I travel for my job. Not too much — just in the fall and spring, a total of about 6 to 10 overnight trips between August and April.
Last year, as a brand-new mom, I didn’t have to do a single overnight trip. My coworker who shares traveling duties took all of the fall trips, and my two spring trips were both cancelled for reasons outside my control.
I couldn’t avoid traveling this year. September 9th was my first trip — and my first night away from Peanut. She was 13 months old.
I used to make fun of moms who never spent a night away from their kids. When I became a mother, I finally understood how difficult it is to be away overnight, especially the first time. How scared you are that something awful will happen on that particular night. For me there was added fear that it would affect my milk supply (a coworker had told me horror stories about her milk supply dropping when she traveled for work, which didn’t help one bit).
But by the time my first trip arrived (destination Chicago), Peanut and I were down to just a bedtime feeding. I took my pump but didn’t end up using it (I forgot the membrane thingies; the pump won’t work without them). I got up super early the next morning and started driving the 4+ hours home.
I missed Peanut while I was gone, but it honestly wasn’t bad. The buildup to “First Night Away” was worse than the actual event. My husband sent pictures and a video of her to keep my spirits up, which was nice. I felt guilty for not being more sad.
My second trip, on the other hand, was hard. The total time away was only a few hours longer, but it felt very different. This time, I was flying to New York City.
When I drove to my destination, it felt like I was still close to home. Aside from irritating traffic, I was surrounded by familiar midwestern types; it wasn’t all that different.
The Big Apple is about as non-midwestern as it gets. Add the East Coast Attitude and general pace of life to my own anxiety about being in New York City, and I was dying to leave the second I got there.
I have very specific anxiety about New York City. It all started when I made my first trip there for work, just one week after Sully Sullenberger belly-flopped a plane in the Hudson. I was scouring the skies for Canadian geese as we descended, terrified we were about to go for a swim.
Back then, it never occurred to me that we could detour into one of NYC’s many skyscrapers. But since having Peanut, I am hyperaware of the threat of terrorist attacks. From the moment I get in that LaGuardia-bound plane, I feel like a target. Flying into one of the world’s largest airports, in one of the world’s most-targeted cities, at the site of our country’s worst terrorist attack… it consumes my thoughts until I’m safely in my hotel room.
(A few years ago, my hotel room overlooked the empty, yawning chasms that marked the former site of the Twin Towers. I won’t be staying there again.)
This time, my hotel was just off Times Square, and the throng of tourists that packed the area made my head swim with visions of suicide bombers, pressure-cooker IEDs full of ball bearings, and myriad other ways someone could easily commit mass murder in this city. There were always too many people in one place.
None of this is rational. I know that. I have similar fears anytime I’m in a large group of people (at a concert, for example), no matter what city I’m in.
But New York City takes the cake. I hold my breath until we’re descending at O’Hare, every time. I think about my Peanut, and how I can’t abandon her. She should not grow up without her mommy. And as her Mommy, it’s my duty to keep myself out of harm’s way so she doesn’t have to.
The rational part of me knows that nights away from my child are good for me. I’m glad I’ve had these experiences, so future nights away won’t be as hard. But I’ll do what I can to travel only to safe, not-typical-target locations.
This coming Wednesday morning, I fly to Salt Lake City. Hometown of Wilford Brimley. I think I’ll be okay.
(But I’m still sad. I don’t think I’ll ever get over that.)