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'90s FAMILY

On the Road Again?

When travel can't be avoided there are ways to make it easier on the little ones. Phone calls, gifts, faxes all help. But mainly reassure them you'll be back and help them focus on your return, not your absence.

August 25, 1996|ROSE-MARIE TURK | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For Robin Piccone, designer and owner of the Los Angeles-based swimwear and sportswear company, business travel is a necessity. But a poignant statement from her 4-year-old son changed how frequently she leaves home and the manner in which she departs.

"He said once, 'You're going and you're never coming back.' I realized it was frightening for him," Piccone recalls. Before her next trip, she had a show-and-tell session that included photographs of her in her showroom in New York. Her efforts paid off, she says: "He was much better this time."

In addition to "listening and asking questions," Piccone now reduces the length of trips and refuses any that take both parents away at the same time.

While her 7-year-old son always finds a surprise from her in his backpack after she leaves, Piccone rules that out for the younger child, fearing that "it might remind him I am gone." Instead she devised a way for him to understand how soon she will be back. Starting with the number of naps and meals he will have before she returns, she gives him the countdown each time she calls.

Such concessions and considerations are a fact of life for traveling parents, frequently adrift in uncharted waters. Michael Lorelli, president of Americas Tambrands, Inc. in White Plains, N.Y., logged 300,000 miles in one year. Unable to find a book to help his daughters, he wrote his own, "Traveling Again, Dad?" (Awesome Books, 1996). The illustrations are by Drew Struzan, creator of Steven Spielberg's ET character.

Before the $17.95 hardback appeared in stores late last year, USA Today published the toll-free order number ([800] 266-5564). "Calls came in immediately from airplane phones," says Lorelli, adding that the profits go to children's charities.

Scheduled for a second printing, the book, aimed at 2- to 10-year-olds, sells best in airport shops. "It must hit home when parents catch the title," Lorelli reasons.

In his own attempts to ease the strain of his absences, he once played a seven-city tick-tack-toe game by fax with his daughters. And when he was doing "tons of day trips--out at 6 a.m. and back at 11 p.m.--I would sleep on my kids' floor," he recalls, "and leave the pillow so they would see the impression."

Nutritionist Yolanda Bergman prefers taking her 7-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter with her on business trips. "Even if it means half your salary goes to a nanny," she says, "it's worth it." But when she can't, she follows her own rules: "Fly in a relative and use everybody around you. Don't be shy." She advises leaving nothing to chance: "You have to map out like crazy." She notifies the pediatrician she will be out of town, leaves prepared meals and a detailed schedule of who goes where, when.

Bergman gives each child something of hers to sleep in, or with, such as a favorite silk T-shirt or a special pillow.

Kisses, electronic communication, dependable support systems, brilliant organization, maps, games, dolls and books all help traveling parents and their children cope better.

Joanie Flynn, director of leisure and resort marketing for Hilton Hotels Corp., puts on bright red lipstick and kisses the hands of her sleeping son and daughter, proof that she really did tiptoe in and say goodbye before she left. She also takes the book she has been reading to them with her and continues the story each night on the phone.

Yohini Appa, director of regulatory affairs for Neutrogena Corp., taped herself reading stories for her daughters when they were younger. Now that they are 7 and 10, she helps via long-distance with projects, including her older daughter's recent winning poetry recitation. She also has her daughters come to the office. "They know my office space, and I talk to them about my work," Appa says. "I think they're proud of what I do and I think that helps."

Before Sandra Johnson, single parent and owner of a boutique on Robertson Boulevard in Los Angeles, goes on a business trip, she has her 7-year-old twin daughters come into her shop and select fabrics and ribbons. By the time she returns, each has made "something wonderful," Johnson says, for their dolls.

Just what clinical psychologist Harriet Braiker would suggest. A traveling mother herself, she advises parents to "focus on the return rather than the separation. That's not to say you ignore them while you're gone, but you can start a project with the promise of what we're going to do when I get back."

With older children, Braiker notes: "We're talking compliance issues. Ideally, you don't want the kid to think there are no rules and anything goes. If the other parent remains, make sure you are in agreement with the way things are handled so the kid doesn't play one parent against another. And if there is a caretaker, then it's important these rules are spelled out."

Some parents play down presents, while others consider them an essential return ritual. Steven Fink, Braiker's husband, also travels on business and always hides treats in his hand luggage for their 5-year-old daughter to find.

Suzanne Barron, a vice president with Playboy Entertainment Group, says she doesn't spend "an extreme amount of money" on presents for her 5-year-old daughter. Sometimes the gift is simply a promotional item from a foreign-film festival. But this summer, the child, who already has heard a lot about France, Russia and Japan from her traveling parents, will receive one of the ultimate traveling-parent perks. "We're taking her to France," Barron says. "I have all these mileage coupons."

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