It's a cold, rainy morning in Chicago and, as I write this, LA couldn't seem farther away. The wind is whistling around the house right now and the tree trunks are black from the wet. Rain drops are beaded up on the windows and wet leaves have plastered themselves against the glass.
I'm finally feeling recovered from my trip but it took a day or two. Traveling alone with a 5-month old was one of the more ambitious things I've ever set out to do, and it wasn't until I was actually there doing it, that I fully realized what I had gotten myself into.
The anxiety set in the moment I saw Greg pull away in the Honda. There I was standing in the middle of O'Hare, a suitcase in one hand, the stroller in another, completely alone with my daughter, on my way to spend three days in Los Angeles, catching up with a dozen friends, none of whom had yet to meet Veronica.
I've traveled alone countless times. I've trekked through the Philippines by myself, gone off to Taiwan, the Grenadines, Sicily and Switzerland, with no one alongside of me. And I'd certainly been to LA enough times. But this trip was different and the moment I found myself alone at the airport my heart began to pound.
Being responsible for another person, when that person is completely helpless, is a big job. I kept thinking about that exercise where they used to ask teenagers to carry around an egg for two weeks, making sure not to break it, in the hopes of giving them a taste of what it might be like to have a baby. And it's true. Imagine trying to navigate the mess that is the airport, while trying carefully not to drop an egg.
Or upset the egg. Because if you do then it's just you standing there in middle of the busy airport with a screaming egg, er baby. And your husband isn't with you so when everyone turns to give you the death stare, it's just you that they give it to. And then you skulk away into the family bathroom, trying desperately to calm your little egg who just doesn't want to be in her stroller, all the while trying not to touch anything so that neither of you contract any kind of fatal airport illness.
I digress. Everything went swimmingly until I got on the plane. And even then, it wasn't so bad. It was just that out of a four and a half hour flight she only slept for 30 minutes. I spent the majority those four hours doing my best to keep her happy, which mostly involved standing in the back of the plane by the bathrooms so that she could make faces at the stewardesses who popped back and forth. This activity coupled really well with my general fear of flying.
As we finally touched down in Los Angeles I was filled, not with relief, but a new anxiety, one that I had not anticipated at all. I suddenly found myself worried that all my old friends in LA, particularly those without children, wouldn't like the new me, the mom me.
This realization came out of nowhere. Ever since I'd bought these tickets to California I'd been nothing but looking forward to catching up with my friends and showing off my funny little girl. But it suddenly struck me, as I made my way through LAX with my suitcase and stroller and baby and diaper bag that this was not the Claire my friends were used to. Would they like the new me?
Of course they would, I reassured myself. My friends are my friends for good reason. They're wonderful, caring, and thoughtful people and they genuinely didn't seem to mind at all when we had to spend 20 minutes in the parking garage trying to figure out how to fit the stroller, car seat, luggage and baby into a Mini Cooper with three passengers.
But man, I minded! I felt so self-conscious. I couldn't help apologizing over and over, soothing Veronica in between sorrys, and all the while trying to act calm and helpful when all I wanted was to chuck the stroller into nearby traffic.
And so the trip went. I caught up with at least a dozen dear friends in two days, all the while trying to act cool and collected as I strapped V to my chest in the Bjorn or collapsed the stroller into the trunk of a friend's convertible. Oh no, I'm fine! I do this all the time! Just give me one sec...
By the third and final night of the trip I was utterly exhausted and broke down crying in the parking lot of a restaurant as I tried to walk Veronica around in an attempt to calm her down while my friends sat inside eating dinner.
Being a mom is hard. It's hard because it requires absolutely ALL of you to do it properly. There's no slacking. There's no extra glass of wine or impromptu nap. There's no chance to blow-dry your hair, not when it means you might wake up the baby whom you desperately want to get some sleep because you've dragged her all the way across the country for three short days.
After three days of devoting all of my time to making sure that my daughter was getting absolutely every thing she needed (sleep, sustenance, sun protection, diaper changes, safety, smiles and love), what I had left in me was devoted to being present to my friends, to wanting to genuinely catch up on their lives. But nodding and asking about their writing projects and marriages and jobs while bouncy a fussy baby on my hip just left me feeling breathless and overwhelmed and insecure.
So far, motherhood has been one big lesson in finding balance and being present. On the flight back, as V finally slept blissfully in my arms for a solid two hours, I rested my cheek against her soft little head and knew that even though my life has changed painfully, dramatically, irrevocably, I wouldn't give up a second of what I've had with her to have any of the old life back.