I Travel, Therefore I Am…A Bad Mom?
I remember the first time I left my newborn at home so I could run to the grocery store. I felt like the umbilical cord was still attached and was being strained by each step I took toward the door. I'm not sure if that pull was emotional, instinctual or biological, but it was strong.
I also clearly remember the feeling when I walked to work on my first day back from maternity leave (well, technically, medical leave, because my company does not have paid maternity leave)...I felt like I was missing something...was it my purse...or my keys? Nope, it was my baby.
And I also remember the first time I spent the night without her. I actually avoided coming home to my apartment because it felt empty…and it certainly didn't feel like home.
But, at some point over the past two years, I began to get used to the idea of doing something other than wearing my daughter 24/7.
I was under the silly assumption that my daughter was also getting accustomed to my temporary and relatively infrequent absences.
And, man, was I wrong.
Last weekend I traveled from New York City to L.A. for some much-needed sun, time with friends and a really important business meeting. Two weeks before my trip, I began telling my two-year-old that I'd be going away, and that Mimi and Papa would take good care of her. She seemed completely on board with the whole thing.
The night before I left, I packed our separate suitcases, told her about all the fun she’d have at my parents' house, highlighted her pending trip to the zoo—and there was not a word of hesitation uttered.
But when it came time for me to leave, she refused to kiss me goodbye, and when I snuck one anyway she wiped it off.
"Huh," I thought, "I wonder if she is annoyed that I’m going away."
While I was away, she confirmed my suspicions by refusing to talk to me anytime I called, and crying when my mom held the phone up to her ear.
"Yep, she's pissed at me," I thought.
When I got home from my trip, I couldn't wait to hug her. I opened the door to my apartment and she took one look at me and started screaming, "NO!!!!!! GO AWAY MOMMY!!!!!! GET OUT OF HERE. I DON'T LIKE YOU! I BE MEAN TO MOMMY!!!"
This went on and on for more than 20 minutes. She ran around the house, her face turned bright red, she hit me on the legs, and I thought, "Yep. She's mad at me for sure…How do I handle this?"
First I had to accept that my feelings were hurt. And then I quickly recalled that this tiny human cannot process and express the full range of emotions an adult can. (Actually, I know some adults who don't do much better than she does at handling this type of thing, but I’ll save that for another time).
I let her cry it out, and once she calmed down, I sat next to her on the couch and asked her if she was upset that I went away for a few days, and she let me have it.
“Yes. That is why I yell–MOMMY GO AWAY! I BE MEAN!” she explained very clearly.
“Okay, I totally understand that you are upset. But Mommy always comes back, and while I was gone, I missed you this much!!!” I said, stretching my arms out as far as they would go.
She said, “Well, I missed you this much…” and pinched her fingers together really tiny.
Okay–at first I was slightly impressed that she understands opposites and that she is smart enough to know how antagonize people, then I defused the situation with humor…and tickled her, telling her that that wasn’t very nice and I knew she missed me a lot. We were inseparable for the rest of the evening, and all seemed to be back on course.
Until this morning, when she looked at me and said, “Mommy, I don’t like it when you go away. I need you to stay with Ellie always.”
And now I go back to feeling just like I did that first time I left her…but this time the pull feels even more intense.