The Mom Stop: Mixed emotions greet weary traveler
I was excited to pick up my youngest daughter from preschool recently, since I hadn’t seen her in several days. Actually, I saw her very little during March, as I’ve been on the road and living out of a suitcase, traveling to five states and two different countries within two weeks.
We left her with my in-laws during a spring break cruise, then I only took my oldest child to my grandmother’s memorial service in California to save on costs - it would take a small fortune to fly my family cross-country at the last minute. Then, 24 hours after we flew back from the West Coast, I was in a car, driving to New Orleans for work.
I love to travel, but sometimes, back-to-back travel is too much.
As I pulled my van up to the preschool drive-through, I got out of the car and excitedly walked down the hall to her class. My husband had been picking her up all week, and I’m not sure she even knew I was back.
“Hi, Baby!” I exclaimed as I saw my 3-year-old daughter nestled in a mini-sized chair, curled up with a book in the reading nook of her classroom.
I somewhat expected her to shout, “Mommy!” and run across the room with open arms, as she had done so many times before. But, she looked up, smiled a little, and then went back to her book.
“Mommy is HOME,” I said. “Aren’t you excited?”
Her excitement wasn’t as evident as I thought it might be. She got up from her chair, slowly walked to her cubby and grabbed her coat. We said goodbye to her teacher and went out to our car.
On the way home, I asked her how her day was, and what she did while at school, as I always do. She asked for tacos for dinner, but I explained we already had other plans.
“You only love Sissy, and I only love Daddy and Brubah,” my youngest daughter said, using the names she calls her older brother and sister. “But not you.”
Ouch. Talk about Mom guilt. I admit, it was hard being away from my youngest daughter as much as I was last month. But I never expected her to pull away even more once I was home.
The day my 9-year-old daughter and I got back from California, I checked my her into school before lunch, and my husband and I surprised both her and our son by having lunch with them. My son, who I also hadn’t seen in several days, ran up and gave me a big bear hug. When his older sister walked in the school cafeteria with her class, the two ran across the school lunchroom together, open arms. They gave each other such a big hug that our first-grade son almost tackled his fourth-grade sister onto the linoleum lunchroom floor.
But the innocence of that moment, the fact that my two oldest kids missed each other so much that they ran across the cafeteria to give each other a hug - it’s a moment that I hope is seared into my memory forever.
My 3-year-old will warm up, I told myself. She’s just angry about tacos, I thought. It took a few days. And again, I felt riddled with guilt, trying to spend extra time my kids at the neighborhood playground, or taking my youngest with me on a walk around the neighborhood with our dog.
Last Sunday morning, as the sun was still coming up and I laid in bed, my 3-year-old crawled in bed between my husband and me, inching under the covers.
“Mommy, I want to cuddle,” she said.
Still half asleep, I put my arm over her back, then dozed back off, hoping she would as well. About 20 minutes later, our daughter was ready to get up for the day and sat up in bed before she crawled out. I woke up with a hug from her.
“Thanks for the cuddles,” she told me. “They were superific.”
I couldn’t help but smile. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but it’s time with the family that really counts.
Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at email@example.com.