Mothers in Arms

It was two and a half weeks before spring break. I had run through a minimum of 14 different scenarios for where to go and what do with my two girls, but — for a variety of reasons — it looked like we were settling in at home for an adventurous trip in Staycationland.

With a side of Boston —  if we were lucky.

Despite the million other times that I’d packed them up and thrown them in the car, I simply couldn’t deal with the idea of taking them away on a solo parenting trip.

The doing it all.

The preparation of meals + the laundry + the sunscreen applications + the “Watch out for cars!” + the scanning of the oceanic horizon for two bobbing towheads. The showers + the hair brushing + the constant wiping of the kitchen counters + and the dishwasher filling + then the emptying. The bedtime stories + the bedtime songs + the bedtime back tickles + the “Mommy, will you lie down with me?”

More than anything, I wanted to have new experiences with my children. To dive into some air quality that was different from our own, right outside our front door. To gaze up at the stars and soak it all in. I wanted to show my girls that I was still strong. Still capable, and fierce. That I was a mother f’ing adventurer.

And yet, more than anything, I felt paralyzed with fatigue.

I already did all of those things, here. At home.

It takes a village, they say.

Sure as hell does, I remember thinking, as my eyes scanned the surrounding sphere that was April.

The view outside my window that day, it was heavy with grayish, darkening skies. Leafless trees. A gnashing wind whipped around the four walls of my house, the screens on the windows pulsed as if with bitter, labored breaths. Upstairs, my girls were arguing. Stalling on bedtime. I heard a door slam and something sizable go THUD. Probably someone’s head.

A big sigh came out of my mouth and then a slow panic began to spread through my bloodstream, climbing like invasive bittersweet up and into my ear drums. And then, to follow — like shards of glass —  horrible pangs of guilt: mental apologies to my babies — for these very First World problems — running through my head.

The phone rang, a dear friend on the other end. A mom to three boys.

“I’m.so.spent,” she said, her voice weary. “I need a vacation. Like, a real vacation.”

I heard another door go WHAM above my head. Then another one opening and, “MOM! She scratched me!!”

Followed by, “Well, she punched me in the stomach!”

Oh dear God, help me.

With the phone cradled in my ear, the words shot out of my mouth like a cannonball, “YES,” I said. So yes.

JetBlue,” she offered. “From JFK. They’re having super deals to Charleston. I’ve never been there.”

Someone is shouting “MOMMMMMMMMY!” as they come racing down the stairs. Thundering footsteps are following.

JFK is a 5-hour drive. A minuscule price to pay…

I haven’t either,” I say. “Let’s go.

Within a matter of only a few days, we secured lodging. A car. And a couple of recommendations for where to eat.

Two moms, five children.

Mothers in arms. 

This was so happening.

Before we knew it, we were minivanning our way to JFK. Grateful Dead was flowing. Some reggae. Taylor Swift to round us out. The kids were pumped, moms were chatty. She drove and handled the traffic with ease. I navigated and was on snack and iEverything charger patrol. Sure, we hit some snags because everyone else in the Tri-State area was also going to the airport. Not to mention, there were a lot of pit stops. Anyone have to pee? always seemed to be met with a firm No until three minutes after you pass the exit for services.

But it was no matter, we made it in time for our flight. With only a little sprinting. Of course with five different little personalities in tow, we had to re-enlighten our brood a few times as we raced to our departing gate.

Please don’t touch the homeless man asleep on the bench.

Don’t use the word “bomb” — ever again — in an airport. No, I mean it. Not ever.

Those gummy worms? That were dropped in the public bathroom stall? No, I will not rinse them. Throw that {shit} out.

And, last but not least, when someone is taking a #2 outside of the shuttle station to Terminal C (while handily doing a wall sit, I might add), we simply smile and nod. Go about our business. 

Doling out the life lessons that morning, we were.

We landed in Charleston and picked up our ride. The car rental attendant pulled up in a glossy red, chrome-studded SUV. My friend and I looked at each other. Really? This is our ride?? The kids almost needed a ladder to get into the vehicle, but it was worth it as we rode like Kardashians through the angel oaks and Spanish moss. The scents of wisteria and jasmine filled our lungs while the tunes were blaring, the windows open, my fingers cruising with the wind.

I should probably live here, I thought.  

We pulled into our beach house, a two story beauty sitting up high on stilts, and within minutes, the kids were racing from room to room, picking out their landing pads. My friend and I each popped open a White, an homage to the homeland, as we broke open the cheese and almonds and sat out on the deck, the ocean’s waves crashing off in the distance, our bags in a heap at the bottom of the stairs.


Totally worth it,” we said.

And it was.

We were one sip in when the kids began playing soccer in the street, their happy voices carrying up and into the house, echoing off the neighboring shingled homes. Before long they were running to the boardwalk…ready to sniff out and explore the South Carolina seas.

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I’m pretty sure my friend and I high fived, like, eleven times as we inhaled that seaside air and turned our faces to the sun. As we leaned back in our chairs and realized how very good, how very right it feels to be part of a village.

The effort. It definitely took some. And the credit card bill. Crikey. Let’s not talk about that.

But, the dealing.

Oh man. The dealing.

Whether at home, or away from home. Riding in a car, on an airplane, in a boat, in my own backyard. We, as grown-ups, are always keeping those little people safe.

Looking back I remember strapping them in to their 5-point harness car seats. So much strapping, and unstrapping. Jamming their little pelvises down, as they’ve stretched out into human 2×4’s, so you could just.get.that.metal.fucker.to.click. Reaching down for the sippy cup, only to have it whiz by your head twelve more times. Rinsing the pacifier. And then rinsing it again. Placing a hand in front of their mouth while they’re sleeping, to feel their sweet breath dampen your palm. (And the hundreds of sighs of relief that follow.)

Holding their hand on the escalator. Holding their hand as they cross the street. Holding their hand as they receive their first shot, right in their little arm.

So much holding of those tiny little hands.

As they get older, it becomes more about the negotiations. The rules. The homework being completed. The desire to teach them all that you’ve learned, and what you could have done better. That daily recommitment to raising human beings who are kind + good, respectful of themselves + others. That teaching but not interfering. Letting them figure out some of the lessons on their own. It’s a delicate balance but it comes with the territory; it comes with being a parent to small humans whose frontal lobes are not yet fully developed.

The seven of us came home from Seabrook Island days later, our bodies tanned + our hearts filled with superfine sand + bright fuchsia sunsets. We’d biked the beach. Played tennis in the street. Sampled food trucks + street fairs + body surfed enough waves to last us until summer. As moms, we’d tagged out for solo walks or sleeping in. For a moment of rest when childhood fervor hit a fever pitch. We came home, another notch on our belts. We came home vacationed.

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Many years ago, when I lay down on that operating table  — twice — to deliver my babies, I may have handed over the keys to my previous life. I’d do it again twelve times, tomorrow, if it meant I’d get to parent these two crazy delicious people in my life.

But it also gives me license — gives ALL OF US license — to ask for help when we need it. To make that call. Because there’s always someone on the other end, someone who needs you as much as you need them. We’re in it together. And it’s not always an easy road. But, for me, I find it’s what happens along the way that makes it so sweet, that makes parenting in that village so worth the effort.

So worth the dealing.

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10 thoughts on “Mothers in Arms

  1. Lisa Molloy

    I love this. You ARE a mother f’ing adventurer and a hot shit and someone I’m happy to call my friend…even if we never get to see each other…except, sadly, just in passing these days. I love reading your stories, Ellen. You are so talented, and your stories always strike a chord in me. PLEASE let’s find a way to connect this fall!! xo Lisa

    Like

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