how can i miss you if you won't go away

I spent all of my free time today polishing a piece that I read alongside a few killer writers tonight at a local bookstore, so I don't have a new blog post so much as I have a blog post that is a heavily, HEAVILY revised version of an old blog post. 


How Can I Miss You if You Won't Go Away

It wasn’t until I became a parent that I really found my personal truth in the expression, “how can I miss you if you won’t go away?”

Having a baby transformed me from a devil-may-care wearer of earrings and sipper of amusing chardonnays, into basically a yak, a milkable beast of burden with janky hair, carrying overstuffed bags and a disgruntled passenger everywhere I went.

I called my son my copilot, but he was really my hijacker.

Sure, I loved him, but I blame Stockholm syndrome.

It was just constant, thankless work. I missed the freedom of childlessness. Married friends without kids would come over, and they’d beam, “we’re going to start trying in January. It feels like it’s time.”

I’d think, it’s time?
You’re 26.
It’s time for a pub crawl.
It’s time for international travel.
It’s time to have one of those highlight-of-your-life, totally unplanned, 6-hour epic dinners. Taste the entire menu. Talk about your dreams for the future. Drink 5 bottles of wine, Uber home, and don’t get out of bed until the pizza arrives for dinner tomorrow.
That’s what TIME it is. Your freedom – it’s a gift.

Because once baby shows up, that 6-hour dinner is gonna look a little bit different.

First of all, 6 hours? It’s a pipe dream. Your boobs will turn into furious, trembling milk grenades at hour two. So, what, you grab your sporty breast pump/tote bag and excuse yourself to the bathroom for 25 minutes? And what, you sit in a stall and pretend like nobody can hear the wet sound of milking behind the door? And then, what, you just ask the maître-d to pop two piping hot bottles of bodily fluid on ice? That’s hip.

And 5 bottles of wine? Not when you’ve been running on 4 broken hours of sleep for 6 months, and you know for a fact that you’ll be greeting the dawn with your little copilot tomorrow, again. Have you ever been hung over and in charge of a baby? Are you eager to repeat that experience? I didn’t think so.

Oh, and do you think you’ll be talking about your future? Why would you do that? All of the questions have been answered. In the future, you will be with your husband and your children, raising your children, with your husband, in your home. Just like now. Forever. Maybe someday there will be a trip to Disney. And a WINE FRIDGE.

But talk of those sad little dreams won’t even get you to your first stall-milking.

No, friend, your nights of 6-hour dinners are on hiatus until the day when the children are cooking their own macaroni in their dorm rooms.

That’s the finish line I was running toward. When the children are gone… then I’ll be free again. Then I can come back.

That’s what was running through my mind as Ryan and I boarded a plane to JFK, for a week in New York without our 18-month-old son.

We had theatre tickets, dinner reservations, plans to go to MoMA and waste an afternoon in Prospect Park. For one glorious week, we would not touch any human shit. That we knew about. The trip would be both a revival and a dress rehearsal, a chance to try on what we once were, and might be again: free.

it was the best of smells
it was the worst of smells
the worst of smells

New York was as we’d left it – when we moved away from Brooklyn, we hadn’t yet had kids, so it was easy to fall back into our old routine, just two fast-moving, toilet trained adults who could blow their own noses. We were fabulous.

We saw movies in the afternoon, ordered Chinese from our favorite spot, stopped for a cocktail whenever we wanted, and one night we stayed out until 2:00 am eating disco fries in Chelsea. I wore silk and cute boots. My handbags were jewel-toned and held no binkies. We did not stop for naptime unless we wanted to nap. One day we didn’t leave the apartment until 4 o’clock. We lay in bed naked, reading books, a Batman movie marathon on low in the background.

We were childless. We were free.

Except of course, we weren’t.

Whenever we took a train, I pushed through the turnstile and then slipped my MetroCard back in the same slot in the same wallet I’d used when I lived there. Childless New York could not have felt more distant from our life with a baby in Seattle, but in reality, the two worlds lay close enough to be bridged by a single piece of leather.

I peek-a-booed, waved, and winked at every child I saw that week.

At MoMA, we stood in a room full of eyeless, naked, life-sized Barbie dolls in various positions, hanging from the ceiling by strands of red yarn. Ryan turned to me and said, “if he were here, he’d be begging us to lift him up so he could touch them.” I said, “if he were here, we would never forget the screaming.”

Every time we passed a bakery, we looked at each other and said, in a perfect imitation of our son’s hopeful chirp, “Gookie Time?”

For the first and last time in my life, I went inside FAO Schwarz. Ryan and I spent twenty minutes discussing whether the Apatosaurus or the Triceratops best reflected our son’s personality and interests. Then we bought both.

As happy as we were to be free from the burden of car seats and blowouts, our happiness seemed to hit a ceiling significantly lower than we remembered.

We were only two-thirds happy.
We were missing our third.

We tried on our old life and discovered that it no longer fit.

I had spent 18 months both loving our son, and resenting his lunar pull on the tide of my life. I’d thought it was his need from me that changed me against my will, forced me away from who I wanted to be. I thought if I could outsource that need to Nana and Papa for a week, I’d get to be myself again. I’d come back.

But in New York, I realized that becoming a parent was like going to Mexico without your passport – there would be no coming back.

I still don’t know if I can do this feeling justice, except to say that it was a kaleidoscopic moment in which I felt sadness, nostalgia, elation, surprise, and most of all that joy that is unique to parents, the joy that also feels like grief. I will watch my son grow up, grow out of singing the ABCs, grow into shoes with laces that he doesn’t want me to help tie. Every milestone sings; every milestone bleeds.

The state of motherhood feels like the best book ever, that is always ending. Beautiful exactly the way it is, but you can’t help but want it to go on, just like this, just a little longer.

That’s how I thought I felt about going back to my old life – just a little longer. But, like trying to get a walker to sit, or attempting to breastfeed a weaned 10-year-old, my efforts to reinhabit my former self were awkward and unwinnable. It was over. It was time to move on.

I’ll tell you one thing for sure, there has only ever been one time I was brought to tears with profound grief-joy by a dinner – and it wasn’t a six-hour job with 5 bottles of wine.

This dinner lasted about 22 minutes. It was a quick burger on a sticky table, two high chairs crammed in on the two-top.

Ryan and I talked about our plans for this weekend – brunch with the Sheridans? Should we bring fruit salad? I stole gulps of cold beer and scarfed down my food, one eye on my son, one hand on the baby, asleep in his car seat.

Ryan and I grinned at each other as we watched him trace patterns in ketchup on his plate. It’s something he’s done since he was a baby – coasting his finger round and round to trace these intricate mandalas in the sweet red sauce.

I reminded him, more out of habit than anything, “ketchup is for dipping, not finger painting.”

That day, for the first time, he looked up at me, said, “oh,” and wiped his finger on a napkin. Then he picked up a fry, ran it through the beautiful painting that he’d spent the whole dinner perfecting, and took a bite.

It wasn’t until I became a parent that I really found my personal truth in the expression, “how can I miss you if you won’t go away?”

I have a list now of things that have gone away, and I miss. That list will only get longer.

6-hour dinners are on there, sure. But now, more importantly, so are ketchup mandalas.


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