I’m ready to confess. Not everything. God no. But this one thing — I think it’s time.
Here goes: Sometimes, I dream about sneaking off to a hotel. Just for a night or two. by myself, no kids obviously, but no husband either. Just me, an empty bed with high-thread-count white sheets, a large and lovely bathroom, and room service. I don’t even tell them where I’m going — there’s no time. I just disappear.
I know, on the surface this doesn’t seem like much of a confession. Silly woman, you’re mumbling. What’s the big deal? you’re thinking. Every mother has this fantasy. Perhaps even daily. Hey, Mrs. Punkernoodle — you’re not that bad.
But wait. I haven’t told you when I had this fantasy for the first time. Because that’s the bad part. The selfish part.
Punkernoodle One was about four months old. I can see her now in my memory: Puckered red lips; blond silken wisps curling about her soft, soft head; lucent skin glowing in the winter light. Holy crap could she scream. She’d start around 3 p.m. and cry until 1 or 2 a.m., when she finally fell off into an exhausted sleep. The crying came in fits and starts, a persistent and pitiful bleating cry, each squeal punctuated at its tail end by a shrill exclamation point of misery that left her redly vibrating in my panicked arms.
Mr. Punkernoodle would switch off with me as soon as he got home from work, but because the baby needed to eat so often, and because I was home all afternoon and into the evening before he arrived, I held her much more. Only the exercise ball partially worked to ease her reflux, and I would sit and bounce in a rhythmic motion for hours on end while she whimpered or drank between screams. I felt so bad for her, in her tiny, upset body. And I felt bad for myself. As evening drew near I would begin to panic, glancing at the clock to check the time in order to map the coming chaos out in my head. I did mental math all the time: How many hours until Daddy gets home? How many minutes ’til the next feeding? How much sleep will I get tonight?
One night, after a particularly frustrating day during which we both cried all afternoon, I cradled Punkernoodle One in my arms and stared out the front window of our small house. The December sky was inky black. Cars and buses streamed by on our busy street. It was almost cold enough to snow. The baby was finally quiet in my arms, that post-milk sheen over her cheeks, slowly sinking into a delicate sleep. And that’s when I thought it. I could just leave, I realized suddenly. I can put her in her cradle, slip on my boots, and make a dash to the car. Where will you go? the rational part asked. To the airport, of course, said the selfish mother. I will get on a flight, not too far away, but far enough so as not to be bothered — San Francisco, maybe, or Colorado. I’ll get a hotel, just for a night or two, and sleep the whole time. 48 hours of sleep, by myself, in a soft white bed. Then I could get through it, I thought, staring up into the dark sky, then I can come back and do this some more.
This morning I was talking to a mother I know, who told me that for her birthday recently she told her husband that all she wanted was a night at a hotel, by herself. Go for it, he said. So she grabbed an icy beer and a slice of chocolate cream pie and checked into an upscale chain hotel in some no-name outer Seattle suburb. The bed was very white and comfortable. She slipped in, finally away from the baby who still wakes in the night and needs her always.
Was it great? I asked her with more than a casual curiosity. Of course, it wasn’t. She forgot the bottle opener and couldn’t drink the beer. In the bed, she lay awake for two hours, thinking about how she had better fall asleep right away or her night would be wasted. She did the sleep math in her head. And in the morning, after just a few hours of rest, she rushed out to follow through with family plans.
I never went. I never put my own baby down and slipped away with a suitcase the way I’d momentarily dreamed of. But I think often of that night, my baby and I at the front window, locked together by her needs and my exhausted love. The sheer possibility of it, of detaching myself from my children as though we are all just a family of perforated stamps, grounds me. Even if I didn’t do it, the knowledge that I could have was enough to keep me there.