Monday, August 31, 2015

The Gabardine Suit

This past weekend, I boarded a plane and left my family to spend a long weekend with our dear friends Sara and Jeremy in Portland, Oregon. I had an amazing time. Sara and Jeremy have no children (yet), but are the godparents of our sons and they adore children. In this regard, the weekend was child-free but still filled with stories of my kids that they patiently listened to and laughed at because they love me and they love my kids too. My time in the Pacific Northwest was fabulous as always, and we crammed every minute full of activities that are difficult, if not impossible, to do with young children. Examples of such activities included wandering around bookstores for hours, enjoying a coffee shop and not worrying that my very presence might be disturbing the people around me, perusing a menu at a restaurant, leisurely nursing beers at microbreweries, crossing rivers by jumping onto slippery rocks, reading books on an airplane, and occasionally sleeping at night. I was really able to let loose, indulge, and enjoy myself while I was away, though doing so many adult-oriented activities made me miss my husband like crazy. Of course, I missed my kids like crazy as well. I thought my nostalgia might do me in when we reached the small fountain at the International Rose Test Garden in Portland. The last time I was at this fountain it was steadily raining, and I snapped an adorable photo of Silas as a toddler in a raincoat, examining a rose petal that he had pulled from the water with grubby fingers. When I looked at that fountain and imagined my baby standing there smiling at his prized petal, oblivious to my camera, I about wept.

The fountain without Silas, four years later
The funny thing is that I felt like a fraud the entire time I was gone. At this point in my life, I find my identity wrapped up tightly in motherhood—so much so, in fact, that packing a suitcase and driving away from home for three and a half days led to my initial feelings of anxiety and loneliness. In my everyday life, if I run to the grocery store or pick up a pizza alone while the kids stay home with BJ, I feel like I'm tricking everyone that comes in contact with me. The cashier and fellow customers (if they notice me at all) notice a mid-thirties woman by herself, and may assume that I'm sailing along in life unattached. They can't see who I really am: a mother with three invisible children hanging on her legs, wiping boogers on her shirt, serenading her with stories of thwarting bad spies by intentionally setting the faucet to “too hot” so that enemies who might choose to bathe in our home will get what's coming to them. My kids are inextricably tangled around me and in me, and walking around without them seems deceitful. What you see is not what you get, for I really come in a package deal.

I remember the first time I ever felt this way. Silas was two weeks old, and BJ's parents kept him for a couple of hours so that BJ and I could go eat a nice dinner at a quiet restaurant. I distinctly remember standing and waiting for a table, and suddenly experiencing a panicky feeling. I wondered, how will these people ever know that I'm a mother? They probably think I'm not a mother! For once, the evidence wasn't with me, either in utero or in my arms. Why I think this matters to anyone in the least is beyond me. It is my own self-consciousness, or perhaps my own self-indulgence, that leads me to surmise that anyone may wonder if anything might be amiss when I walk into a room alone. In any regard, the feeling is real, and I have a suspicion that I'm not the only mother who feels this way.

So here I sit on a small United airplane, flying over what I suspect is the Painted Desert, counting down the minutes until I hug my husband and tackle my three children's soft, good-smelling skin with kisses. Only an hour and a half to go. It all reminds me of Simon and Garfunkel's “America,” in which a couple on a bus pretends that fellow passengers are undercover spies in order to pass the time. I'm not a spy in a gabardine suit with a bow-tie that's really a camera, but I'm not who I appear to be either. And the people around me will never know my ruse.

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