As a member of the online book club, From Left to Write, I received a copy of The Unexpected Circumnavigation from the author, gratis. I was not paid to write the following article, which was inspired by the book. You can read other members’ musings and impressions by clicking here, on June 28th.
It has been almost four years since Kevin and I have taken a vacation alone together. We’ve had a stolen moment here and there, but nothing quite as indulgent as the four-day trip to Vermont we had planned.
When I first attempted to broach the subject of our long-weekend get away to Sophia, we were all seated at dinner. “Guess what!” I began. Kevin, intuitively knowing where I was going, shook his head no, his hand stretched out before him as if to stop me. I shot him a questioning look.
“I don’t want her worrying about it,” he said, just above a whisper. Sophie shoved in a mouthful of lasagna, oblivious to our interaction. “Okay,” I shrugged. I was fine deferring to his judgment, though I less concerned about this possibility. My mother had generously offered to take her for the duration of our trip. Since we have been driving up to and staying with my mother every week for the past two years, I felt pretty confident that Sophia would be okay with the arrangement.
But, just to be on the safe side, I introduced the concept with a story. A couple days later, we were alone at breakfast when Sophie made her usual request, “Mommy tell me a story with you, me and Curious George.” I seized the opportunity to paint an idyllic vision of a “vacation” with her grandparents.
“Once upon a time, Mommy and Daddy and Sophia decided to take a vacation.”
“And Curious George,” she reminded me.
“Who’s telling this story?” I asked, “Curious George is going to make a surprise appearance.”
“Okay,” said Sophie cheerfully.
In the story, Mommy and Daddy leave Sophie at her grandparents for a vacation, while they go on their own vacation for a couple of days. Grandma and Grandpa take her to visit some relatives who have a boy Sophie’s age and a beautiful glistening pool in their backyard. When Sophie arrives, she discovers that the boy has also invited his best friend (you guessed it) Curious George. The three of them frolic in the pool together, eat mac n’cheese n’ peas for lunch, take a nap in one big bed, and wake to an ice cream treat. I forgo the Curious George formula (George innocently causes a stir that has unintended positive consequences, which ultimately allow everyone not only to forgive his naughtiness, but to hail him as a hero.). Instead, I appeal to Sophia’s idea of heaven. By the end of my “story” she is grinning ear to ear.
Later, I overhear her telling her beloved stuffed Snakey Pie the story. “Once upon a time, we all went on vacation,” Sophia begins. Snakey Pie stops her, “What’s a vacation?” he asks. “It’s when we go to Grandma and Grandpas and Mommy and Daddy go on a very long date.”
I know that, in reality, despite the inclusion of Curious George, I have not created an unreasonable expectation. My mother has big plans: the zoo, the Jersey shore, relatives with pools, a Chinese restaurant, the play ground, the library, ice cream and intense periods of pretend play. Sophie will not be disappointed.
When we arrived at my mother’s, Sophie sprang from the car. I quickly transferred her things to the house, and within minutes my mother was whisking her away to the zoo. “Good bye, Sophia. I love you. Mommy and Daddy will see you in three days. And we’ll call you every night.” I held out my arms for a hug. Sophie shrank away from me into grandma’s side.
She was mad at me. So be it. I was a little sad that our parting wasn’t sweeter, but she was entitled to feel the way she felt. After all, we were ditching her.
As we climbed into the car and started up the engine, Sophie came running back. “Mommy! Mommy!” I rolled down the window and leaned out for a kiss. My mother held her up to me and we touched our puckered lips together. As soon as her feet were back on the ground, she scooted off towards Grandma’s car for her trip to the zoo.
This time, she didn’t look back.
Neither did I.
I’d like to think it’s not because either one of us is cold hearted, or even relieved to finally get a breather from the other, but because we share a secure attachment. She is sure of my love. She understands it’s permanence, whether I’m present or not. She knows I’m coming back. I can remember, as a teenager, babysitting for a 10-month-old boy. He would cry bitterly when his mother left. Instinctively, I whispered into the soft down of his head, “Mommy will come back. Mommy always comes back.” This soothed him. In a similar vein I have reassured Sophia time and time again, “I will always be here for you.” And, in moments of nascent empathy, Sophia has echoed this sentiment back to me, “Mommy. I will never leave you. I will always be in your heart.”
Once in the car, Kevin’s first order of business was to remove all the kids’ CDs from the car stereo. We drove the five hours to Vermont listening to music that has been idling in storage for the past four years. We enjoyed sustained conversations with each other during which we were able to complete, not only entire sentences but entire stories without interruption. We made a pit stop that did not involve 15-minute machinations of removing and returning a child to a car seat. We ate a dinner that did not require feeding anyone “like a little baby,” or reminding someone 47 times to “please sit in your seat.” We made out without having someone climb between us. And that night, there as no one to get ready for bed other than myself, nothing to listen for other than the lake gently lapping at the shore.
Just like heaven.