I wasn't sure I could get on the plane. I was sitting in the crowded boarding area at LaGuardia for my best friend's bachelorette party. My heart was pounding. How could I leave my three kids in New York while I jetted off to the balmy south? I'd already decided to join the festivities late, going down after school drop-off Friday morning and leaving first thing Sunday. It was the shortest time I could go without seeming like a complete b*tch. But I still wasn't sure.
I whipped out my phone and emailed my husband.
"I don't think I can go to Miami," I wrote. "What if something happens to me? How can I leave you and the kids? Please tell them I love them and that I'll always be watching them from heaven."
Tears slipped from my eyes. I felt anxious, sad, guilty and ridiculously irresponsible, like I'd just walked out of a final exam mid-way through. And I was suspicious. The man sitting next to me, sprawled out in his hat, jeans and wrinkled shirt, had no bags. Why no bags? What did that mean? Was he going to storm the cockpit? Who doesn't need to bring a bag onto a plane?
I furtively emailed my husband again.
"In case anything does happen, I'm pretty sure it will be because of the guy sitting next to me, so here's a detailed description."
For the next 10 minutes, I debated packing up my things, abandoning my ticket, upsetting my best friend and further disappointing my parents, who had come to town for a weekend of babysitting. But what message would I be sending to the kids if I did that? I could just see my older daughter's face as I walked in the door, her expression quizzical as she said, "Huh? Mama's back?"
OK, fine, I couldn't do it. I had to get on the plane. I thought again about my will and who would look after the kids if I died aside from my husband. But what if something happened to him too? What would my kids do? I went through the whole thing, someone telling my kids that my plane had crashed, their agonizing cries, the funeral, what the kids would wear, how their teachers would handle it, how I would feel up in the air the moment I knew I was going to crash.
My anxiety over my mortality had shifted recently, particularly with the birth of my third child. I no longer worried as much about my own death and how the fact that I would die rendered all of life meaningless, so why care about anything and where's the closest loaf of banana bread? Now, I worried more about how my children would cope without me. I'd brought three beautiful children into the world and it was my responsibility to keep myself alive to care for them.
The flight was boarding. Was I the only mother wracked with guilt and nervousness at the airport? I sent my husband a final email.
"OK, I think I'll get on the plane, but maybe I'll come back first thing tomorrow."
I wondered if my reluctance to board was a sign I should listen to, like when people just know something will happen, so they change their plans. Maybe that was happening to me now! But when my row was called, I took a deep breath and walked on.
I spent part of the flight entertaining the baby in the row ahead of me, and by the time I got off the plane, I was starting to feel like me again. Independent. Self-assured. A woman, not just a mom. An hour later, I was at the hotel, doing an "abs class" with the girls, and barely thinking about the kids. I felt like I did when I was trying to open the top of that strawberry jam my son loves so much, using all my strength to twist the cursed thing off because god forbid he eats a waffle without jam, and then finally, pop! I could breathe. I could laugh. I'd managed to extract myself.
Of course I missed my kids. I called them and emailed my mom for updates, relishing the few pictures she sent. I talked about them more than any of the childless girls there could probably tolerate. But I had a fantastic time. I did a beach boot camp class. I swam laps under the bright banner of cloudless blue sky. I had great conversations. I sunbathed on the beach listening to Pandora. On Saturday afternoon, I walked past an older man who looked at me and said, "You look like you don't have a care in the world." Ha! Me!
Well, it was kind of nice having dinners that didn't involve cutting anyone's food or fetching more ketchup. It was nice knowing that no one would be waking me up in the middle of the night. I let myself just be. Mommy was in heaven, after all.
I'm on the plane home now. There's a little girl across the aisle with her mother, a Disney princess suitcase at their feet. I can't wait to see my kids. I can't wait to smooch and smell my baby's yummy, edible cheeks. I can't wait to have my son tackle me and squeeze my neck so tight I can barely breathe. I can't wait to hear my older daughter yell, "You're my best mama!" and hug my legs. Even though I get stressed in my day-to-day life when they're all fighting and the baby is crying and we're about to be late for school if we don't hurry and why doesn't anyone listen, I love it. I want it. I need it. But I also need weekends like these. Short trips out of the non-stop mom job so I can remember how amazing the daily slog really is and how much I love my little animals.