Dual Science Family Dilemmas: The Two-Conference Week

An important part of being scientists is to attend scientific conferences where we share our work, learn about recent progress in the field, and liaise with collaborators and colleagues.  We were presented with a fairly unusual situation a couple of weeks ago, even for us. Both Simon and I had scientific conferences during the same week – in different cities. The acoustics meeting (Simon) was in Indianapolis, Indiana and the optics meeting (Lauren) was in Portland, Maine. A few years ago this wouldn’t have mattered aside from us missing each other, but it was a pretty big challenge to figure out how Joey would be cared for during that week. Normally for work travel we would employ one of the following strategies:

  1. All three of us travel to the site of the conference. The parent who is not involved in the conference takes the lead role in caring for Joey, while the other tends to scientific duties. The family would reunite in the evenings and during midday break sort of like a normal working day at home.
  2. The parent involved in the meeting travels alone. The other parent stays home with Joey and takes the full care load. During work hours, Joey is with his nanny.
  3. Joey is left at the grandparents’ resort while the two parents go to their meetings.
Thanks Uncle Joe!
Thanks Uncle Joe!

The fact that we each had a meeting at the same time in different cities completely ruled out 1 and 2, and 3 was not an option on this particular week. We first weighed the importance of the meetings and decided we would both very much like to go to our respective events. We then began emailing our friends, asking if they would like a free trip to Maine in exchange for hanging out with a fun one-year old during the day. This was surprisingly successful, and before we knew it we had booked a third flight on air points for Uncle Joe to come along to Maine to care for Joey.

How It Worked:
Crib with a view - Joey's digs in Maine
Crib with a view – Joey’s digs in Maine
IMG_9876
Joey’s favorite part of the hotel room was this mirror

All 3 Freemans went to Maine first for a long weekend, where we stayed in the conference hotel. Joe arrived on Sunday night, also staying in the hotel with us. Simon stayed until Monday night to give Joe the down-low on childcare, and then took another flight to Indianapolis. For the remainder of the week, I got up with Joey each day and prepared him for his morning events, then left J&J to eat breakfast and go to various sessions. I ran back upstairs at 11:30 to take care of Joey’s nap-time routine. Joe stayed in the dark room working during nap-time while I returned to meeting activities. The evenings varied, but at a minimum I met the guys to take care of bedtime.

What We Thought:

IMG_9964First off, we felt extremely grateful to Joe for taking time out of his own life to care for Joey extensively and spend relatively little time with me. I felt guilty often during the week for leaving him in a dark room for 3 hours while Joey napped and the sound machine played rainforest noises… all the while I was having an enjoyable social lunch at the pub next door.

IMG_9933Overall, I don’t think we could ask for a much better setup. I wasn’t comfortable hiring a local caregiver without meeting them first (which there wasn’t time for). Joey adores his Uncle Joe, and I daresay vice versa is also true. I was able to participate actively in the meeting, show off Joey to fellow scientists at key times, and develop meaningful collaborations. I left the main social event (awards banquet) for half an hour to put Joey to bed, but managed to eat my dinner first and get back in time for dessert and entertainment. Joey was very happy all week, and enjoyed Portland’s prolific parks, crisp weather, and excellent children’s museum.

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