I spent this last weekend in New York City at a writing conference. It was one of those plunges where I knew the water would be a little too cold, that when I was fully submerged, my body would go into shock for a second before I kicked and paddled to the surface, where I'd feel even colder because there was a breeze that I'm pretty sure was nonexistent before the big jump. Yes. That was me and the writer's conference. Except...aren't we always glad we jumped? The exhilaration? The reward and surprise at yourself as you gasp, "I did it!" Yup. That was me and the writer's conference.
It was my second trip to New York City. Interestingly, I was pregnant for both trips. Here's what I have to say about the city itself: A land of many bridges. People walk right into you and don't say excuse me (I found myself being so surprised--every time--that I said it instead, because there was a clearly a need for someone to excuse themselves and I can't let things like that go). The sun only touches the ground in the middle of the street, which is generally a bad place to be standing. The skyline of Manhattan is so crisp and clean it looks like it's made of beautifully painted boxes instead of steel and brick and cigarette smokers. And, oh, yes, right around the time you'd want to fall asleep, men stand on the sidewalks with whistles and blow them all night long.
Joe the Husband came along for my protection. Since I am pregnant and cities are big and I am small and, on a scale of one to ten, my sense of direction is negative forty, I felt horrible calamity might befall me if I chanced it alone. I was probably right. Plus, Joe is one of those cool, collected people who loves to be in a group or can go to the movies alone and be fine either way, so he was able to enjoy the freedom of the New York streets while I spent the days smartering myself on the glorious and limitless facets of being a writer.
I was shocked then when each segment of time we spent together began and ended with the phrase, "I just miss the kids so much." For the record, this was spoken by Joe, not me. It's weird. Back when they were smaller, I was the one feeling achy and sad for them, but now they're big and crazy and a lot of trouble, really, so I wasn't falling into so many of these sentimental lapses as Joe was. Then I felt guilty. Joe's face would grow long and moony while I was cheerfully sitting there all carefree and out-of-sight/out-of-mind. What a downer. I mean, this probably our last getaway for the next five years. Toughen up and have some fun.
Anyway, we ate a lot of great food, and we got to see Jersey Boys, which was totally awesome since I grew up listening to the Four Seasons. And when I say I grew up listening to them, I don't mean, like, when I was too young to choose my own music and listened to whatever my parents played. I mean that even when I got to high school and developed my own opinions, I still chose to listen to music of that era. I just prefer it. Joe gives me a hard time about this, since he's like, Mr. Nineties Alternative and his soul moves for Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. Here I am, wanting to swing my snapping fingers side to side, hip to hip, smiling and light-hearted, and there's Joe, all broody in his flannel shirts feeling anger and bitterness and groaning along with the grunge. Yeah. I'm totally the weird one.
Joe loved Jersey Boys, too, though, because how could you not, and then finally it was time to wrap up our trip and head home. We came in on a late flight, and this morning went to my mom's (my amazing, heroic mother who babysat not just two grandkids but FIVE this weekend since mine was not the only trip and she's some sort of saint with superpowers) to fetch our children.
I'll admit that when I woke up this morning my heart was fluttery. I think it may have actually left my body, crossed the street, and camped out at my mom's front door, impatient for me to shower and get dressed. I did miss them, even though it was nice to be away and I was able to do things that would have been impossible to do had they been there. But they smell so good, you know? And their smiles are so twinkly. And their arms are so small and their hearts are so big.
I walked into my mom's house to silence, which could only mean one thing. They weren't sleeping, Noah wouldn't allow that the entire time, apparently. No, they had to be watching television. I tiptoed into the family room, and waited to be noticed. Joey and Noah were cuddled together with their cousins on the couch, everyone in pajamas with bare feet and messy, sleepy hair. Joey turned quickly, and his face lit up.
"Mommy!" he shouted. He flew off the couch and threw his arms around me. "I'm so glad you're back."
But nothing prepared me for Noah's reaction. He was slower to react. Maybe it was because he's not a morning person like Joey or maybe he just couldn't believe I was really there. This little boy, my Noah, my troublemaker, my monster, my Mr. Crazy Pants. This boy who said to me on the day I left, "I don't like mothers and I don't like you. My life is horrible!" He climbed out of his seat and ran to me. His small arms didn't hug me, they clutched me around the neck and he whispered over and over, "I knew you'd come back. I knew it. I just missed you so much. I missed my mommy so much." He buried his face in my neck and his hands played with my hair. I couldn't believe that this was my little tough man. "I cried and cried for you," he moaned, "and Grandma didn't even care!"
"That's not true!" my mother said indignantly. "He didn't cry once."
"No, I didn't," he amended, "but I was very, very sad without you."
Joe stood behind me a long moment, waiting his turn for such a Noah greeting, but my little boy just wouldn't let me go. He nestled himself on my lap and curled into me, and said, "Don't go away again, Mommy."
Joe did eventually get his hug, and we took the boys home and fed them squished street pretzels from New York City and got them ready for school. My house smells like old laundry and needs a good cleaning, and I have to pick Noah up from school soon. I thought I was sad my special "me" weekend was over, but now...I think being home with family is even better. Here's to getting back to the grind.