Each year for the past few years, I have traveled at this time from my home to my sister’s home in Iowa, with the destination of the International Casual Furniture Market in Chicago. We have a booth there for our outdoor furniture covers company, and while the event, itself, is about exciting as the name sounds (unless you have some sort of furniture fetish), the show is actually a highlight of the year. Chicago in September is always lovely – dinners, shopping and spending time with my sister shape most of my memories of these trips, even though the tradeshow does take up a fair bit of the actual time. So even though I don’t work for the company any more, I volunteered to go this year. My sister stores our booth set-up, so I fly to Iowa first where I also get to see my niece and nephew and then we are off for our 5 hour drive to Chicago. It’s a great chance to chat, catch up and solve the world’s problems together. Last year I had a 3 month old Eliana with me – she cooperated and slept almost the entire time on the way there. On the way home, however, she cried for 2 ½ hours straight.
So it was with great excitement that my husband and I, after deliberating all of the logistics possibilities with our two children, landed on the scenario that I go alone. No children. Eliana (now 15 months) would go to her Oma and Opa’s house (“grandma and grandpa” in German). Max would stay home with Mark and a nanny. This was to be my first trip without children in over 1 ½ years. I write now on my return and report that every moment has been as glorious as I dreamed.
I know that for many, or maybe even most (?) mothers, my adventure would not be the same. Many mothers lament having to leave their kiddos. During the first leg of the trip, in which I had Eliana with me, we sat next to an entire family – a mother, a father, a 3 ½ year old (born in the same month as Max), and a grandmother. I learned tidbits about their life – the kind we share with strangers on a plane – and I learned that they have never been away from Jessica. Ever. She quit her job and stays home with Jessica. And every time that the father needs to travel (he’s a doctor, so it is not very often), the whole family goes, including grandma. While having grandma along on every trip would certainly be a big help, I still can not help but say, “I can not freaking imagine”. I am simply not wired this way. I need some space. I had breathed a sigh of relief when, after hearing their story, I didn’t feel in the least bit guilty – but just felt good about getting clear on some of the things that I need for me to be a good mother. One of these things, for me, is some time away.
The first time I left our first he was a mere 9 months old and I was very torn. I was working part time then and had to leave to attend a tradeshow in Germany. I was worried that Max was too young to be without me for 6 days (coincidentally the same length that I am away from Eliana this time), while also excited about the trip to Germany (I live for International travel). I had been in a pumping frenzie before I left to leave enough supply and I was worried about pumping on the go – I was going to have to pump every 4 – 5 hours in order to keep my production up. My departure on that trip had been quick – like the ripping of the band-aid – but I had a small break-down in the airport, which involved crying in public while on the phone with my own mother. But it only took a half hour into the plane ride to overcome the worry and revel in the fun of being on my own again. And after pumping first in the airport bathroom and then in the airplane bathroom, I realized that, while not fun, the pumping schedule was also going to work out OK. In the end I realized all of my worry really was for naught. Max and his grandparents could not have had a better time in our absence. They still talk about that stay to this day and how much it meant to them.
So, this time, after 15 months with two children and traveling, sometimes with just one, but frequently with both, I have had almost nothing but excitement for this trip. While I did have a speck of obligatory mother-worry, I knew that my children were in excellent care. Eliana was the cause for a little more concern as this is her first time away from me. She never did take a bottle so for our year of nursing, we have not been away from each other for even a full day. Perhaps she sensed this independent bug in her mama and wanted to keep her close. She succeeded. Anyway, leaving her this time carried no sadness for me. It was time. I think she sensed this too. I had explained to her several times that day that mommy was going away for some days and that she was going to have a great time with Oma and Opa. When it came time for me to leave, as soon as Opa put my bag in the car, she started to wave good bye. I gave her one last big hug and hopped in the car. She never even cried. And neither did I. Reports from Atlanta have been nothing but happiness and appreciation from Oma and Opa to be able to spend time with Eliana without her older brother around to steal the show – they adore him too much to ever not allow him to steal it. They have been able to really get to know their grand-daughter, and vice-versa, and everyone, including me, is very happy.
I have been careful to appreciate every moment of the trip with the freedom very infrequently experienced by a mother with 2 small children. In the security line I watched other couples with their children and reveled in the ease of my own experience. While children are a lot of fun, the security line is always a difficult moment to manage. When alone with both kids, I’ve had to resort to setting Eliana on the floor (before she could walk) while I dismantled and sent through the stroller, our carry-ons (always stuffed full with diapers, extra clothes and toys and other items for what I hope will later pacify them for hours on the flight) and both children’s SHOES (this is a ridiculous rule that even babies must remove their shoes). I strolled to my gate, relaxed and enjoying the quiet –no one crying that they wanted to be either in or out of the stroller, no one asking what everything is or why it is that way. While I often enjoy the line of questioning I could also enjoy not having to think of anyone else except myself. And there, in a few words, I think I have hit upon the luxury of this entire trip – having not to consider anyone else’s needs but my own. The definition of selfish! As I walked to my gate, I stopped and bought a sandwich. Then I eyed the Ben & Jerry’s counter where I realized I I could partake without having to worry about whether I really wanted my kids to have any. I ultimately chose not to, but it was fun even considering it.
My flights were filled with glorious things, like, reading. I can not even remember the last time I got to read on a flight. When my eyes were fatigued from reading, I put my seat back and actually closed my eyes! I didn’t nap, but just rested. And it was magnificent. And then the crowning glory moment came – the beverage cart. I ordered a ginger ale. I drank it. It was sweet, sparkling and satisfying. Even if you have not traveled with small children, I think you can imagine the logistical difficulties of even considering getting a drink from the beverage cart. Both flights (I had a connection) were full of these lovely indulgences of reading, resting and a fizzy drink. I could not think of anything that would have spoiled this. Delays, without children, are just delays and not forms of psychological terror, like my last trip, stuck for 6 hours in the Dallas airport with both children, all alone(2 ½ hours were spent on the tarmac).
Sleep, as you can imagine, was another thing I absolutely savored. At home I often crawl into bed at the end of a day, exhausted, and usually slightly exasperated that I didn’t get to bed earlier, a promise I make to myself every day when I’m in the throws of the day and feeling like I am not going to make it to that night. I always make a silent prayer that my children will be forgiving and a) not call for me during the night, and b) “sleep in” in the morning until 7:30. Sometimes both of these prayers are answered, but often they are not. We are finally at a stage where sleeping through the night generally happens, unless my 3 ½ year old decides to call for me at 4:30 in the morning to ask me when morning time will be here. But we are usually up by 7:00 and there is something magic, for me, about making it past 7:00. Getting up after 7:00 seems so normal. And when I never get to bed before 11:00, it gives me hope for a solid 8 hours of sleep. Something I had not gotten for over a year, so it’s very precious to me still. Anyway, on this trip, I have been crawling into bed at night, giddy by the fact that I know I can sleep in. Even the day I had to set an alarm, it wasn’t until 8:00. That morning I woke up at 7:20, naturally, so I got up and went to work out – another luxury. I honestly had such a hard time calming my excitement about this sleep-in factor that it took me a little while to calm myself enough to fall asleep. I snuggled into my pillow-cocoon, thought about my beautiful family, all of us taken care of, and drifted off to a place of deep sleep and abundant dreams. I am sure my husband would have appreciated being with me when sex after 11:00 p.m would actually be more than a remote possibility, but that will have to wait for another time. This trip I was too busy being selfish.
Every single moment has been spent in appreciation for this independence and freedom. While this sounds like I didn’t miss my kids, this is not exactly the case. I have been away now for almost 6 days. I look forward to seeing my children, but don’t feel a painful longing. I feel like I needed this break and I am going to soak every moment of it into my pores so that I can let it seep out slowly when I return home to, no doubt, children that may just be extra sensitive and clingy for a few days. I feel that now I am ready for, even looking forward to being clung to. I am an expert snuggler (I always say that this is my forte in mothering. Boundaries and being consistent? I struggle with that, but snuggling? I am a GREAT snuggler), and I’ll be ready to snuggle for a couple days straight after all of this me-time. There will be so much more, once again, to give.