My husband and I do not go out together while our kids are awake often at all. I’m supposing and hoping that will change as they get older and aren’t so attached, but for now things go well and most easily when we don’t miss bedtime or meals. One of those rare times came up recently as we were celebrating our 11th anniversary, and we had made plans to leave around 3 in the afternoon, have a nice dinner, stay in a lovely hotel, have breakfast the next morning, and then return to our dear little ones. That’s not even a full 24 hours, for those of you doing the math. For now, it’s long enough for us to feel like we’re breaking out of the normal routine and doing something that’s just for us, because we know that sort of thing is important and it’s good to celebrate things like anniversaries (this one was #11). Whenever we are planning to be away overnight, we try to arrange for the kids to stay with my parents at their house, since it seems they are more willing to have things be out of their routine if they are not at home. Home = Mommy.
Our son obviously handles our absence better than our daughter, simply because of his age and greater overall maturity. He does tend to get a little cranky over the idea of Daddy and Mommy doing something alone, together, and that always reminds me of how overdue we are for a mommy-son “date”, but that’s another story. We talked to him about trying to help his sister, who still struggles quite a bit with separation from Mommy. This is putting it lightly, because this girl is pretty much my shadow at home. Only recently has she been more consistent in being all right with my going into a different room of the house without her. She still accompanies me to the bathroom, and more often than not, I prepare at least one meal a day with her on my hip. I guess that’s all pretty normal for a toddler, but I have a feeling if I’d started sooner and more frequently with going out and leaving her in someone else’s loving care, we wouldn’t have quite the levels of anxiety that she shows.
I started bringing up the timetable of our getaway to the kids about two days before it was going to happen. As I expected, our son was a little grumpy about our plans. Our daughter got teary eyed at the mere mention of Mommy going somewhere without her. For the next two days, every now and then, she’d just look at me rather sadly and say, “go with you”. She unknowingly (or knowingly?!?) was pouring on a ton of “mommy guilt”. But I stood firm. I reminded her of all the fun things there would be to do at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, of how much they adore her, of her brother’s promises of help, of the shortness of our time away. Sometimes she cheered up at these reminders, other times she’d let me finish and then just say, “go with you”.
The morning of our big day, which also happened to be our actual anniversary, she seemed tense already. We stuck to familiar and fun things the whole morning and early afternoon to make it all as easy as possible. Everything went fine, and I even got her down for a nap. I roused her after a reasonable amount of time so she would have time to wake up a bit before I left. That’s when the panic cry started. She knew I was about to go, and she just sobbed unconsolably for fifteen or twenty minutes. I held her, and my husband and I agreed that we would stay at least until she had calmed down. Finally, she moved off of my lap to get to some toys in my parents’ living room. It was about the time we wanted to leave, so we resolutely got up, gave our son a big hug, and told both kids we loved them and would see them in the morning. That 22-pound little girl leaped onto me, wrapping her arms and legs around my lower half, as tightly as she could, crying again. As hard as it was, and as cold as I felt doing it, I picked her up and handed her quickly to my mom and left unceremoniously. I told her one more time “I love you”, and left with my husband–tears welling up in my own eyes.
We sat in the car, in the driveway for a few minutes, trying to decide if we were doing the right thing. We agreed finally that we would call my parents in a few minutes to make sure everything was going to be all right. Our little girl had been crying so vigorously that I was honestly worried that we just weren’t going to get to leave! I tried to relax and trust in the fact that my parents are on a very short list of people who we know our kids are totally comfortable with and very happy to see. About ten minutes into our ride, I called my mom, fully expecting her to say we might think about coming back, or that our toddler was vomiting blood, or something terrible like that. The first thing I noticed when my mom answered the phone was that I couldn’t hear any crying. Maybe my dad had taken her outside to calm her down. No, my mom said she stopped crying about two minutes after we’d left. That means were most likely still in the driveway deliberating when she was already playing and drying her tears.
So, was the whole “go with you” ploy merely her testing her limits? Was she clever enough to choose those words to see if I just might take her along? Of course I wish she hadn’t gotten so distressed, and that we could skip the sobbing and clinging. The bottom line is that everything really was all right. I feel better each time about going out, knowing that it won’t take her long to figure out she can still have fun, and knowing that I can have fun, too.
A very sincere thank you to my parents (and everyone who prayed for all to go smoothly) for taking on the chaos of an upset toddler. Our anniversary was beautiful.