One week before we leave, and I’m a bit of a wreck. In seven days, my husband Micah and I are going to get on a plane and fly halfway around the world. Without our three kids. It’s my first time out of the country and our first time leaving the kids for more than a couple of days. We’re celebrating 10 years together and we’ve decided to go big: 12 days traveling around Japan — where my husband spent a couple of years, and which he has wanted to show me for as long as we’ve been together.
I’m thrilled that we can do this and excited to spend two weeks with my favorite person and no little “distractions” (even if those distractions are my 2nd, 3rd, and 4th favorite people), but it seems like every time I imagine the trip, my mind goes places like: “This could be my last time buying a huge bag of string cheese for the kids,” or to silently writing my own eulogy: “She spent the day before they left at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden with her children,” accompanied by a photo of me and my younger two kids standing among the cherry blossoms.
The night before we leave, we write a letter to our families detailing what to do in the event that we do not return. My husband and I sign the letter, seal it in an envelope, and as he tells my sister-in-law, who has flown in with my sister to care for our kids, where she can find it if need be, I try not to let her see that I am biting back tears.
The next morning isn’t much better. I’m trying to play it cool for the kids. Trying not to let them see how anxious I am, how nervous that these could be our last moments together. I give them hugs, tell them how much I love them, and try not to belabor the point lest they sense my anxiety.
And then we put on our backpacks, wave goodbye one more time, and walk out the door to the train station. It’s not until we actually get on the train that I start to cry — just for a minute. I get the tears out quickly and then return with shocking speed to my normal self, preoccupied by the little details: Did I tell them about the cupcakes? And where the whipped cream is to put on top? How did drop-off go? Are we going to make our flight?
It’s not until we are finally seated on the plane that I am able to truly let go of all my worries and cares. It’s just Micah and me for the next 12 days. The kids are going to be fine, and we’re going to have a great time. For the first time since we began planning this trip more than a year ago, I am completely focused on it and it alone. I briefly try to summon some sort of desire to have the kids with us, but I fail at that and decide instead to enjoy the fact that I can use the flight time to finally find out about this House of Cards show that everybody has been so excited about.
Over the next few days I try, unsuccessfully, to muster that desire again and again, but it’s all too easy to imagine their voices telling us how tired they are, wondering why we have to walk so much, and wishing to go back to the hotel. Most of the time Micah and I are so deep in conversation, or marveling at the sights, or enjoying the freedom we have from napping schedules, snacking schedules, and bedtime routines that we forget to miss the kids. I definitely do not wish they were here.
I am not completely insensitive, of course. A few days into the trip we have a FaceTime call scheduled. I’m worried that they — well, mostly my 21-month-old daughter — will see us on the screen and be upset that we are not there. Our girl is a bit clingy and tends toward strong emotions, so I imagine there could be a full-on meltdown; I’m bracing myself as we make the call.
Ha ha. Very funny. None of our children are very interested in talking to us. Our two boys, ages 7 and 4, are busy with their own lives. They pop in to say hello before returning to their cars and trains and books and whatever. And our girl, well, she loves the screen — but mostly the part about her being on it. The separation seems to be going just as well for them as it is for us.
Actually, when we imagine our arrival back at our apartment, we prepare ourselves to be mostly ignored by our boys. The older one will undoubtedly be lost in a book or an iPad game, we tell ourselves. The younger will likely give us a hug before returning to his place at his brother’s shoulder. And our daughter will be the one to run into our arms and give us big, long hugs. We both decide we’re looking forward to that reunion most. (Unless she’s mad at us for leaving and collapses in a heap of tears on the floor instead. That could happen, too.)
Unfortunately, life has other plans. We miss our connecting flight, and the delay is the difference between coming home during dinner and coming home after bedtime. This is the second time I cry.
The kids are, indeed, in bed when we walk in the door. No patter of little feet, no tangle of arms for hugs, no shrieks of joy from our girl. It is decidedly not the fireworks of a reunion we had hoped for.
But then, after we put down our backpacks and begin telling my sisters about the trip, the boys’ bedroom door opens. Our older son, who always has a hard time falling asleep, sneaks down the hallway to see us. He gives us both long, strong hugs and can’t stop talking about all the things that happened at school that day. When he finally decides he’s tired, he heads back to bed. Micah and I are thrilled to know that he missed us.
The next morning, I’m up getting breakfast ready when my 4-year-old wakes up. He grins and runs into my arms when he sees me. Another long, strong hug from him lets me know that even if he had a great time hanging out with his aunties for the past two weeks, there’s only one Mom.
And when my daughter toddles in, still sleepy and disoriented, I give her a big hug and lots of kisses. And then she wants breakfast. Just like always. Just like we never left.