I felt nervous about this, but I ultimately made the decision to do it because I’ve been desperately longing to spend some quality time with my far-flung girlfriends (check out this previous post on the topic). Distance makes it hard enough for adults to maintain close friendships, but throw some babies and toddlers into the mix and it’s damn near impossible.
So when I heard that three close friends would be communing in Pennsylvania, I thought about how travel would only get trickier after July, when our second baby‘s due, and thus decided, on pretty short notice, to just go ahead and go for it.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that anxiety about my decision didn’t enter the picture – far from it. Though I was excited at the prospect of some aimless gal-pal bonding time, the potential for guilt loomed large as I imagined tearful calls from Lily telling me to come home. NOW. (Shudder.) Just thinking about this filled me with dread.
To combat this, Joe and I tried to set up play dates for Lily on Saturday, neither of which panned out. Bad omen, I thought. But Joe also planned to take Lily to her grandparents’ for dinner, and then to a U-M basketball game for the first time – where she’d likely be jazzed about the band, the dancers, the cheerleaders, and maybe even the players. Plus, as it happened, Tu Bishvat – a Jewish tree-planting holiday (I’m not making this up) – fell on Sunday, and Lily’s grandmother and uncle would be telling stories and singing songs at a kid-oriented temple event. So Joe would take her to that, too, and hope for the best.
For my part, I’d decided to do what we’d previously done for the four and a half hour drive to Camp Michigania this past summer: pull together a bag of little surprises for Lily, for the purposes of creating a few hours of distraction. So before picking up Lily from daycare on Friday, I visited the TJ Maxx near our house and picked out a sticker book; a couple of discounted board books; a $3 kit that had colored sand that you funnel into little bottles; a kit of something called “Bendaroos,” which are essentially sticky, bendy sticks of wax that you can shape into different animals and objects; and a small container of dried mangos.
“Am I bribing my child?” I wondered. But the truth is, in this instance, I was trying to do the same thing that Joe would be doing when visiting his parents and taking her to the ball game: distracting her from obsessing over the fact that Mommy had temporarily flown the coop.
I’d also tried to prep Lily – toddlers hate nothing more than surprises, I’ve learned – by telling her, in the days leading up to Saturday, that Mommy was going to go on an airplane by herself on Saturday, and that I would come back at dinnertime the next day. Because her own plane-ride at Christmas was still fresh in her mind, this made sense to her, and she didn’t fight it.
So on Saturday morning, I packed before she woke up, ate breakfast with her and Joe, and prepared to leave. On my way out, she said, “Hug! Hug!” though we’d already exchanged hugs and kisses, so I dropped everything to give her one more squeeze. Then she went back to the bag of surprises she’d just dumped onto the kitchen floor, and the last thing I heard while rolling my suitcase out the door was, “Mommy got me mangos.” The way she said these words to Joe made them sound like, “Mommy loves me.” And this heartened me.So I left without looking back. And I had a weekend filled with leisurely, hours-long meals, both home-cooked and at restaurants; effortless, but meaningful and soul-nourishing, conversations that went late into the night; and a little local shopping (including nabbing some maternity clothes at a second-hand store).
Yes, I panicked a little when I returned from our restaurant-closing dinner on Saturday to find that I’d forgotten my cell phone, and that it had rung a few times while I was gone. But Joe and Lily had just called to say “hi.” Lily wasn’t upset, so I had no reason to be either.
When they called me again the next morning – while they ate breakfast at Panera (or, as Lily calls it, “the smoothie house”) – I got to talk to both of them, and Joe told me they were headed to Tu Bishvat. Lily sounded fine and happy, telling me about seeing the band at the basketball game, and how she enjoyed them even more than the dancers. “That’s my girl!” I said with pride. “I miss you, sweetie, but I’ll be home tonight. Be good for Daddy, OK? I love you.”
“I love you too, Mommy,” Lily said.
After hanging up, I teared up a little – partly from what Lily had said, though she likely only has a vague understanding of what it means; but also partly from a sense of relief that while my child loves and needs me – sometimes to an overwhelming degree – her world won’t necessarily fall apart without me, if and when I need to take a break.
And this is not a matter of vanity; it’s a matter of motherhood.
After booking my flights, I’d often voiced my trepidation regarding how Lily would handle my absence. This was the girl, after all, who often adamantly insisted, when we were all together, that “Mommy do it!” – which could apply to cutting her grapes in half, changing her diaper, or reading a book. So I kvetched and wrung my hands and audibly worried that she would freak out.
“If it’s going to make you miserable,” said Joe, “don’t go.”
But my desire to go ultimately trumped my fear.
And strangely, despite the fact that the trip was for me, I think it did all of us some good in the end.