Last Friday, I flew from JFK to SFO to attend the wedding of my close friend Vanessa, a girl I met in 6th grade. Josh flew there with me because we are married and spouses are legally required to go to all weddings with you; that’s part of the reason you get married. I spent part of Thursday packing. On Friday morning, a car picked us up at our house and we were off. We were through security and eating a breakfast quesadilla by 9:30 am. Our flight was delayed, so we lingered over our coffee for a bit, but by 11:30 am we were on the plane. By 6:00 pm that evening, we checked into our hotel and already at the rehearsal dinner, enjoying being surrounded by my childhood friends. And we were three thousand miles away from our eighteen-month-old daughter.
This was the first time I was ever away from her for more than five or six hours. Because I work from home, even when I am not caring for her, my physical location is so approximate to hers that I can usually hear her. This is a luxury on a personal level, and a curse on a professional one, insofar as I often get less work done than if there were not a cute toddler just a room away; I often take breaks to go visit her, or to make her lunch.
The point is obvious, but I need to repeat it because just thinking about it makes me anxious, as anxiety is my basic mode of being: I’ve never spent a night away from my baby. I’ve gone out just a handful of times in the evenings when she is asleep. When I leave her during the day, it is usually for a few hours. I’ve slept once since her birth without a baby monitor blaring second hand white noise at my ear, and that was just the few nights before the trip, when I was recovering from a lingering cold.
So for weeks — months? — I planned. Taking Zelda wasn’t an option: In addition to it being an evening wedding (which I read as “baby free”), I was looking forward to an adult experience: dinner in a civilized setting, drinks with friends, staying out past 7:15 pm. I planned to leave our daughter and our dog with my parents, who would travel from Pennsylvania to stay at my house, and Zelda’s nanny. There would be multiple levels of redundancy, and multiple escape plans. I typed email lists: the pediatrician, backup pediatrician, twenty-four-hour on call doctor service, veterinarian, animal hospital. Because they’d all be staying at my house I listed emergency tree removal services, water line troubleshooters, and driveway pavers. I listed local places to eat and buy supplies. I bought multiple packs of diapers and extra snacks and non-perishables, as if my daughter might go through an above-average amount of supplies in my absence. I called the neighbor and alerted her to our absence in case of any town-related emergencies (blackouts, road closures? I don’t know!). I drilled my parents and Zelda’s nanny on “if” situations, though I knew they were so unlikely. I bought Zelda new clothes. I did not panic.
On Friday, we were off, not to return until Sunday, around midnight — Monday, really. As the plane took off, I leaned back in my seat and opened a book. “How do I feel?” I asked myself, texting my father one last time to check in. “Okay? I feel okay?”
By the time I got to San Francisco, I realized I’d forgotten a few things, and so once I checked into the hotel, I walked to a drugstore a few blocks away, alone. I do go out alone at home, but this was different: There was no possibility of rushing home in the event of a scuffed knee or a sniffle. I was alone, completely. I had no work to do. I wasn’t away from home because of a doctor’s appointment or a meeting; I was gone for leisure. The air was warm and the sun was out. “How do I feel?” I asked myself again, wondering if I should buy cigarettes.
I felt amazing, not because I was away from my daughter, who is awesome and whom I already missed somewhere in the back of my mind, but because my one remaining becoming-a-parent fear was so clearly unfounded. You see, becoming a parent is “life-changing” but you also clearly remember the person you were before. You are, in lots of ways, still that person, but on hold: You remember going out shopping and not having to navigate mentally for a stroller. You recall not choosing restaurants based on how loud they are. And you remember getting into a car and driving, listening to music as loud as possible, all the windows down, no fear of a twig flying into the backseat and straight into a baby’s eye. You remember all these parts of being a single adult human. You just don’t do any of those things anymore. You are acutely aware of having changed, of being and inhabiting a double life; you used to take escalators while looking at Instagram on your phone with a cup of hot coffee in the your free hand. But not anymore. You’re a mother.
I barely blinked as I reverted back to that me, though. I hit the ground in a new city, babyless and with three days of nothing much to do besides eat and sleep and spend time with friends, happy and guiltless. I could irresponsibly stay up in a hotel room until 2 am and sleep as late as I wanted the next day (turns out that 7:30 am is about as long as I want to sleep in). I could eat without rushing, or worrying about what I ordered because it would need to be shared. We could drive around in the car aimlessly without agonizing over nap time or a stroller or a snack or a wet diaper. And it wasn’t as if I suffered over or even thought about these things: in the moments — the three days away — I barely noticed. The non-mother life I had lived came crashing back to me and I barely registered it. I didn’t worry about my daughter — she was safe and I got updates from three separate people almost hourly — and I was happy to see her enjoying life without her parents. It was the best proof I’ve gotten thus far of my belief in this obvious fact: Josh, Zelda, and I are three distinct people, with lives of our own, sometimes. My friend Emily, a new mother with two six-month-old twins, had a nearly identical experience: She travelled just as far, planned just as much, and was back to her old self — the only self I know — in San Francisco.
By Sunday morning, I was ready to go home. I felt myself seeping back home, thinking longingly of seeing my baby wake the next morning, smiling. I wondered if she would be surprised to see me.
The Parent Rap is an endearing column about the fucked up and cruel world of parenting that was retired but if Jay-Z can come out of retirement whenever he feels like it why not?