The trip. A quick overview: we drove Wednesday from NY to Michigan, eight and a half hours in the car with a dog and 2 kids under 3; one stop to halt the screaming, one for dinner and running around, one for Frances to sit in the back of the open van on her potty. Clark refused to sleep in the car though it was hours past his bedtime, finally dropping off about 10 minutes before we arrived at Mitch's parents', and woke as soon as the car stopped. Thursday we left the kids with their grandparents and Mitch and I drove to Detroit where I got on an airplane for Boise and he drove to Ann Arbor for a conference. Boise was amazing, as wonderful and lovely and close to my heart as I remembered.
It was a true break for me, a time that was only mine, and kind of surreal because of that. I'd gotten rather used to having my life be someone else's. I cried often while I was there, sometimes out of nostalgia but sometimes for no reason at all. My friend Sylvia suggested it was the relaxing--it was probably the first time I'd truly relaxed in almost three years.
Being away from my kids--it was like I reverted to some former self, felt like a person I used to be and that I'd forgotten. My friend Tamara compared having little babies to war, and I don't mean to make light of war or say parenting is anything as tragic or life threatening, but it probably feels something akin to being in the trenches: constant anxiety, on constant alert for any sound, any movement; ready to jump and fight, snatch someone from danger, perform CPR or rush to the emergency room. Maybe it was the absence of all this tension that made me feel like someone I was before. I don't know how to parent without this tension. I just don't know how.
In the airport I felt contained--I didn't have to worry about anyone outside of myself. I didn't have to watch, to reach out and collect some little person; to cajole or entertain or chase; to worry about anyone's hunger or grumpiness or tiredness. (I also didn't have to respond to other folks when they commented on cuteness or asked how old...) I was relaxed. And something strange: I saw parents with babies, toddlers, and I no longer saw their tension. At home when I see these fellow parents I imagine what's happening internally, and it's the same thing that's happening to me. (Chatty conversation usually proves me right.) But while I was away and alone, these parents seemed calm. It makes me remember what I, at age 20 or 25 or maybe even 30, thought having kids would be like. I don't know if I can explain--but I thought I'd just be myself, with some extra company. I didn't realize I'd lose myself for a time, give myself over, become someone new for the sake of my children. I thought of taking care of babies as something I'd do rather than something I'd be.
I have a childless friend who has said to me over and over, ever since Frances was born, "You're an amazing mother--you're so relaxed!" She says she doesn't think she will be as relaxed with babies and I keep trying to tell her--even if I don't show it externally (and do I really not??) there is rumbling, there is constant anxiety.
I wondered how long I would be away from my kids before I longed for them, and I don't really want to admit it, but I didn't get there. All I felt was relief. Relief relief relief to be alone with myself, to relax, to not have to worry or do or be. It made me a little ashamed, as if there might not be a limit... as if maybe I wouldn't ever miss them. But that's probably not true. I was only away 4 days; maybe a full week would make me ache. I did respond differently to the crying babies I witnessed. I used to be one of the people who was particularly annoyed by a crying baby on a plane, but this time I only felt sympathy--mostly for the baby, but also for the parents doing the best they could. It seemed odd to me that anyone would feel annoyance about the crying.
Maybe my nostalgia for Boise is nostalgia for myself--it's hard to say. While I was there I kept trying to imagine having Frances and Clark in the back of the car, but it was hard to envision. And though being in Boise made me ache and want to stay there forever, I also missed Rochester--a surprise. I'm not sure I'll ever fall in love with Rochester the way I was and still am with Boise, but it's my home these days.