Freedom Burger

In early November, Joe and I drove to the Fillmore Theater in downtown Detroit to see the Indigo Girls in concert. We hadn’t had dinner, and we had some time, so we tucked into the bar/restaurant next door first.

I got a cosmo, Joe got a beer, and we ordered burgers. As we talked during the meal, I said, a couple of times, “Wow, my burger is REALLY GOOD,” and I ordered another cosmo. Now, this was the most I’d had to drink in one evening since before I was pregnant with Neve, so I was feeling pretty tipsy, but I was also really enjoying myself.

And I had a great time with Joe and friends at the concert, so it was a fabulous night overall. But for days and days afterward, I’d think about that burger, and my mouth would water, remembering how good it was.

“I don’t know what it was,” I said to Joe one night, “but that burger I had before the concert tasted amazing to me. Were the burgers that good?”

I’d questioned this afterward, because the place wasn’t a cult local favorite for burgers – just a run-of-the-mill bar in an advantageous location. And my suspicions were confirmed when Joe said, “They were good, but not that special.”

So I finally figured out that although I may have had cosmo goggles on that evening in regard to the food, the main thing that was heightening my enjoyment was the sense of freedom I felt (or “tasted,” as it were). Freedom to have a couple of drinks; to spend time with Joe and some dear old friends from college, listening to music that I love; freedom from absently, mechanically shoveling food down in order to feed an increasingly disgruntled baby or comfort a sensitive 3 year old; freedom to re-visit the person I had been before I became “Mommy.”

It was such a relief, and a release, to find that I could still locate that person within myself. But the opportunities are few and increasingly hard to come by.

On Thanksgiving weekend, for example, Joe and I had tickets for the Michigan/Ohio State game, and Joe’s parents (who live in Ann Arbor) were going to watch Lily and Neve. Perfect, right?

We’d spent the night at my in-laws’ house, so after a relatively leisurely morning, I went to the bedroom where Lily was playing and told her that her Daddy and I would be leaving for the game soon. We’d done this three times before (we’d split our season tickets with a friend) without incident, so I was surprised when Lily said, “I don’t want you to go to the football game.”

This is disconcerting, I thought – she hadn’t exhibited much in the way of separation anxiety with me for the past year or so – but she was calm, so maybe I could talk her through this, I thought. “Sweetie, it’s the last one for a long, long time, and it’s just a few hours. Daddy and I will be back later this afternoon.”

“I want to go with you.”

“You can’t, sweetie. We only have two tickets, and besides, I don’t think you’d like it.”

I gave her a kiss and headed downstairs to get my coat on. We called her down to say goodbye, and as she stood at the top of the stairs, her face was in full-blown misery mode, pouty lip and all. She whimpered about not wanting me to go, weeping and wailing and grabbing onto me with heartwrenching desperation.

As every parent does, I pulled everything possible out of my bag of tricks. I tried to lure her with promises of the fun things she’d do with Grandma and Grandpa; I told her she couldn’t come with us, because we would be getting a surprise for her; I reminded her that we do a lot of stuff just for her (a Barney show, the zoo, etc.), and there were some things that were just for Mommy and Daddy; I told her Neve would be sad without her big sister; blah blah blah – you name it, I tried it. And the scene only intensified until my in-laws had to literally pull her off of me – screaming and kicking and raging and clenching at me with her small fists – and flush me out the front door.

By then I, too, was in tears and feeling terrible and selfish. Like I was the worst parent in the world for wanting to go to a football game.

But I made myself get in the car, and I cried as we drove away. “Well, this is going to be a great time,” Joe muttered.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “But that was pretty horrible. You think I should just be able to turn my feelings off?”

“Actually, yes!” he said. “But if you are going to be miserable, and you want to go back to the house, fine. We’ll watch it on TV. But I don’t think you should have to have the permission of your 3 year old to go somewhere.”

I told Joe to turn around and take me back to his parents’ house, and that he could go to the game on his own. He instead practiced selective listening and kept driving.

“It’s just – why can’t I get a break?” I said. “I work really hard. Why aren’t I allowed to take four f***ing hours off every once in a while?”

“If you want a break, you have to just take it. You can’t just do it when it’s OK with Lily.”

I hate when I’m justifiably upset and Joe makes perfect sense. So annoying in a spouse.

“Besides,” he continued, “I go through less intense versions of this when I take her to preschool. She’ll get over it, and she’ll be fine.”

I hadn’t known that. Since just before Neve was born, Joe had been dropping off Lily at preschool (ah, the lure of a crossover vehicle with a DVD player, if only for 2 blocks), and he’d never mentioned the return of this separation anxiety. OK, I thought. If this is part of a pattern of her recent behavior, this makes a little more sense. I knew that, as a 1 and 2 year old, Lily got over my leaving within minutes at daycare. And I also reminded myself that kids can’t, and honestly shouldn’t be, happy all the time. So I grudgingly tried to take baby steps out of my funk.

My first step was pointing to a space in the parking structure that had a steel beam in the center, and a “compact cars only” sign on the wall. “That would have to be an extremely compact car,” I said. And from then on, I tried not to look back.

Of course, the game was exciting, close, and profoundly satisfying, since Michigan FINALLY won, and I had a great time watching it. But because it was close, it took us a while to get out of the stadium, and took even longer to get out of the parking structure and across town to Joe’s parents’ place.

Once there, I saw Band-aids on Lily’s big toes, and learned the reason why: after we had left, she screamed and kicked more before announcing she was going to follow us. She opened the front door and, barefoot, ran down the sidewalk until her toes bled. Oy.

Her grandmother talked her down enough to go back into the house to soak her feet, which she liked, and put on Band-aids. She was still set on following us, so Grandma offered to draw a picture showing how far the house was from the stadium. And from then on, things had gotten better.

Oh, I said. Of course. Fantastic.

I tried to shake it off, and tell myself that what was done was done. We packed up our stuff and got in the car to go home.

Neve, at this point, lost it and began to scream her lungs out.

She continued to do this all the way home, which wasn’t the usual half hour, thanks to football traffic, but more like an hour.

“Thank God we won the game, or this wouldn’t have been worth it,” I yelled to Joe.

“I agree,” he said over Neve’s frantic, angry cries.

Indeed, though Joe had gotten tickets (as a birthday present) from his parents for a Canadian Brass concert the next day, Joe called later that night to tell them there was no way we were going. Enough was enough for one weekend.

At this point, though it’s hardly politic to say so, I think we all must acknowledge that while children have a great capacity for adding joy to one’s life – holidays are often way more fun than they once were, and in one case, an annoying travel day was rendered tolerable by way of Lily’s cheerful attitude and presence – they also have the inverse ability to suck the joy out of certain days and experiences as well.

I’d wager, or at least hope, that we end up on the plus side overall, but on the toughest days, it’s hard to keep sight of the big picture.

So really – is it any wonder that I keep thinking about that burger with deep longing?

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