Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mommy Firsts

The first trip away from the babies is cause for both pain and celebration.

Okay, so there are Baby’s First Steps, Baby’s First Solid Food, and Baby’s First Poop, but what about Mommy’s Firsts? How about Mommy’s First Attempt at Putting on a Diaper? Or, Mommy’s First Time Breastfeeding While Typing? What about Mommy’s First Time Outside Alone with Newborn and Toddler? Now that’s scary.

But even scarier is Mommy’s First Time Away from the Babies. I’m not referring to that first two-hour break between nursings when you literally run to the store to buy yourself a new nursing bra. Nor am I thinking of the three brief hours of pre-school during which you exhaust yourself with the plethora of possibilities only to find that all you’ve accomplished between drop-off and pick-up is throwing together lunch and throwing yourself in the shower. What I am talking about is that first 7-day trip you take alone, sans enfants…

…first to your mother’s house to clean out the attic (is it really necessary?), where you hope to find your childhood Barbies, plastic horses and Smurfs to pass on to your daughters,

…and then on to a work-related conference in New York City (will it be worth it?), where you hope to collect pearls of wisdom from seminars with all your favorite industry gurus, and if not, then at least to collect some cool paraphernalia, in this case, photography-related tote bags, note cards and lens cleaners.

As my capacity for empathy has grown to unbearable proportions post-double-partum, I think I have mostly my own hormones to blame. I cry at everything now, being a Mom. Any emotional moment, whether in a movie, cartoon, or real life, my eyes tear up. So, to calm down before bedtime the night before my first solo Mom Voyage, I tried doing yoga.

It didn’t help that I was experiencing what the French might call le PMS, and I discovered that my tears were stronger in downward dog and child’s poses than upward dog and cobra. I guess there is something to be said for literally keeping your chin up. I also discovered that doing yoga without breathing somehow made stretching more difficult. Who knew?

At just about every juncture the morning I had to leave, tears came to my eyes. The already hectic, short amount of time I usually have in the morning with the girls had seemed to have been chopped to mere moments. I spent a few moments with them eating breakfast at the table, then a few minutes as they sang and danced to the Disney Cinderella song , “Once Upon a Dream” (a tear-jerker just when you don’t want it to be), then it was time to leave. I was so surprised at how much room I still had left in my suitcase and carry-on, usually stuffed with diapers, extra baby clothing, wipes, and snacks, that I briefly considered asking my four year old if I could pack her in my bag.

Feeling sick, torn, and anxious, I left my children at the top of the stairs, tears in my eyes, and stepped into the sedan taking me to the airport. After wishing him a good morning, I asked the driver about the traffic. He said today it should be light. Moscow traffic is particularly unpredictable, and I spent the extra hour built in for the car trip to the airport stuck, not moving, in traffic. The ride to the airport became an excruciating mix of emotion, handwringing and inescapable sadness. All I wanted to do was kiss the gummy cheeks of my babies.

The compassionate driver took every turn possible to avoid being stuck in traffic on the big roads, only to be stuck in traffic on the small roads. He could see my furrowed brow in his rearview mirror as I spoke on my cell phone with my two year old, who said, “I love you” to me for the first time ever (visualize Mommy’s heart melting). The “baby’s” favorite song is “A Foggy Day,” by Frank Sinatra. She requests it at every meal, and as it plays now, the tears well up again. It’s a peppy tune, it puts us all in a good mood. It’s always followed by “Let’s Fall in Love,” which my older daughter likes best. Thanks, Frankie, we love you!

“We’ve never missed a flight!” the driver chirped, as we arrived ninety minutes before takeoff. He graciously led me to customs with my bag and wished me well. He will be receiving a large bar of chocolate from me when I get back. Passing through Russian customs, there was, miraculously, no line, nor at the security check for bags, nor at the check-in counter, nor at passport control. Where was everyone? Arriving this late turned out to mean that I had missed the crowd I remember from previous years flying with Delta out of Moscow, when they would check each bag, meticulously opening every wrapped gift and every bottle of nail polish you’d wrapped in a sock.

I even had time to buy some water before boarding, but realized that in my tearful morning haze at home, I hadn’t thought to pack a single ruble. Luckily, Moscow airports still accept “hard currency,” albeit only in the overly lit, heavily perfumed Duty Free stores, where I bought two tiny bottles of water for four dollars and twenty-eight cents (they even accepted pennies!)

As we flew over Northern Europe, I wondered how I would bear each of the following seven days without my children. Would I be in my element once I get over these few hours of transition? Or would I be racked with longing and sadness for the entire trip? Would I make it back to them safely? Would I ever leave them again willingly? The nanny thinks I’m crazy because I miss my children even when they’re just outside on the playground. I had thought I would feel unending guilt, instead, I felt the deepest sense of sadness, longing to be with them, hug them, kiss them.

It was not as if anyone was hurt, sick, or dying, God forbid, knock on wood, etc. We were all okay, I was just going on my trip, the one I’d been planning for months (years, actually). Nevertheless, I counted the hours as the distance between us grew. What will the baby feel this evening and the next and the next, when I am not there to nurse her before bedtime? Had last night felt like the last time I’d ever nurse my child again? Actually, no. It was really no different than other nights of recent months. I was exhausted at the end of the day, as usual, ready to finish up, but nevertheless, cradling my little one in this unbreakable, sometimes unbearable, close bond, that keeps a mother from leaving and draws her back to the nest again, and again, from whatever the distance, from whatever ambitious thing she may be doing.

Not being able to communicate with my babies, or with anyone I knew was what made that flight so alienating and painful, such that with every trip to the bathroom, in the solitude of those narrow, claustrophobic lavatories, I sobbed. I realized that I had been operating under the false assumption that I would feel a freedom I hadn’t felt before. Instead, what I felt was a beshackling lack of purpose and an unquenchable longing, wondering every half hour, what were they doing right now? It’s twelve o’clock, they’re going to school. It’s 2:30pm, the baby must still be napping. It’s 4:30pm, they’re on the playground. I hoped that I was feeling my own absence more than they were, but achingly I knew they would notice it more at the end of the day, at dinnertime, bedtime.

My hours of desperation during that flight, dotted by moments of numbness, were temporarily quelled only by the act of writing about it, as if this would either hasten my reunion with my babies or erase the pain of this voyage altogether. And I’d like to think that it was more love than just hormones that was giving me this pain in the first place.

As it turned out, shortly after the flight I was able to contact my husband, who reassured me that they all had a good day but missed me, of course. I called several times daily, was able to hear their voices when they felt like coming to the phone, and felt relieved, that each day, each hour, that passed meant that I was that much closer to returning to the nest, to cuddle my babies once more. But not before enriching my life in other ways first – Mom Voyage!

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