In one hour, I am leaving my children.
Actually by the time that I am finished writing this entry and posting it, I will already be far away from them. In another state. In another time zone.
Currently, I sit in the airport terminal, jittery with nervous excitement and a small amount of uncertainty.
In 58 minutes, I am leaving my children.
Technically, I've already left them. The wonderful, jovial driver has already whisked me away.
The shiny, sleek, sharp black car came to pick me up as my daughter's bus picked her up for school. Cass brandished the tube of mascara and asked for me to perform one more motherly duty for her. I quickly dropped the handle of my fuchsia suit case and purse, lovingly applied her mascara while murmuring that I love her, I will always love her, and that her name is forever tattooed into each staccato beat of my heart.
She gave me a "Cassie hug" leaning her almost-as-tall-as-mine lanky frame into the side of my body, the top of her perfect head bumping against my rather large nose, and before I could even put my arms around her to breathe her in one last time before I leave, she was dashing for the front door, easily prepared to leave me behind.
In 51 minutes, I am leaving my children.
All of the seats around me are starting to fill with excited travelers, couples and families with children ready to embark. I am questioning if I will be ready to board the airplane, if I can really make those steps onto the plane without my family, without my husband, without my beautiful children.
Phillip, the child-who-must-always-be-dragged-from-his-bed, actually woke up this morning an entire hour earlier than his routine. He stumbled down the stairs, dressed for the day, but with eyes barely open to embrace me before I left. He gave me a "Phillip hug" full of bony elbows and knees, harsh angles and body parts contorted like a Picasso in unexpected places, and an arm and a leg each slung half-way around my body. I kissed his desperately-in-need-of-a-haircut head full of character-building cowlicks and thick brown hair.
He hurriedly muttered, "I'll miss you, Mama. I love you. Bye."
Phillip turned around and went to lie down on the couch and watch television. It took everything in me not to go over to the couch, scoop him in my lap and play our long-forgotten favorite game of "count each freckle with a kiss." In that moment, I missed our game, missed his squeals of delight, missed his squirms as I kissed and counted each freckle jauntily marching across his nose, framing his large blue-gray eyes, circling like a super-hero mask the upper portion of his angular face.
In 43 minutes, I am leaving my children.
I have finally started to adjust to the chaos around me. People are talking, eating and shuffling in and out of their seats. I am still frozen, sipping my coffee, trying to wake up while convincing myself that I want to do this.
Brooks, my last baby, eagerly came downstairs before my husband even woke him up. He exuberantly catapulted himself at my body, into my arms in a famous "Brooks hug." Brooks hugged me with his entire body, like a large snake coiling around and around and around me almost to the point of suffocation. He is still my baby, my last baby.
Time hasn't taught him to pull away from his Mama yet, and I know it will. I know, too, that I will die a little inside as he inevitably distances himself, as our relationship transitions and the hugs and kisses are less spontaneous and less enthusiastic. But at that moment, I relished the feel of his first grade frame as it folded compactly when I scooped him into my arms. He didn't want me to release him. I momentarily considered calling the airline to get him a ticket and briefly wondered if he could fit snugly in my suitcase.
My husband waited patiently at the door, alternatively motioning to my driver and to me. I peeled Brooks off of my body, grabbed my stuff and walked outside.
In 35 minutes, I am leaving my children.
In the airport, I try to eavesdrop on the conversations around me like a detective searching for a clue to solve my conundrum. I hear excited chatter in a language I can't translate about plans I don't understand, places I have no desire to visit, and people that I don't care to meet. I'll have to make this decision alone. I consider flipping a coin and blaming the universe if anything goes wrong.
My husband with his heart in his eyes embraced me one last time before I stepped into the car. I was still so filled with uncertainty that I was momentarily rendered speechless. I sheepishly smiled as I returned his embrace. "I'll call you as soon as I get there!" I exclaimed as the driver closed my door.
I will only be gone for four days and three nights, but it feels so much longer. I will be missing Phillip's first and second baseball games of the season. I will be missing the last day of school excitement and celebration. I will be missing the mundane as well: Cassie's orthodontist appointment, chauffeuring Brooks to three birthday parties, and preparing both Phillip and Brooks for their team baseball pictures.
I have made a list for each day for my husband, a very competent, intelligent, successful attorney; yet, my lists are broken down by hourly increments, packed with neighbors' phone numbers, addresses, and lists of medications and dosages. I have attached all pertinent information for each day's activities in a separate envelop or folder, clearly marked with redundant information on the outside.
In 23 minutes, I am leaving my children.
The first passengers are beginning to board the plane, lining up in immediate organized fashion (how I've missed this about adults!). The moment has come. I have a choice to make. It is not too late for me to just eat the cost of my ticket, cancel my hotel room and rental car and return home to my family.
When Cassie was two and Phillip was a tiny seed-baby just beginning to sprout inside me, I went to Los Angeles, CA to visit my dear friends from college. It was a difficult journey for me to take, but I relished my time alone and with my friends. I came home a refreshed, rejuvenated mother. However, my absence rocked little Cassie's world.
For almost an entire year after I returned, she would cry if I even went to the grocery store without her. Every time, she would play with her little plastic cats (her favorite toys) I could hear her talking in the different kitty voices about the Dada cat going to work and the Mama cat goes to California. Each time I heard her, I suffocated in a grimy stew of boiling, festering mother guilt.
So, I did not leave again for almost seven years. Sure, my very generous parents, in-laws and extended family would take the kids for an overnight a couple of times a year and my kids would have sleepovers at friends' houses, but that darn mother's guilt prevented me from journeying anywhere farther than a short car trip from my babies. As much as I needed a break, I just couldn't stomach the thought that I would put Cassie and her brothers through that again.
In 18 minutes, I am leaving my children.
First class passengers and members of the military have safely passed through that last security check and are boarding the plane. Group one was just called. I shake as I realize that I have only precious minutes to decide. A hot, scorching stab of guilt punctures and I hear the Clash: Should I stay or should I go?
My oldest friend and the sister of my heart convinced me to travel with her to New Orleans, LA when Cassie was nine. As Cass was in third grade, Phillip was in Kindergarten and Brooks attended preschool, I felt that it was safe to leave my kids in the very capable hands of not only my husband, but my loving, supportive neighborhood friends as well.
My trip to New Orleans was amazing. The music, architecture, food and art galleries inspired me. The culture around me seemed to wake up all of my long-dormant creativity, which so often lays hidden, asleep in the murky, dark cob-webbed corners of my brain. Well, I was truly awake in New Orleans. I woke each morning with poetry in my brain and on my tongue, and I went to bed each evening with the taste still lingering in my mouth.
But my children's siren call brought me home. To them. To those blessed little toes and perpetually damp, sticky fingers, which slide between mine interlocking perfectly like puzzle pieces. To my spouse who still smells like home, my home. My ship blessedly crashed into those jagged rocks a long time ago, and I do truly enjoy my time marooned on our little island in Aurora.
In 9 minutes, I am leaving my children.
All those remaining at the gate have started to gather their belongings, throw away garbage and meander to the line as Group 2 is called. I slowly, as if I've never done it before, collect my discarded banana peel and crushed coffee cup. That all too familiar suffocating guilt rises up from my belly and burns a trail up to my heart, cutting like jagged blades inside my throat, forcing tears to well in my eyes. The cost of my selfishness momentarily accosts me, and I am spent and unsure.
Sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night and it is still dark, I walk past the long stretch of bathroom mirrors and I momentarily will glimpse her, that beloved person who on most days is a stranger to me now: The Ghost of Crystal Past.
In those rare moments, I am a young effervescent college student with the whole world wide open and waiting for me to conquer. I can still be anything, anybody. My only limits are my imagination, which courses through each vein in my body with a raging tide of artistic inspiration. I mock those with practical dreams and linear futures.
And then one test, the most important test that I have ever taken, changed it all and re-routed my course, my destiny. The test promised adventure if I was brave enough, an alternate life if I was strong enough, a complete and total chance for domestic bliss and true love if only I could bid adieu to that girl. And so, I gingerly packed her up in a lovely little box and wrapped a bow around her like a little present to unwrap and rediscover years later. I opened the bathroom door and cheerfully brandished the positive pregnancy test at Jeff. We were cocky pirates with swagger in each step as we embarked on a remarkable journey with very little regrets.
I adore being at home with my children. In fact, I am truly blessed to be able to stay at home and remain their primary care giver, head of the household, manager of all that needs managing. I am a control freak with perfectionist tendencies and an obsession with organization. I am also quite selfish with my children: I want their good-bye/hello transition hugs. I want to be the one to greet them when they arrive home from school, throwing backpacks, coats, shoes, lunch bags all over the house, creating little pathways leading them home to me. I relish in the fact that I am their touchstone.
In 2 minutes, I am leaving my children.
The quote from one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books echoes in my head: "The time has come. The time is now." With all of the strength that I had momentarily forgotten I possessed and all of the decisiveness I can muster in this great moment of self-doubt, I hoist myself up from the broken, vinyl seat, grab my purse and suitcase and line up with the remaining dawdling passengers. One foot in front of the other. The time has come. The time is now.
Those little seed babies, planted in love and nurtured within me, continue to grow taller and hardier each day. Each day in hundreds of little ways, they learn skills which pull the permanent, invisible umbilical cords of our unbreakable bond a little farther from our physical bodies. While my mother's heart struggles to adjust to the changes, I also celebrate their natural growth and development.
I really don't want emotionally or socially stunted children. So, I stock pile memories, grouping and boxing each one according to child, hoarding hugs and kisses in towering stacks forming a winding maze in my brain amid the bottled declarations of love given to me once so freely from a toddler's mouth now miserly from children who are aging just too rapidly for me to ever completely catch up to them.
In that hoarder's paradise in my brain, it is time for me to finally reconcile that Ghost of Crystal Past with the pretty damn impressive grown-up whom I have become. I really don't have a good transition plan in place or a concrete way to merge the two together. I have a feeling that it will involve a lot of cutting bits and pieces like quilt squares, editing all the superfluous pieces, and slowly stitching everything together. I hope that it keeps me warm.
I do recognize that this needs to start with me finally getting my ass on that plane, taking some time away to reflect on those glorious years of babydom, toddlerhood, and preschool days, to rekindle my creativity, to revisit my plans for my future, and to refuel for the next chapter of my family's story and my own new adventures.
In seconds, I am leaving my children.
Not indefinitely and not forever. Neither for a year nor for a month. Not even for a week. That invisible, industrial-strength, sometimes painfully tangled but solidly attached cord between our hearts will gently stretch across each mile, tying me to them in ways that only a parent can be forever connected to their children. I feel that energy now.
I take my place in line, find my seat and securely fasten my seat belt. My eyes are wide open. (I don't want to miss a thing.)
The plane takes off and ascends, and I am soaring.