One of the strangest things I’ve noticed about parenting is just how pervasive it is. Ruby is now so ingrained into my life that I actually retroactively insert her into memories. “Where was Ruby when I was at that campaign rally?” I wonder vaguely about an event I attended a full two years before she was born. Or I try to remember how I juggled a full semester of college courses with three different part-time jobs, forgetting entirely that I had so much more free time when I wasn’t spending hours playing Barbies and watching "Strawberry Shortcake" DVDs.
And so last week, when Ruby was on spring break and headed to St. Louis with her dad for a much-anticipated visit with her paternal grandparents, I was completely beside myself. I had originally thought that I would love the break from motherhood, my last real chance to truly relax before Daughter No. 2 gets here at the end of May. I thought maybe I would go shopping, get a pedicure, sleep in, read a bunch of trashy novels while soaking in the bathtub.
Instead, I really just moped. I mean, yes, I watched a bunch of "Law & Order" episodes and read my share of bad novels. But more than that, I found myself mooning over my daughter like a high schooler with a crush. I looked at the pictures she’d drawn for me. I paged through all of the photos I have of her on Facebook. I listened again and again to the voicemails she left me. I spent way too much money on her Easter basket. I teared up when I saw all of her favorite shows recorded on our DVR. I didn’t actually stoop so low as to watch the "Strawberry Shortcake" DVDs by myself, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t briefly consider it.
And Easter morning, although I talked to Ruby on the phone and knew she was having the time of her life in St. Louis – “I found 22 eggs, Mommy!” she squealed, clearly high on jelly beans and Peeps. “And the Easter Bunny left me a note that said, ‘Hoppy Easter!’ instead of ‘Happy Easter!’ Get it? Hoppy? And I got vanilla Tootsie Rolls! Can you believe it?” – it was still physically painful to watch all of the little kids at brunch and not see Ruby among them.
When I saw all of the other parents at Ruby’s school at morning meeting on the day classes resumed after the break, they all looked completely frazzled. “Oh, thank God school has started again,” one mom said to me. “Aren’t you just exhausted?”
“Well, yeah,” I said, “but I’m exhausted from missing my kid. She’s been out of town all week.”
“Ahhh,” she said, enviously. “You’re so lucky. What I wouldn’t give for a week away from my kids. I would go shopping, get a pedicure, sleep in …”
I just smiled at her. I might have gotten more sleep than she did over the break, but I’m pretty sure she was the lucky one.