Friday, October 24, 2008

Post trip stress disorder

Not me, her.

I arrived home Sunday after she'd gone to bed. I collapsed exhausted into my own bed, a phantom jet rumble seeming to vibrate everything and to ring in my ears, the clock pulsing nonsensical numbers, everything all at once familiar and strange. Relief and finally, relaxed.

I was surprised how much I missed them, my family, while I was away. Maybe it was the fact of a continent between us, maybe the strangeness of total immersion in Danish language and culture, maybe that my cell phone just couldn't, no matter what I was willing to pay, connect my voice to theirs. I pined, physically pined for Pynchon, for Munchkin. I was surprised. Usually, I'm guiltily pleased to have these trips away, these four, five days of hotel beds and interesting intellectual work. Maybe because I've always been traveling west, the trip out has been so much smoother. East is a bitch, I tell you, and the six hours difference between here and Copenhagen never quite resolved itself. On the way home, I sat in a café at the Amsterdam airport, drinking in images of my family, flicking through the 914 photos of this past year, one by one, methodically.

I missed them so much it hurt.

But they were fine without me, obviously: Pynchon met tough deadlines and Munchkin ate full meals. He slept in and she had tantrums. There were hugs and visits and Sunday brunch and trips to the park. They were fine--they were great, even.

When she saw me Monday morning, calling out 'Dada, Dada!' from her bed, she was gracious. 'Mom! I miss you!' she said, smiling, and lolled back so I could rub her belly. She calmly accepted my frenzied tribute of a million belly kisses, my frantic sniffing and patting and kissing. She took it all in stride and was not remiss in asking for what I'd brought her, very pleased with her new leather slippers and her tiny gingerbread doll. I brought her to preschool and she cheerfully waved goodbye.

Monday night, though, she began to crack. Getting her ready for bed, I rocked and read and fed and hugged and tucked and patted. I reassured, consoled, and sang. It wasn't enough. She wouldn't let me leave. She woke up three times during the night, crying as though her heart were breaking, and only Mommy would do. She clung to me ardently, with a surprising strength. As I tried to extricate myself from her the third time, around 3:30am, she reached out desperately, "But I love you, Mommy! Don't leave me! Stay wif me, Mommy! I miss you."


And this has been our week, the gradual unleashing of the torrent of fear and need and the more gradual rebuilding of the defenses against the terror of abandonment. Mommy is here, I will be here when you wake up, we will play. I will not leave you, Munchkin. Mommy always comes back.

We sit on the couch, watching Max and Ruby. I brush the hair from her eyes, pat her knee, knit in companionable silence. My deep longing for her manifested itself during my absence, and was sated with my return; she, not quite so mature, only felt her loss once I came back to her, and the terror is in contemplating what might happen again.

(Can you see the terror? Okay, maybe not. BTW, she didn't quite look like this when she went to daycare in the morning. This is how she came home ...)


hoppytoddle said...

I know I don't know you, but somehow, reading that you have been able to go far, far away for longer than 1 day, makes me think that it is possible & not inhumane. I don;t know why your story is more different than others, including thise I actually know, but it is.

did she grow while you were gone?

Omaha Mama said...

My guy says "wif" too. And Wet's go, Mommy. Awwww.
She's such a dolly. I'm glad you made it home to them. They may have been fine, but it sounds like you were missed just as much.

Jenifer said...

I'm sure Munchkin will settle back into her regular routine. I think it is the concept of time that toddlers struggle with, leaving for a moment feels like an eternity to them, but as you said upon your return.

Enjoy your Munchkin on this rainy weekend.

Kyla said...

Awww, poor little Munchkin. It will take a bit, but soon she'll get back to normal.

Patti said...

She is such a cutie!

Bon said...

oh, little Munchkin. we're going through a long, slow-simmer version of this ourselves, more a reaction to the semi-absence the months of bedrest and new baby have wrought...but it is heartbreaking and yet affirms for me that i am part of his safe place, his learning to be emotionally healthy.

love her balloon hat.

Cloud said...

I think the occasional need for business trips is one of the hardest things about being a working mother. I did one, cracked, and switched to a job that wouldn't require I do so many. Although the main reason for the change wasn't the travel, it definitely factored into my decision-making. Now if I'm paying sufficient attention to my career, I should go on one trip/year to go to a conference. I didn't go this year. We'll see about 2009.

The sleep, the uninterrupted dinners, the conversation without a child constantly vying for my attention- these were all great. But your description of the physical longing of missing your family is spot on for me.

motherbumper said...

I got that last week when I returned from a weekend away. It's fascinating how they internalize then release their fears just when you think you got off scott-free from the separation anxiety. They are masters at this. And for the record, I think her outfit rocks.

Beck said...

The time I came back from the hospital, The Girl - who had calmly gone about her daily life while I was sick - just as calmly insisted that she needed to sleep next to me. For the next MONTH.

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Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Yes. It's exactly like that. My kids are 6 and 4 and it's exactly like that.

When I go away, now, I make sure I really, really, really want to go (or really, really, really can't avoid it) because of the stress & drama of the return.

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