My foot tap-tap-tapped against the airport floor, and I felt as jumpy as if I had just downed a whole pot of coffee. It was early March in Cleveland, still slushy gray snow and skies, and I was by myself waiting to catch a plane to Florida.
I’m an extroverted introvert, I suppose, the kind of person that loves people and talking to them. And yet, just as surely, I need time in my head, alone. Stay-at-home motherhood to three little ones was exactly what I’d wanted. From the moment each of my babies was born I wept for their presence, to be near them. But motherhood of small children was, for me, also loud, close and relentlessly demanding.
“I want some time alone,” I told my husband, when he asked what we should do for my long-ago very first Mother’s Day, when the only little one was our adorably bouncing 8-month-old boy. “Really? Don’t you want to do something as a family?” he asked, incredulously, and hurt, and so I dropped it.
But I knew, and I knew even more so as two more lovely babies came along, and then grew into toddlers and preschoolers. I was tired of people hanging on my body, tired of noise, tired of always being “Mommy-Mommy-Mommy.” I was lucky enough to have date nights and moms’ nights out, but it wasn’t enough.
And so I was headed to Florida. I had been shouldering the grinding weight of a winter of seasonal affective disorder on top of the demands of motherhood, and I knew—and finally insisted on—what I most needed. “Can’t I come?” my husband asked. The answer was no, and he lovingly assented.
I love my husband, dearly. But I am a pleaser, and I knew if he came along, I would want to consult him, to plan around his wishes, to make decisions together. I needed a retreat, to fly solo.
And it was bliss. After that first jittery hour in the airport, my body finally got the message from my head. You can relax. Your children are safe, and you can just be.
For 48 hours, I soaked up the Vitamin D my sun-starved body had been craving. I read books, and went running, and got a pedicure, and did Pilates. I walked the town, and ate meals alone, and at night, I cracked open the laptop and at last began to find my long-dormant writing voice.
My favorite spot in that little Florida town was an open-air restaurant, just a patio topped by the simplest of roofs, the kind of place you see only at latitudes brash enough to consider building such a thing. Splintered sunshine, the muted chatter of locals, and palpably delicious whiffs of fried green tomatoes intermingled around me on that Saturday afternoon. And I, pleasantly warm from a half-drained margarita, felt utterly at ease for the first time in years.
It was enough. By day two, my son had a fever and I was diagnosing him over Skype, and wishing I could cuddle him. I was showing my daughters pictures of the lizards outside my room, and blowing kisses to them. I longed to see my husband and have a long chat. Yes, I missed them all already.
And I went home, full and whole and ready once again.