A few weeks ago, when a production company told me they were filming a segment about the last project I worked on and could I come to North Carolina for an interview, my first thought was no. It’s way too far, especially since we live in Europe now, there are no grandparents around the corner to help.
But for the past two years—actually even before they were born, as I was restricted from traveling at a certain point because carrying twins makes you a “high-risk” pregnancy– I have said “no” to every professional opportunity that has come my way: speaking engagements, other books, conferences, articles. Some things I was interested in, but the boys were either imminently due/newly arrived or we were packing up and moving somewhere again, so I knew I could not in good faith sign a contract and deliver on a deadline. Other things I was happy to have an excuse not to do.
It is a luxury, of course, that I have a choice. I have friends who work and travel away from their kids on a regular basis.
Even though the days are long, the years have been fast. I’m grateful that I’ve gotten to spend it watching my boys learn to smile, sit up, crawl, walk, talk, run, and scream “NO!” at me.
Yes, there was the time we went to a friend’s wedding or to Stonington for our anniversary, but those were just a night here or there and we were within a few hours drive from my parents and the boys.
But since we moved to Ireland and the boys started part-time crèche, I have a little space in the mornings around the laundry and the groceries and the guests for myself. I started getting a sense that this year it is time to start saying yes again.
My extremely supportive husband said, “Go. I’ll figure it out.”
Their crèche, where they spend their mornings, said they would take them for full days for the week. S will have to leave work early every day to pick them up, get them home, give them dinner and a bath and put them to bed.
“You’ll hate me by the middle of the week,” I told him.
“I know,” he said, “but right now I love you and I’m telling you if you want to go, go.”
Still until just a few days ago, I had no ticket booked and thought there would be some excuse not to go, for which I would have been partially relieved. The travel was complicated, the legal permissions were potentially fraught, and let’s face it, I have nothing to wear. I wear awkward clothes because I hate shopping and no one sees me and more often than not I am grabbed by saucy, sticky little hands or have a trail of snot of my shoulder where one of my boys has wiped his nose.
But as my husband says, “Stop being an impossibilist.” (Either choice is something that won’t make me happy, i.e., if I say no, I’ll be a bit angry with myself/him and if I say yes, I feel guilty and selfish and when their faces crack a little at the mention of me going a way, I want to start bawling.)
* * *
So here I am. I open my laptop at 37,000 ft and see the pen marks on my keyboard C left when he climbed up onto the chair at my desk and helped himself to a pen. When a child on board singsongs, “Momm-mmee!” it feels directed at me. I am marked: a mommy, no matter what now.
There are two mothers traveling alone with their toddlers. I saw them form an instant bond when we were waiting to board. Observing them now, I realize how absorbed we become in the rants and raves of our young children, how we plead with them to stop making noise, stop fiddling with someone’s seat, to stop making such a spectacle and how tense it all is. But really for everyone else, it just fades into the background. We are lost in our thoughts, our books, our movies. The chatter and the protests and the struggles are not so large to the rest of us, though they feel huge to the parents in the middle of them.
I have wished so much for solitude, yet the sight of a chubby, red-cheeked boy trying to play peekaboo with me in the row ahead ambushes me. The two seats next to me break my heart with their emptiness. I wonder how I am going to get through the week without holding my sons.
And that is the great screwjob of motherhood. I will have more time to myself this week then I have had in two years. I have longed for these uncharted days. But I will not have the afternoons of kissing bruised knees, performing impromptu musicals, and receiving the intense and profound love of my children.
I am so used to worrying about them: do they have their hats, their mittens, their snacks? Are their diapers clean? What will I make them for dinner? I referee their attacks on each other over toys. And sometimes, it is so draining. My mother always says what they need the most is you.
What no one tells you is how much you need them.