How Going to a Conference is A Lot Like Going Back to School

As parents, we can talk the talk, but can we walk the walk? Telling our kids that going to school will be OK is the right thing to do. Encouraging them by saying things like “you got this” is great but when they look up at you and say, “how do you know?” what will be your answer? I recently experienced an event that made going back to school or going to a new school relatable.

As a 42-year-old mother of three, I pride myself on showing my three boys that I am a strong, confident woman that expresses all sides of herself.

Many years back, I attended my first conference without my boys. I still remember the feeling I had leaving them. It was a mix of guilt, self-doubt and nervousness. Back then, they probably didn’t even realize where I was going or why. But now they do. Now I get questions like, “why do you have to go?”, “can we come with you?” and “how long will you be gone?”.

Except, this time, when I was deciding about this conference, I didn’t have the same feelings. My main feeling, the feeling that wouldn’t go away, the one I couldn’t shake, was fear.

Fear at 42 years old? Why? I had done this before, I had travelled alone…so why was this different? The main difference was that I had to drive a long distance to get there, without a co-pilot. This trip was close enough to drive to from home, but far enough to make it seem nerve-racking to drive alone. The drive was six hours away, without any stops. Driving long distances alone is something I try to avoid at all cost. So, for this particular trip, I was letting that little voice inside my head get louder and louder until very close to the day of going, I almost chickened out.

This trip to WITS took me over seven hours from Montreal to Portland, Maine. And I did it! (click here to know what WITS is all about)

Here are the reasons I feel attending a conference out of town is a lot like starting school:

Excuses that compliment your fear – I think I’ll stay back. I won’t miss much, I can follow online, I need to be home with the boys. I have #SFTHmtl soon, so I should concentrate on that. You name it, I thought it. I even looked to my friends and husband for support by saying these things out loud. “You know how much I hate driving long distances” etc, etc. But like good friends, they didn’t let me bow down. They encouraged me, they told me all the positive things that would come out of this trip, and they told me I could do it. My husband reassured me he would be fine with the boys…and so all my excuses were invalid. Starting school is like that too. My boys find all the excuses about not remembering their math, or not knowing their new teacher, or not having the right supplies. And then there are the famous “I am too tired to get out of bed” moves. But as parents, we encourage and set them on their way.

The road to your destination will have bumps – Despite my car being searched at the very small US boarder I passed, seeing a gigantic moose steps away from the highway (as I was warned I might see), and getting a flat tire that I thankfully only needed to pump air at a station, I made it, and I was extremely happy that I went. The first day of school inevitably has some bumps too. Maybe your child doesn’t get their friends in their class, maybe they have a class they don’t enjoy or a teacher they don’t feel comfortable with. Things happen. What’s important is to help them get comfortable with the bumps to continue the road to success (and fun!).

You will get lost and you will find your way – I got lost and lost good. During my solo road trip from Montreal to Portland and back, there were many pockets of bad reception. In fact, some areas had no reception for miles, shutting down my GPS completely. And without my map with directions, I got lost. So, what did I do? I did what I had to do pre-GPS. I stopped at a station, asked directions, read signs and used my good old noggin to find the right way to my destination. Kids will most likely get lost in a new school at least once during their first days. But asking for help and looking around to gather their bearings will help them feel more confident in the end. It takes longer, it seems harder, but finding your way will happen.

The conference had begun and I had to find a place to sit…remind you of a lunchroom cafeteria?

The lunch room scenario is real – Walking into the ballroom where WITS had already begun (I was late to arrive) as everyone was eating their lunch, it seemed that everyone had a friend and was deep in talks with people they already knew. In reality, I bet a lot of those women were just meeting for the first time and enjoying each other’s company. Still, finding a spot to sit was hard, and mustering the courage to introduce myself and take an empty place at a table was harder. But before I knew it, I was chatting. Kids will have to muster their courage too, and hopefully find/make a friend or two to enjoy lunch with.

These mama travel bloggers are my tribe! Some I knew from last year, others I met for the first time.

In the above picture (L-R) Nicky Omohundro of Little Family Adventure, Karen Akpan of The Mom Trotter, Marcie Cheung of Marcie In Mommyland, Astrid Vinje of The Wandering Daughter, and Iliah Grant Altoro of Negra Bohemian.

Meeting new people can be really nice –  It was awkward for a second and then it was awesome. Meeting new people is wonderful at WITS. I enjoyed the time I spent with fellow bloggers. We laughed, we cried, we dove deep into conversations you might not have with friends until you know them really well. But then again, that is what I have always loved about my online community. Even from those bloggers I had not met until this time around, we had a sense of comradery once we were together, around a table, having a drink. The conference is for women, that is our common thread, and of course, our love for travel. Some of us are mamas, some are single, some married. We live in different places in the world. We have different cultural backgrounds, and different experiences, but we come together to learn, to be inspired and to have fun. School is all about that. Some kids will know each other from hockey, soccer, or swimming, some will have gone to camp together, still others will not know a soul. What unifies them together is showing up and going through the school year together.

Took a walk in between sessions to explore Portland, Maine.

This was even better than it looks! Fresh lobster club, right at the port.

It is worth it – When it comes down to it, fear is only powerful if you give it the power. Would I go for along drive like that again by myself? Maybe. There were times I was happy to be alone (enjoying some quiet time, listening to podcasts) and times I wasn’t (flat tire). In the end, what I discovered about myself was that I was capable to do it, all by myself. And that is something kids will feel as well during this school year. Along with the support and encouragement from their family and their teachers, kids are on their way, and it is going to be worth it.

I must admit, being a tourist without my family was little odd. but I appreciated it. I went at my own pace, and enjoyed the ride home.

I encourage you all to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. We are more than mamas. We are more than women. Don’t let fear get in the way. If you have an interest that can be built upon, it is worth pursuing it.

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