The other day, I found myself on a train into New York City to have lunch with two friends. One who lives in Manhattan and one who was visiting from out of town for a conference.
When my husband handed me the train ticket, I jokingly thanked him for issuing me my "day pass" from the insane asylum.
As I sat on the train, I marveled at how quickly I have always been able to disconnect from my kids. Even when they were babies.
Since I've been an extremely connected, stay-at-home-mom from the minute my first child was born 15 years ago, I imagine many would think that I would have a hard time leaving my kids for any amount of time.
I realized this ability when my first born, Tom, was only 15 months old. My mother had come into Queens to stay with him so that I could enjoy a day in the city by myself and stay overnight with my sister at her apartment.
She drove me to the train station and it took all my strength to get out of the car. My heart felt as if it was breaking as I looked down at my sweet son waving goodbye to me with his chubby little hand.
I made sure my mother knew every detail of his day, even going as far as writing down when he napped, when he ate and even what video or CD to put on to make him laugh or sleep.
As I stood on the platform waiting for the train, I wondered how I'd have any fun without the child I adored.
Then the train came. I took my seat and barely gave him a second thought.
Baby? What baby?
I didn't make frantic calls home or even check up on him until later that night.
I knew he was in good hands, and if there was a problem my mother would call me.
My ability to disconnect has never changed. As soon as my children are out of sight, I slip out of my mom persona and go back to being the Kathy I knew before I answered to Mommy.
Yesterday, I took my seat and started listening to music without a teenager teasing me about my "lame" choices. I thought in full sentences -- never once having to break my concentration by saying, "Knock it off," or "Don't kill your brother."
I came out of the station and as if by cell memory my feet moved faster, and I grabbed a cab with ease.
As the cab made its way uptown to the restaurant my friends were at, I marveled that even though I haven't lived in the city for 18 years, it still feels as if I never left.
Lea, Ava and I had a great lunch. We caught up on how our lives are going and discussed our latest writing projects. Before we knew it, it was time for Lea to return to her conference.
Ava and I continued to chat, ignoring the waiters who clearly wanted us to leave even though the restaurant was empty.
All of a sudden I felt my bag vibrate. I fished around for my phone and heard Tom's voice.
"Mom, where are you? Dad thought you might have taken the 2:30 train, so we are at the station, and Lizzy is all upset because you aren't here."
The real world beckons me back.
Lizzy's special needs can make it hard for her to understand that mommy is fine, even if I'm not on the train they were waiting for. Tom said she feared I was gone forever.
Joe got on the phone and explained that all was well. Despite the carrying on I heard in the background, I chose to believe him.
Apparently they had been out doing weekend errands, and he was afraid that I may have tried to contact them. He didn't want me to wait at the station, so he took a chance and just went over in case I took the train home we had discussed.
I spoke to Lizzy and assured her I was on my way home.
I hate to admit it, but I felt a little like Cinderella leaving the ball.
Ava and I said our goodbyes, and I relished my time alone in the cab and my train ride back.
My thoughts continued to flow uninterrupted. Lately, I have been so conscious of the fact that my kids are getting older and that before I know it, my nest will be empty or at least emptier. I find myself wanting to relish every minute I have left of being a mom in the thick of raising a family.
The truth is, as much as I adore my role as mom, I do miss the parts of myself that are buried in to-do-lists, stress over issues the kids still face and the weight I have gained in my attempt to "handle it all."
I came to the realization that despite years of therapy, my all-or-nothing personality has never left me. I can be Mom or I can be Kathy; I'm not great at juggling both at the same time.
The train doors opened and I got out.
I heard cries of both "Mommy!" and "Kathy!" as I turned around to see Joe and the kids calling and waving to me from the overpass. Lizzy and Peter had Burger King crowns on, and Tom was walking that very delicate line of being happy to be with his family and wishing nobody who knows him is around.
Within seconds, I was enveloped in a huge hug from Lizzy.
"Mommy, you came back. You came back."
I could see the smiles of onlookers who I'm sure wondered just how long I had been gone.
I was back with my family and the life I love. Determined to find a way for my two roles to merge a bit more successfully.