What happens when a neurotic and overprotective 27-year-old mom of two leaves her kids–for the first time ever–for a weekend with the girls?
Well, now that I asked, I actually had a lot of fun, thank you. So much fun that when my baby snubbed me in public upon our big reunion, I wondered if, crazily, she suspected how much fun I had and begrudged me for it.
I admit it: when I received an invite to my good friend’s bachelorette party weekend at a beach house, I was more excited than nervous about spending over two days away from my kids for the first time ever. I had been feeling a particular sense of ennui lately from the seemingly endless household chores and parenting tasks that must get done despite long days at work. The invitation seemed like a godsend.
The weekend itself was lovely, filled with interesting conversations with witty and worldly women, delicious meals, and the tranquility of an uncrowded and unpretentious beach scene (so no, we weren’t in the Hamptons). Making good on my rapidly-aging pledge to take myself out of my comfort zone, I also went dancing at a club for the first time ever, though the details of that are really for a different post, and had a blast. Though I missed my kids and wondered how they were doing, I was surprised by just how much I was able to relax and enjoy a solid block of time without being called on to change a diaper or make a bottle at 6 a.m.
But while I expected I’d have fun, I didn’t expect that I wouldn’t feel guilty about it, which, in true neurotic form, is the thing that’s really causing me guilt. Adding to my contrition is the fact that, upon hearing references of trips across the world and apartment parties that lasted until all hours, I had let my thoughts wander to what my life would look like if I had waited to settle down, like the other women there. Though I regret nothing when it comes to my kids, I found myself unable to quell a wistful feeling about the fact that I never really had a pre-children period of singlehood, where I just did as I pleased. Perhaps I would have traveled more, or taken the time to explore different avenues in life, like a really impractical career choice or living abroad for a year.
It bears repeating, if only to assuage my conscience, that I think my grass is its own perfect shade of green, and I don’t nurse regret about the road I’ve taken. I am only curious about what my life would be like if I had gone a different way–but even that feels disloyal.
Come Sunday morning, as much as I loved my time away, I was eager to see my children. The nearly 150-mile drive to the Catskills, where my husband had taken the kids to visit with his family for the weekend, only increased my anticipation, and I zoomed down the highway as fast as the state allowed. I figured my son would be too absorbed in playtime with his cousins to take much notice of me, but when he caught sight of me, he hit the ground running, his tanned and mosquito-bitten legs pumping behind him as he joyfully screamed “Mommyyyy!!!” and leapt into my waiting arms. People cried. James Horner wrote a score to it.
Okay, I exaggerate, a little. But his reaction was picture-perfect (see above).
When I turned to my baby, expecting another ecstatic scene, she looked at me, stared for a moment, gave an almost imperceptible sniff, and then looked away as if she could care less. And I might have cried a little bit for real. Just a few days earlier, she was frantically clutching at my shirt in a desperate bid to stay with me if someone else held their arms out for her (and yes, I’m working on smothering that involuntary and self-satisfied grin at being her favorite that annoys my husband to no end). Now, as she arched backwards and reached her arms out to her father to get away from me, I thought I could detect a bit of anger in her eyes. Was she really sophisticated enough to be mad at me for leaving her for 48 hours, and did she somehow detect that I had fun while I was away from her? Did she miraculously sense that I had pondered the person I’d be if I’d waited until I was older to have kids?
Somehow, I doubt it. She was probably just a little confused as to where I was, but her snubbing only renewed my guilt over my non-guilt and my dip into self-reflection over what might have been.
It took a little time, but my daughter and I are tight again, and she’s back to clutching my shirt. Since that weekend, though, I still sometimes catch myself dreaming of the places I might have visited without a care in the world, and the nights out at bars or clubs or karaoke or anywhere but trips to Target for emergency Pull-Ups.
But then I hear my daughter’s gurgles from her crib in the morning, and I blearily peek through the door to watch her catch sight of me and break into a smile of pure elation. Or I hoist my son up in the wagon at Trader Joe’s and he hugs me tightly, mid-lift, for just a second before I let go.
I guess I don’t feel badly about dreaming of a different path because when I come back down to Earth, I find that I love my reality too, just as it is.