I couldn't wait to leave.
I was trying to pack. And get the kids dressed. And type up detailed instructions for my parents, asking my husband when trash day is and telling my mom to remember no seafood or peanut butter in the toddler's lunch for church camp. Do we have enough dog food? Is there gas in the car? Where are our passports?
As I stood at the kitchen counter, furiously typing babysitter phone numbers into the document on my laptop, the baby was screaming from the floor. I looked toward the firm tug at the bottom of my pajama pants to see confused, tear-welled eyes and an open mouth, hinging on whether I pick him up or not, to start another crying fit. I did and the crying stopped immediately. He's teething or sick or tired. (Where is the thermometer?) Or maybe he's just wanting Mama to hold him. Not making me feel great about leaving him for four nights. But I was. So I couldn't think about that.
It was the morning I'd been waiting for. The day we'd leave for a once-in-a-lifetime, last-minute opportunity to spend the week in Paris. I'd been needing a break for months. With a husband who frequently travels and no family in town, I was burned out. I needed time away. And, this was more than that. It was a dream vacation. And it was happening today.
We're leaving in an hour.
Why am I not on cloud nine, grinning ear-to-ear?
I have knots in my stomach. My mouth is dry. My palms are sweaty. I haven't eaten yet today and have no appetite. I can't smile, even though I know I should.
This isn't even the first time we're leaving our kids. We've been to California, the Bahamas and Key West without them. But across the Atlantic just feels so far.
I'm not ready.
I know the kids will be fine, and I know I've been desperately needing a break for months.
Who goes to Paris and isn't head-over-heels, can't-stop-smiling excited about it?
A Mom, that's who.
While the toddler was at church camp and the baby was napping, my mom stayed at the house and we loaded into the car for the airport. I couldn't muster a smile. There was no excitement in my eyes.
Just a huge lump in my throat.
The car stopped at the airport. Our bags came out. The door closed. The car pulled away.
I felt my eyes well up.
Stop it. You're an idiot. You're going to Paris. This is a dream trip. Don't ruin it by being ungrateful.
I couldn't stop.
As we walked up to the check-in counter, the lump in my throat got bigger. The high schoolers in front of us were flirting and giggling, no doubt giddy with excitement at their first trans-Atlantic trip. The single woman ahead, at the counter, was laughing and jovial.
Please, no one look at me.
I reached into my (lighter-than-ever) carry-on, pulled out my oversized sunglasses and slid them on. I just wanted to be invisible. This stupid, ungrateful mom who is crying because she's getting on a plane to Paris.
This is so embarrassing. You are such a baby. Get. Over. It.
As we stepped up to the check-in counter, I handed my husband my passport and let him do all the talking. I couldn't. That growing lump in my throat threatened to take over, so I just focused on trying to swallow it. Gulp. Gulp. Over and over. In between gulps, I wrestled with the corners of my mouth, trying to stop them from going down and taking my whole face with them.
Quick, stop. Think about anything else.
Anything but that sweet, soft baby face. That sweet baby who I had craved an escape from for weeks. That sweet baby who had been driving me crazy all morning. Who I now wanted nothing more than to hold in my arms.
And, anything but that darling toddler. The mischievous little man who never stops. Who gets into the toilet paper, the tools in the garage, the toothpaste, the eggs in the fridge... every time I have to pee. That little boy who sucks his thumb and asks for Mommy when he's tired, then curls up next to me, wherever I am.
That little boy who looks at me while I run my hand over his soft, strawberry-blonde curls, like laying next to me is his favorite place in the entire world.
Because it is.
And there, standing at the Delta checkout counter, the jig was up.
There was no more hiding it.
Sunglasses still on, I moved my sad, twisted face into my hands and felt the hot, wet tears flow down my cheeks. That lump in my throat started to soften. I opened my mouth, my body heaved, and three audible sobs escaped uncontrolled. They'd been pent up too long and needed out. A few more sad, pathetic whimpers fluttered across my lips, as that lump in my throat completely melted away.
I hope no one's staring at me.
But at that point, I didn't care.
As my husband reminded me that this is normal and I'm a mother, I felt a little better. I realized that I'm human. And being upset at leaving my kids doesn't make me lame or ungrateful. It makes me a parent.
It makes me a mom. Who couldn't wait to get away and now can't wait to get back.
As we sat down to lunch at The Columbia, we ordered salads and Cubans. And my husband was quick to order me a cocktail. Or 3.
Breathe, you got this. Relax. It's time to stop being a mom for a few days.
But you never stop.
So, is this what it's like to travel when you have kids? At home, you can't wait to get away. But after 40 minutes at the airport, you want nothing more than to be back with them. And then, I'm sure, once I get home from this trip, I'll wish I were gone again.
A few times during the meal, my mind drifted to the little ones.
Was the baby up from his nap yet? The corners of my mouth started to drift down as I thought about his perfect post-nap face. He'll be standing up in his crib, wearing only a diaper, paci in mouth, looking longingly at his bedroom door. When it opens, he'll start bobbing up and down in the crib. Will he be upset it's not me? Instead, it will be my mom. She'll pick up that small, perfect, sleep-warmed body as his little baby head collapses in one big motion back into her chest.
Because that's what he always does when he wakes up from his nap.
Because I'm his Mama.
Will he want a banana or applesauce when he wakes up? Or will he just want to cuddle on Grammy's chest? Will he be in a playful mood and show off his new clapping skills? Or maybe he'll try to be the life of the party and point his finger to the toys he wants next?
I don't know the answers to those questions.
Right now, all I know is this one:
Who leaves for Paris and cries six times before she leaves the airport?
A Mom, that's who.
I'll be fine, I know. Don't you dare feel bad for me. I know, I have nothing to complain about. In fact, I'm sitting in a hotel bed in Paris right now. We've been sight-seeing, I've taken a hot bath and a nap, and I'm on no one's time but mine. (Actually, I'm not even wearing a watch, and my cell phone doesn't have international coverage. Even better.)
At this moment, our biggest task is choosing tonight's dinner location. We won't need to ask for high chairs or worry if there's a changing table in the bathroom. We'll talk about adult things and likely finish a conversation or two without stopping to clean up spilled milk or moving all the silverware and glasses to the far corner of the table. Yeah, it's just dinner. And just us. Right now, the top three contenders are the cozy brasserie on the corner with flowers in the window and white Subway tiles on the walls; the fine-dining restaurant where they only speak French; or the dinner boat, with boxes of red geraniums, that's docked on the Seine right across from Notre Dame.
And, I know I shouldn't.
But I can't help but wonder what will be served on our food-stained, kid-marked wooden table back at home.