I have been dreaming about a weekend away from my kids pretty much since I had kids. I know, that sounds awful. But prior to becoming a mom, I was the type of person who called in “sick” to work because the Style Network was showing a marathon of America’s Next Top Model. I was not exactly the picture of responsibility. 2am feedings followed by an hour of walking and lulling a crying baby back to sleep were the definition of a rude awakening for me. The promise of a day off took root in my head and grew to mythical proportions. Oh, what rapture, what joy if I could just have one day where I was not on duty.
This past weekend, I got not one, not two, but three days off! Before you start frothing at the mouth with jealousy, let me extrapolate on the details.
About six months ago, Ben and I planned a trip to Los Angeles to compete in the Rock and Rock Half Marathon. Our boys would stay with his parents while we were away. They have babysat for us countless times, and are very comfortable taking care of our kids. Liam and Kellen love to hang out at their home. I thought the Eric and Sandy would have some quality time with their grandsons. Liam and Kellen would enjoy being the center of attention, and Mommy and Daddy would get a break. Win, win, win.
On the way to drop off the kids, my thoughts took a morbid turn. What if we got in some horrible accident while driving to California? What if we didn’t live to see our kids again? I had to be sure my last words to them were not “stop picking your nose” or some equivalent.
“I love you so much. You are a wonderful wonderful boy, and I just really like you. Have a great time with your Granny and Papa.”
Ok, so not the most unusual or profound words. But I was careful to tell them they were good boys, not to be good boys- to me, that was an important distinction. I hugged them and hugged them again, and then it was time to go.
The tears started to flow when my mother in law whispered in my ear “you can call them as many times as you want.” I thanked her and quickly left before my boys could see me break down. It was one of those moments where emotion takes on a physical characteristic- I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me. I asked my husband if he thought about his final words before leaving, and he looked at me in the way that lets me know I am being a complete drama queen. Ok, time to come back to reality.
We had a six hour drive ahead of us, and I questioned if we would be able to fill that space with conversation. It has been ages since we have conversed for such a length of time. Did we still find each other interesting, or would we sit in awkward silence, like a bad first date?
Within the first half hour, we covered comedians, muscle cars, the presidential election, and a host of other topics. Ok, we still liked each other. I relaxed in my seat, put on my shades, and got ready to have fun.
Along the drive, my phone would beep signaling texts from my in-laws. I had told them about a fall festival in our area, in case they needed something to do with the boys. They sent me a couple of photos of Liam and Kellen in the costume contest. Liam was a firefighter and Kellen was a dalmation. I had been trying unsuccessfully for weeks for Kellen to wear his puppy hat. Sandy reported that he wore it the entire time at the contest. I was happy to hear they were having fun, but a smidge sad to not be a part of it. I hoped that he would wear his costume again when we got home, and not return to ripping it off the second I placed it on his head.
We arrived in LA and checked into our hotel. Being parents gone wild, the first thing we did was hit the hotel lounge. Our dinner plans involved meeting up with friends, but they were running a bit late. One beer turned into two, which turned into three. By the time our friends arrived, I was approaching the happy, laughy stage of drunk- not quite to the “I love you, man” level, but feeling good. We were in full-on vacation mode.
The next day, we completed our race and sent Sandy a text message with a picture of us at the finish line. When I spoke with her a couple of hours later, she said she showed the picture to the boys, and they got very quiet. I asked how things were going, and she said great, but then she added another small detail. Eric and Sandy have an alarm system on their house that says “front door open” in a creepy robotic voice whenever someone enters. The boys would look to the door expectantly whenever they heard the voice, waiting for Ben and I to enter the room. Eric and Sandy began using other doors to avoid the voice and the disappointment.
I believe she told me this to let me know that we were missed. Every other story involved how much fun they were having. But of course, all I heard was that my kids were missing me. I wouldn’t say it put a damper on my carefree attitude, but my heart began to ache a little. Even though my responsibilities were being met, the mommy in me could not go off duty.
The next morning, we rose at 7am. I was hoping to sleep in, but Ben was anxious to hit the road and get back to our babies. Since we didn’t have to immediately begin entertaining kids before even having coffee, 7am actually kind of felt like sleeping in.
Eager to get home, we hadn’t really thought through that we’d arrive at our house while they were napping. It didn’t behoove us to get to our house at 1:30pm, because we couldn’t see them until 4pm anyway. But the second I got the text they were awake, I zoomed over to see them.
I didn’t expect the greeting I was met with. I wasn’t sure if they’d run to me or from me. They did neither. I opened the door and Kellen calmly walked over to me so I could hug him. He then returned to wandering around the room. Liam said “No! I’m not ready for you yet!”
Ouch! I tried to interact with him, but he had just woken up and was grumpy. I could feel he was slightly off. Kellen began to warm up to me. He sat in my lap and started talking the way he normally does. I had been so worried about him, being the youngest, but he appeared unfazed- with one exception. He had the worst case of eczema he has ever had. I don’t know if he had an allergic reaction to something in the house, or if the rash was brought on by stress. Of course, mommy guilt ruled stress, but a little moisturizer and he was on the mend.
I took Liam outside to play baseball. Even when he is out of sorts, he can’t resist baseball. We started to play, and he got frustrated when I did not throw the ball the way he wanted me too. He started crying and would not be appeased. I sat down next to him and quietly talked to him. In adjusting how I was sitting, he thought I was getting up. He quietly said “I don’t want you to go.”
I sat closer to him and replied “I’m not going anywhere.”
“I want you to stay.”
“I’m right here. Did you not like it when I went on the trip?”
“No.” Now, I don’t know if I fed this to him, or if he truly did not like it. But in that moment, he seemed like he needed me to help vocalize what he was feeling.
“I’m sorry you didn’t like it when I left. But I am back now and I’m here to play with you.”
Just like that, he picked up the ball and started playing, once again my happy, carefree Liam. We returned home that night, and stepped into our normal routines as if we never left- except we seemed a little happier to be together and a bit less stressed.
You can never fully shut off from being a mom, but sometimes you do need to let someone else shoulder some of the responsibilities for awhile. It’s hard to turn over the control, but when you do you see that your kids are more resilient than you think. They’ll miss you, they’ll wish you were around, but in the end, the happiness when you return overshadows any bumps along the way.
Three days may have been a bit long for our first time apart, but I wouldn’t mind the occasional overnight now and again. I may have missed my babies, but I still dream about sleeping in late on a duty-free morning.