Today, as it has for the past two days, the calendar on the wall in our house says Mama Away in blue magic marker. “Mama go Auntie” my kids would say as I rehearsed with them that I would be leaving and when I would be returning. I never expected my newly two year-old twins to get how many days I’d be gone, or even that the blue marker means mama is away and the green means mama is here. The big takeaway was supposed to be mama WILL be back.
“Mama go Auntie” is toddler for me flying to Hawaii to sing in a close friend’s wedding. Because that’s why I’m here, to sing, right? It would be wrong to disappoint a close friend. I’ve found myself doing a lot of rationalizing over the past weeks when the topic of my trip has come up. But I’ll tell you the truth – as I sit here in a quiet hotel room listening to waves crash outside my window. I am not here on some kind of mission of mercy, to throw myself on the sword, leaving my babies to fend for themselves with no one but their totally capable father, as well as grandfather, grandmother and babysitter. I am here because I won the fucking twin mommy lottery. At the perfect time, just when I need it most, just when I thought I was going to explode with restlessness and tedium, a close friend asked me to sing in her wedding in Hawaii.
Two days ago I walked through the airport all alone, boarded a plane for a ten hour flight, which I spent deliciously, luxuriously unplugged and alone. No internet, no phone, no patients, no demanding toddlers, no husband wanting to know why I’m so “prickly” lately. I can remember 5 hours into the flight, after I had done a crossword puzzle, napped, and read, thinking to myself how happy I was that I still had five hours left.
The last time I rode a plane without toddlers was before my pregnancy. It felt completely unworthy of comment at the time, even inconvenient. You would think I would have been eager to arrive in Hawaii, but the funny thing is I don’t think Hawaii was even real to me at that moment. All that was real to me was time. This long, delicious stretch of uninterrupted, unplanned time with no demands.
When we began our descent, I looked out the window and was truly shocked. There was this incredible view of mountainous islands rising into mist. It looked like pictures I’d seen of Hawaii. Wait, I thought to myself, almost with a chuckle, you mean to tell me this is real? I’ve traveled to Europe, Asia, Central America and Africa. I’ve camped in the Namibian dessert, strolled through rice paddies in Bali, and trekked through the Costa Rican rain forest. But that was another lifetime. A lifetime before everyday, come rain, shine, illness, hangover, exhaustion, or depression, two little alarm clocks go off and twelve straight hours of needs and demands begin.
“Are you taking the kids?” was the first question people would ask when they heard I was coming here. Are you fucking crazy – I had to stop myself from saying every single time. Then would come the inevitable horrified looks. To me those looks spoke volumes filled with every one of my fears. They said I was abandoning my children, that I was a cold, thoughtless, selfish mother, that I was defective for being capable of something like this, that they would never survive this unscathed. Those looks said that I could do this, but it had better hurt, only then would I be worthy of that delicious, most precious commodity – time, and her faithful sidekick, freedom.
“How are you doing?” one of the bride’s relatives asked me today. I had already explained to her the night before that I was fine. I think she’s going to ask me until I tell her I’m having a horrible time, missing my kids too much to bear. I’ve gotten a whole variety of unsolicited reassurances, “you’ll be okays” and “they’ll be okays” and “I know this must be hard’s.” You must only be here a day or two, then” one woman assumed when she heard I had toddlers at home. What kind of an unfeeling monster would leave two year-olds for longer? (What kind of a lunatic flies ten hours to stay two days?). “This will be so good for your husband” another older female guest commented. I tried to politely explain to her that my husband doesn’t need to be forced into parenting by my flying out of state.
“Try to enjoy yourself,” I’ve been told by several people. But I AM enjoying myself. The presumption seems to be I must be in some kind of frantic stated of dysregulation without my kids. To the contrary, despite jet lag, sleep deprivation and pina coladas, my mind hasn’t worked this well in months. It had gotten so bad, I couldn’t even focus well enough to pack. I’ve got all these mismatched outfits in my suitcase, accessories that don’t match any tops, cover-ups that don’t match dresses, not shoes that work. I was maxed out, totally done, getaway non-optional. As I watch the many thirty-somethings at this destination wedding wielding their newborns and toddlers, a singular thought comes to mind… hell no!
So what’s wrong with me then, I keep having to wonder, over and over. The truth is I’m worried. I’m a little worried that my kids will think I left for good, or like their father better than me when we get home. These are irrational fears. I’m not sad, devastated, unhinged, or even distracted. I didn’t cry when I left, and I haven’t since. Both my kids are sick, they’ve got red spots all over their bodies according to my husband, but they’re going to be fine. I’m okay. Really. Haven’t given it much thought. I’m in freaking Hawaii for fuck’s sake!
So why am I supposed to be so devastated, anyway? Why does loving my children so hard I would die for them mean being utterly unable to leave their side for more than a few hours? I just don’t get it. In fact, loving them that hard is why I need to leave their side. They are hard. So very hard and so very constant. And if I don’t get away all they’ll see when they look at me is how hard and constant they are and how it’s eating away at my soul, and how loving them that hard comes with a blinding, searing terror that’s never pushed entirely out of my conscious awareness.
And why is my husband supposed to be so incompetent? Why do I feel the need to tell people that four adults are taking my place this week, like I’m so irreplaceable or something. Why do I feel the need to justify, to convince, to make this about my friend and her wedding, when it’s really about me. It’s about me hitting the fucking jackpot. It’s about my using every last airline mile we have and crashing in a room with friends to come someplace I can’t afford, to take time off I shouldn’t, because I need to. In no universe could I have gotten away with coming to Hawaii otherwise.
And that’s fine, but shouldn’t we mom’s get a break? It doesn’t have to be Hawaii, but it can be ten hours to read and do a crossword puzzle. It can even be a few days of solitude, catching up with friends, eating oddly shaped tropical fruits, and napping a lot. What father is grilled about his emotional state, how he’s holding up, and told this will be “good for her” about his wife’s capability to watch their children while he’s gone, attending a friend’s destination wedding solo, on a business trip, or anywhere else? People rides planes and sing at their friends weddings. People walk through airports alone. How come we mom’s aren’t people anymore?
Has nothing changed since my trekking days of yore? Of course it has. Everything has changed. Instead of splurging on local food, I went to the supermarket this morning and bought yogurt and cereal to eat instead of overpriced resort food. A main goal of the day is to make sure there’s a time I can skype my kids. But most of all, I am grateful. I’m grateful for ten glorious hours on a stuffy, loud, plane. I’m soaking in every minute of silence and freedom. But I’m also grateful that in a few days, the two most precious beings in world will be shouting “Mama home, mama home, and despite my jetlag and exhaustion, I won’t want to be anywhere else.
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