice. No kidding.
And despite all this, I am glad we did it. This trip has given me a glimpse at the limits of what I can ask of myself and my kid at this stage; it has given me a deep appreciation for a stranger turned caregiver, and most importantly for a professional organization — Startup Champions Network — that put its limited funds to where its commitment to inclusion is. To spring for conference daycare for a single child when you’re a nonprofit is not a straightforward act for most nonprofits.
Thank you for making me feel like I belong.