The Cure For Mom Guilt I Learned From My One-Year-OldLizzie Heiselt
It was so stereotypical of me, I know. Stuck in the airport having “missed” my flight, I was left with 6 hours until I could get on a plane. And while I should have been excited to head out on my first solo journey since I got married nearly 9 years ago, instead I was wait for it wracked with guilt at leaving my kids. Specifically my daughter, who was days from her first birthday and still breastfeeding.
Yes, mom guilt. Like I said, so stereotypical. Even my awareness of the cliche was not enough to pull me out of my stressed-out stupor. I spent the next eight hours in or near tears as I tried to find things to do at the airport, boarded the flight, and then sat next to the window, shade drawn, reading. And while I tried to keep my mind occupied, I was really imagining my baby crying, whining, anxious, and needing the comfort that only I could give her. I broke my own heart over and over again in those hours with my imaginings.
After a while I was able to let things go a little bit, and to open my mind to the possibility that this trip was not the worst idea ever. I was going to a yoga festival, after all, and it should be fun, relaxing, and at the very least help me to de-stress. Hiding in a book for a couple hours and nearly exhausting my supply of peanut butter M&Ms, I finally opened the window shade and looked at the world outside. I was taken immediately with the beauty of what I saw: the intense blue of the sky, the scattered white wisps of clouds, the rocky terrain below. And although I’m as nervous about flying as the next person, those nerves were drowned out by the wonder of flying tens of thousands of feet above the earth, of even being able to see this odd and beautiful perspective.
In that moment, as I saw my surroundings for probably the first time all day, my stress and worry and fear disappeared.
When I got off the plane, I called my husband to see how things were going. Was the baby okay? Did she go to sleep alright without me? How did she take the bottle . . . ?
And do you want to know what my daughter was doing the entire time, while I was fretting and worrying and wishing I could be where I wasn’t and feeling guilty for being where I was? She was living in the moment. She was enjoying what was in front of her without, it seemed, so much as a thought to what was not (that would be me). There had been no tears on my account, no frantic searches for her mom.
The next two days, while I was at the yoga festival, I decided to follow her example, and the encouragement of the yogis teaching the classes: I tried to be present. I tried to keep my mind with the people I was with and the place I was in. Instead of drifting to my kids, or to the trauma of the airport, or to when I would have to go back home, I stayed where I was.
And do you know what? I enjoyed myself. I met new people and had good conversations and tried different experiences. And while I hoped that one day I could share those experiences with my family, I did not feel bad that they weren’t with me. I did not feel guilty that I was at Lake Tahoe, breathing in clean air and roaming among the trees, while they were sweating in Brooklyn’s oppressive humidity. I did not wonder and worry and call every few hours, just to check in. Mom guilt had nothing on me.
But when I got home just before 7:00 am, having taken the red-eye, I was greeted by my daughter who ran toward me as well as she can on her chubby little legs, shrieking with delight. She seemed happy to have me back, but hadn’t lost a wink of sleep over our separation.