I thought I was going to cry like the proverbial baby. I thought that the tiny, chirpy little voices saying, "Bye-bye Mama" as I closed the door behind me and traveled hundreds of miles away would set me off for sure. How could I possibly leave my babies overnight?
But later that evening, as I sat across from their father—a person who'd been a veritable stranger during the 18 months my kids had been around—it wasn't the angelic faces of my little twins that sprang to mind. "Uh, waiter, can I get another gin and tonic please?"
Let's just say that my husband Scott and I hadn't gotten out much by the time we made our first overnight trip away from the kids. Who am I kidding? We still don't get out much and they're two (unless you count trips to the drive-through while my son Jonah incessantly chants, "Chicken nuggets! Chicken nuggets!" to the beleaguered fast-food employees).
As most parents of young children, we stay in. A lot. In fact, our local video rental store has named Scott and I their most valuable customers for renting the most videos so far this century. They make so much money off of us—and that's not even counting the late charges for failing to return videos on time because, just before the store's closing time, a naked child eludes our grasp pees all over the house—that they've named an honorary recliner in the store after us.
Going out for the evening—never mind overnight—is a major event in our household. And leaving Abbey and Jonah in the care of someone else for the first time was a milestone.
For all you veteran parents out there, it must be obvious to you that, yes, Abbey and Jonah are my only kids. The cliché that you're overprotective of your first kid and let subsequent ones play in traffic as long as they don't play chicken with Mac trucks, I embody it. I follow my kids around with an invisible protective bubble desperately trying to keep anything dangerous or anything on the parenting magazines' list of top five choking items at bay. And for this, friends and family roundly mock me. For example, just after Abbey and Jonah turned one, Scott and my sister-in-law Judy let them feed straw to goats at a farm. Convinced that the kids would yank the animals' tongues, catch some bizarre disease or lose a few fingers, maybe a wrist, I had to turn away in horror while Scott and Judy laughed.
As for my folks, they're well known for offering Abbey and Jonah everything I wasn't allowed as a young kid. Whereas my main treats were fruit and Nilla wafers, Abbey and Jonah get hot fudge sundaes, cookies and candy when I'm not around. My parents intentionally spoil them so they'll be little monsters when they discover that Mommy doesn't let them eat cotton candy while sitting on the couch at 9 AM or buy everything they point to in a store. My mother once gave my barely one-year-old son Diet Coke because she said he was thirsty. "Are you high?" I yelled when I saw her trying to covertly wipe the offending substance from his chin. Parenting magazines, pediatricians and Dr. Spock all say that soda, never mind the diet kind, are bad for young children, I sternly lectured.
It's not as if I think our relatives won't protect the kids, it's that I'm a nitpicker. The first time I leave Abbey and Jonah with someone, I run off a customized, multi-page set of instructions detailing how snack time, dinner time and bedtime are to be handled, as well as how much TV is allowed and what videos are acceptable. I once made my brother sit at the kitchen table while I watched him read the directions, gave him a pop quiz and had him sign a binding agreement because I feared he'd laugh them off. When I handed Judy the instructions for the first time, she gave me a look that said, "This girl needs to get out more often." My mother thought her instructions was so funny that she put them in her photo album. "You and your brother never came with instructions," she frequently reminds me.
Sure, it's easy to make fun of the neurotic mommy. But I can't help myself. In the days leading up to my one overnight trip, I was wracked with guilt and worry. Would they be OK? Did my parents know how to work the car seats? Did they know that Abbey and Jonah like to eat trash if given the chance? If they give the kids grapes, do they know to cut them in half so the kids won't choke? Would they let them imprudently invest their piggy bank savings in a risky Internet start-up?
This is why they've only been left overnight with someone other than Scott or I once. It's too much stress. The planning is what kills me; the reality of being away, not so much. I must admit that a few minutes after we pulled out of the driveway and embarked on our New York City trip, I finally allowed myself to get excited about an adults-only 24 hours. And by the time we were sitting in a swank restaurant, dining on a late dinner after a Broadway show, I didn't feel wracked with guilt. I was able to leisurely eat hot food (we're usually allotted five minutes of cold food dining at home) and greedily eat my dessert without having someone beating on my knees whining, "I wanna have some. Piece please!"
We have our second overnight trip coming up in a few weeks. I haven't composed the 16th edition of the Abbey and Jonah instruction manual yet. I haven't precooked all their meals for the weekend. I haven't stocked the house.
I can feel my temples throbbing already.