After a lovely, relaxing morning together baking banana bread and watching a movie on Wednesday, I took Josh to school (as late as I possibly could and still make my flight), and I said goodbye for 4 days. His friends greeted him excitedly, questioning his whereabouts for the first half of the day and eager to catch him up on everything he missed. I kept returning for one more kiss, thinking of something to tell him or to say hi to a little friend. Finally, he gave me a big hug, and, with a look of awareness and love, he smiled and said goodbye. He didn’t grab at my ankle or cry. He wasn’t shaky in his words or pouting at me for my decision to take a trip and leave him behind. We said “I love you’s” and “see you soon’s” and he joined his friends. I almost went back over for one last kiss, but I realized that would have been for me. He was telling me he was okay, and I needed to show him that I could be, too. I walked out of the classroom and peaked in through the glass window. (This is nothing new. I do it pretty much every day.) He knows I do this, and sometimes he indulges me by looking up and waving. This day, he lifted his head and smiled. I waved, mustered up all the courage I could find, and walked away. And then I sobbed while singing along to the Frozen soundtrack in the car.
This might seem silly. I am sure plenty of parents leave their kids with their extremely trusting and capable partners for a few days or longer. But I haven’t. This is the first time I will be gone for more than 2 nights and the first time I won’t be an hour or two away from him since we brought him home. I am reminded intimately of the drive away from him Dave and I had to make after the very first time we met him. In that moment, we were leaving our son in a home that was not his with caregivers who were not his parents and there was nothing we could do about it. We were driving back to our old lives 6 hours away knowing things would never be the same. It was the best and worst feeling.
Today, almost 2 and half years later, I am leaving my son under very different circumstances. He is home with his daddy. He is looking forward to riding his bike at the park and playing Wii and wrestling and eating pizza. A few days before I left, he said, “Mommy, it’s okay that you are going on a trip. I will get a lot of good time with my Daddy.” It’s like he had been thinking about it, and this was his conclusion. Don’t get me wrong, he gets a lot of time with his daddy on a regular basis, but I knew what he meant. It was an opportunity. It was their own adventure while I was off on mine.
After a good cry in the car as I was driving away from his school, my travels began. The sadness lingered, but another sensation came upon me- excitement. I was eager to get to my conference and connect with a dear friend, but before that, I was actually looking forward to a day of traveling all by myself. For those who know me, I don’t typically like the phrase “all by myself” to be associated with my name very often, but something about it felt sort of mysterious and adventurous. For a day, I wouldn’t look like a mother or a wife or a counselor or a teacher. I could be whoever I wanted to be. I could be enigmatic. I could be a loner. I could be quiet. I could be someone who orders a glass of wine and a rice bowl in the Charlotte Airport and eats by herself. I could be going to California or going to Japan, and no one would know the difference. I could be from anywhere in the world making a stop on any journey I want. It was an adrenaline rush… for a little while.
I got about halfway through my dinner before the loneliness hit me. It wasn’t a consuming feeling, but it was there. As an extrovert, airports are complicated for me. On the one hand, I love that I am surrounded by all kinds of people moving in different directions and operating at a fast pace. But being surrounded by thousands of people and not knowing a single person is like a tease. And there isn’t much impetus to get to know anyone because there is little possibility for small talk with a stranger while waiting for your boarding zone to be called to turn into a meaningful friendship. (Although I am sure it happens on occasion.) It is not just talking I want. It’s connection. It’s familiarity. It’s relationship. And it’s pretty difficult to have those things while being mysterious and stand-offish. So maybe being enigmatic isn’t all that important to me after all.
By the time I boarded my flight for my final destination of San Diego, I threw all mystery and intrigue out the window and I Facetimed my family. I talked loudly, I flipped the camera around to give Josh a full view of the cabin and held my arms up in the air as I waved it around. I made kissy faces and said I love you about 12 times. And it felt great. The jig was up. I could no longer pretend that I was a human rights activist in Africa or a French artist on her way to New York for an exhibit. I was just a mom who loved her kid.
Seeing their faces made me miss them, but I also felt a support that had been absent throughout my solo traveling experience up to that point. This is my first real trip since becoming a mom, and I realize now that I don’t want to compartmentalize my life anymore. I don’t want to leave my identity behind for adventure and excitement. But I also don’t want to be afraid to step away from my normal life and explore unknowns, both with and without my people. I carry them with me wherever my travels take me, whether it’s to the grocery store down the street or to the Pacific Ocean. So I am not an enigmatic, lonely traveler. I am a loved, supported and connected traveler with people and things I love on both ends of my voyage. So I can wait it out in the in between and have a meal with my oldest friend. Me.