A year ago, my parents started talking about taking us to Mexico on a week-long family vacation. Vacation. Cue Handel's "Messiah." Aaaaah! So exciting!! I love it!!! But...
...we would need to leave Alice. *Promptly deflate and come back to earth*
That made sense. The logical part of me thought "who would really enjoy taking a baby on 4 plane rides and deal with hefting around car seats and strollers and then making sure said kid doesn't drown, sunburn, dehydrate, or get kidnapped all whilst trying to enjoy yourself?" Not this mama. I knew for it to be a true vacation, it needed to be without Alice. So we said yes, knowing we would wait until Alice was weaned which meant we had lots of time to get used to the idea. And so one year passed (rather quickly, I might add).
And then we needed to wait 5 more months for winter because it was more economical. Even better. And then the tickets were booked and money put down and calendars blocked off and we were excited! Until...the thought of leaving Alice for more than a day made me terrified. And depressed. And lonely. And worried. And scared. And depressed. Did I mention depressed? Ugh. I actually wondered whether it was too late to back out and would my parents hate me if I didn't go because I couldn't bear the thought of being away from Alice? Instead of being filled with excitement, I was filled with dread.
I had never been away from Alice for more than 24 hours - a natural byproduct of being a stay at home mom. In November I started to think about what it would be like to not have her for a whole 6 days and found I was drowning in waves of misery and worry. I can't do this!
So I started to pray. (Duh, why didn't I do that in the first place?) Everyday, every moment I began to think about being away from her I handed it straight over to God. I wouldn't even let my brain entertain the "what ifs" or I knew I would easily be consumed by my fears again. JD's parents were going to watch her and it would be fine. His mom runs an in-home daycare so I knew she would be plenty distracted by playing with new friends and not pining for us. And we knew that she was being cared for by people that really love her, not just a paid sitter. All of these facts helped me calm down and stop freaking out. At least on the outside.
For Christmas we spent 4 days with JD's family which was fortunate in that Alice could spend more time with her grandparents and start to memorize their faces and voices and hugs. She knew the house, the toys, the cats, and her papa and grandma. All of this made the transition back for a week so much easier! The timing couldn't have been better - another God thing. It was no coincidence that our Christmas rotation placed us in Ogallala and right before our trip this year.
Two weeks later, we packed up all of her things and made the trip west again. We stayed the night and played with her all morning, and then by the afternoon, it was time. I carried Alice downstairs to where she would be staying, read to her, hugged and kissed and nuzzled my sweet baby girl, and then I laid her down for her nap. It was all the more sad to me because she didn't suspect a thing. She went to sleep thinking she would see us when she woke up. I managed to smile and leave without bawling. After I left her room, we packed up, said our goodbyes, and drove home. That moment was the hardest. I ached for her and I had only just left her. Certainly that wasn't a good omen for the rest of our trip?
By the time we got home, we were tired and still had to unpack and repack for our next trip. Linda called to tell us when she woke up she asked for us and upon hearing that we left, she was fine and proceeded to eat a cookie and happily chase the cat. Relief.
At home it felt odd not having to tip-toe around upstairs in the dark to get our things together. No baby to wake. Just an empty room full of her smells. It helped to be distracted by the immediacy of our next phase: travel. By the time we packed and readied our luggage (2 carry on bags and one purse! Booyeah! Cheers to packing light!!) it was time to grab a few hours of sleep before we had to shower and be on our way.
And then it began: check-in. Wait. Board. Fly. Navigate to next terminal. Starbucks. Wait. Board. Fly. Customs. Change into skirt. Leave the airport magnificently ready for relaxing at a resort. Catch a bus to said resort. Arrive in room. Plop bags. Fall on bed. Open door. Listen to waves and birds and smell Mexico. (It has a distinct smell: ocean, sunscreen, and food - it's really lovely). In that moment, I was on vacation. My mind and heart even went on vacation. I never forgot Alice but the missing her ebbed away, just like the tide going out. At first I felt guilty that I could be somewhere and not think of her constantly. Maybe I'm a bad mom. But then the rational side would kick in again and I would be reminded of how I could return to my life feeling fully rested, and the guilt would slither away.
I began to remember what our former life without constant care of a little person felt like. Sleeping in til I woke up naturally. Getting ready without having to rush to take care of baby. Feed myself - and no one else (!!!). Thinking only of what we wanted to do and not be dictated by entertaining a child or navigating nap times - unbelievably refreshing. It made me fully appreciate the 5 days we would be able to take advantage of this. Not to mention I could start drinking mudslides at 10 a.m. and no one would judge me. I could drink 5 a day and no one would judge me! I could send for room service and order the most perfect salmon at 9 p.m. and it arrived within 20 minutes - and I could eat it in bed or in the hammock on the balcony in my white fluffy resort robe. Positively delightful. I felt good all the way down to my toes. Oh, how I needed this vacation!
I don't lead a particularly stressful life. I love staying home with Alice and taking care of her and our house and JD. I love cooking and cleaning. I've got the best gig and I know it. But man alive, there is something to be said for not cooking and doing the dishes for a week. No calloused fingertips scratched from the scrubby part of the sponge. No boogers - or other unidentifiable and inexplicably sticky splotches - on my clothes. No washing diapers or laundry or faces. No reading the same book for the 20th time that day. No taking care of anyone else but me. Did you just melt a little? I did just remembering such a golden break. After enjoying such a luxuriously languid handful of days, I was ready to get back to my baby and everything that goes with her - sticky messes, tantrums and all.
As we were leaving the resort to take a bus to the airport, JD took me aside and quietly told me that Alice had been sick with the flu while we were gone and didn't want to tell me earlier for fear of ruining the vacation for everyone - my parents included. While part of me immediately wanted to be angry and wish I'd known earlier, I know me and my propensity to dwell on something I couldn't change or help, and so I decided to be nothing more than grateful for his discretion and genuine desire for me to enjoy our time away, although it made my urge to be with her and hold her all the more great.
Stateside again, the entire trip spent driving through the seemingly endless landscape of I-80 West was raced through with great anticipation and jitters of being reunited with Alice. Once there, we had to wait for her to awake from her nap and then - finally! - I got to hold my Alice. It took her a minute to realize that mommy and daddy were back as she fought through her post-nap haze and lethargy from her flu, but then did she cling tight! She wrapped her little arms around my neck and squeezed, nuzzling her head into my neck and then looking at me she exclaimed "mama!" She wanted to hold my hand everywhere we walked at Grandma's house to show me the toys she played with. I loved holding her hands again and hearing her sweet little voice say "come."
We heard their stories and memories and summary of events from the past week and learned how sick she really had been, alternating between being held by Grandma and Aunt Sarah for 12 hours straight. My poor baby girl! But Grandma, Papa, and Aunt Sarah made her illness bearable and took extraordinary care of her. And they in turn got to spend extra hours with Alice in their arms - cuddled close - further deepening their bond. It was far from ideal, but God worked it all for good.
After packing and giving goodbyes, we traveled home for what seemed like the 10th time in the last month, but I didn't care - I had my most precious cargo back in my arms with no separation in sight. So yes, I found I was remarkably at ease to enjoy my time away from Alice. I had so many friends and family members praying for our time apart, and God answered them (thank you to those of you who lifted me up over the last few months while I struggled with leaving Alice! You were an immeasurable gift to me.) I found true enjoyment and pleasure in our holiday - and time as a couple - and loved it even more because it was temporary. What's that phrase? Absence makes the heart grow fonder. It certainly does. But I don't think I'll be leaving her behind anytime soon if I can help it :)