As I write this, I am sitting on a plane, soaring miles above the salty turquoise waters of the Caribbean sea. My cracked, peeling orange nail polish, so fresh and bright a week ago, now gazes up at me from my laptop’s keyboard, serving as a bleak reminder that my trip down to paradise is officially over.
My week-long adventure to Curacao was nothing short of amazing. I snorkeled and sunbathed. I jumped off a 25-foot-high rock wall, catapulting myself into the clearest, bluest water I have ever seen in my life. I ate exquisite seafood and sampled the local spirits.
And during our brief hiatus from parenting our 4- and 2 1/2-year-old daughters, my husband and I enjoyed small victories, like sleeping in every day, or having conversations about meaningful topics such as politics and religion, with no interruptions of “Mommy, I need to pee!” or “Sister hit me!” I treasured every moment of not having to cook or clean or do laundry or anything remotely related to housework. In short, it was bliss.
I missed my children so much that, at times, my chest literally ached. As a stay-at-home mom, my days are filled with trips to the library and nature centers and preschool and gymnastics classes. My hands routinely craft more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and open more fruit and vegetable pouches than I can count. I play referee in a seemingly never-ending battle over who gets to play with which Barbie and whether we will watch Frozen or Tangled next. I change pee-soaked bed sheets and throw out diapers that reek of an impending apocalypse.
So I don’t think anyone would exactly call my life glamorous. And truth be told, parenting can be a real son of a bitch. Just when you think you’ve got it down and things are going well, one of your children will inevitably throw a tantrum of epic proportions over something as ridiculous as the fact that you have thwarted their meager attempt to sneak Halloween candy at 8:30 in the morning, or because their blanket is covered in dirt and snot and God knows what else, and you had the audacity to, you know, wash it.
My husband and I had not taken a vacation alone together, sans kiddos, since I was pregnant with our youngest daughter, three years ago. So as our trip approached, the excitement was palpable. My suitcase was impeccably packed with actual clothing that did not include yoga pants. I even bought a new bathing suit and brought along a book to read that did not involve princesses or cows jumping over the freaking moon.
We stayed in a beautiful hotel in a penthouse suite overlooking the warm sparkling water of the Caribbean, and it was perfection. My days consisted of lazily sprawling out underneath a palm tree tiki hut and alternating between napping, taking blissful dips into the sea, and sipping guava daiquiris at 10:00 in the morning.
Somewhere along the way, though, I realized something. At home, I live right on the shores of Lake Erie, and I can confirm that on my vacation to paradise, the water was definitely bluer — but the proverbial grass was not greener.
Why is it that on a trip meant for my husband and I to enjoy each other’s company without our daughters in tow, I found myself gravitating toward random strangers to ask how old their children were and compare parenting stories?
How was it possible that the cries of small children didn’t cause me to grit my teeth in annoyance, but rather elicited some kind of intrinsic maternal response of empathy and the desire to hold them and make everything better?
I had looked forward to this escape from reality for almost a year, so why is it that nearly every aspect of our trip made me wish our girls were there to experience it too?
I think sometimes, as parents, especially in those early demanding years, we can get so entrenched in the mundane everyday tasks of child-rearing that we lose sight of the beautiful and amazing thing we are actually doing — raising human beings and attempting to instill into them the kind of values and traditions that will allow them to grow into kind, responsible, contributing members of society.
By far, the most exciting, rewarding and important job I’ve ever had is staying home with my children. It might be unpaid and often thankless, but I treasure this time I have with my daughters because I know it is finite and they are already growing up way too fast. And while it may be frustrating that I can’t even use the restroom without a little one following along so as to not lose even two minutes of time with me, I am also painfully aware that a day will come in the not-so-distant future when my children will prefer their friends’ company to mine. It breaks my heart to think that one day, my mommy kisses will no longer heal their boo-boos and everything else wrong in my little girls’ worlds.
I guess what I’m trying to say is I get that this phase of life is not easy. On those days when your little one is crying and screaming and hitting and generally pushing you to the brink of insanity, you might dream of hopping aboard a plane and escaping to a quiet sandy beach miles away from the stress of it all.
I was just there, literally, and yes, it was fantastic. But right now, as my plane approaches its descent, all I want to do is to scoop my daughters up in my arms and breathe them in and cover them with kisses until they are red in the face.
I miss you, paradise. But I missed my babies more.