I don’t think I slept at all. My eyes closed, but early flights weigh too heavily on my mind to allow that sweet release into deep, restful sleep. Whenever Mike was away, which was often this particular year, the kids slept in our bed. Having a family bed has always been one of my favorite things about being a parent. Snuggled between both kids, skin to skin, sharing body heat, listening to the quiet sounds of their breathing, accommodating their tosses and turns, talking in their sleep—so much happening in those growing bodies and minds. I welcomed the sudden flop of an arm over my chest or a gentle stroke on my back.
On this night, Matilda slept lightly too. Just before dawn, she wrapped her soft, warm arms around my neck and whispered, “I don’t want you to leave.” I whispered back, trying to fight back the lump in my throat that made my voice fumble and crack, “Oh baby, you will have a great week with Grammy and Poppa. And I’ll call you on Saturday when daddy and I are together in Vienna.”
Mike had been going to Vienna once a month for work since September. The kids resented having to say goodbye every two weeks, only to have him return for a couple of weeks in between. I got tired of it too. For me, each trip was a little taste of what it’s like to be a single parent. Never having a break. Juggling the logistics of work, kids’ hockey, piano lessons, meals, school, pets, my own personal needs and myriad household chores, which are constantly there, nagging for my attention.
It was also tough on my marriage. When Mike was gone, I had my own little way of running the house. No interference, no questioning, no negotiating, no one to coordinate with. When he came home, I felt like he was an infringement. Each time he got back, it took a few days for us to work out the kinks, share the same space again. Needy for each other, yet too tired to accommodate the other’s “needs” in the right way, at the right time.
In 19 hours, I would meet my estranged husband at the airport in Vienna. This was the first time in more than a decade that we were going away (for more than a night or two) without the kids.
With Mike already at work overseas, the days and nights leading up to my departure were nothing short of exhausting. And I was coincidentally ultra premenstrual. Emotional. Tired. My mom arrived a couple of days early to familiarize herself with the week’s agenda. The schedules, activities, instructions for pet care, grocery shopping, food likes and dislikes, packing, arranging, comforting, prepping, reassuring.
As I lay there waiting for the alarm, I worried. What if we don’t enjoy this time together, alone?
Traveling solo was usually a treat. But this time, I felt lonely, empty. No hands to hold for take off, no count downs before landing, no cumbersome bag of assorted snacks to pass across the aisle. Maybe it was because I was going so far away from them, maybe I was nervous about being somewhere in-between, alone, maybe just because.
We made arrangements to meet outside of baggage claim. When I finally exited the secure area, there he was. Flowers in hand. In my foggy state of exhaustion, it was a relief to receive his warm embrace, let him lead the way. He hailed a cab and we headed to the hotel.
In that moment, seated in the back of the cab, everything it took to get there gently floated away like a balloon that has slipped from the fingers of a child. Joined by our hands, resting on the seat between us, we didn’t need words to share an understanding that this was the beginning of new journey.