Being mum: relearning how to be me with a trip away

Uninterrupted conversations, cocktails till the wee hours and sleeps-in help pass the time

How will I pass the time? It’s almost a year since this question entered my head. Back then, my giant overdue bump and I sat on a leather chair under the glare of hospital lights, my green rolling suitcase by my side (containing new sensible nightwear, and babygrows of every size) as I waited in a long limbo to be called for a Caesarean section.

Now that bump is crawling around at home with his daddy and his big brother. My green rolling suitcase is packed with mascara and a guna deas. I sit in the bright airy terminal as I wait to take a flight. Alone.

No faces to wipe or nap schedules to remember. Alone. Much like going into the operating theatre, gowned-up without glasses, phone, the lack of stuff is disorientating.

My eldest boy was puzzled when I dropped the news that I was going away to meet old friends. But when I mentioned, with a quiet cough, that I was flying, his cheeks reddened and his eyes filled with betrayal. This is soon sorted out by the promise of a present . . . “a rainbow-coloured elephant” he pipes up with a grin as he sets his mission impossible.

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And so I find myself with time to kill. Reading, scrolling, observing. Noticing how passengers fuss and tut in security queues. I want to tap them on the shoulders and say: “Enjoy the peace lads, you’ve no buggy to take apart while holding a crying baby and clinging to a disorientated preschooler who doesn’t understand why he had to take his hoodie off and send it into this strange machine.”

I enter the airside terminal with its bright sparkly displays of luxury goods which is normally an obstacle course of overstimulation.

Browsing

And here’s the second neglected phrase of the past year – browsing. Normally, purchasing in a bricks and mortar shop with kids has the following thought process:

A) Do I need to get it now?

B) Am I sure I can’t wait and get it online?

C) Okay then, as I enter the shop as if about to diffuse a bomb, holding firmly on to my children, I take the item, don’t stop to inspect it, just go straight to the check-out, not letting my guard down until I’m out the door.

So I browsed. I considered buying some magical elixir that promised to make my deepening furrows disappear. But I remember my earlier “notions” of being a sophisticated woman when I turned up to the airport in heeled boots, with straightened hair and an Italian scarf. Notions put to bed after security when Mammy wondered why would I not opt for comfort. So I browsed, in my runners, like a centaur, Genevieve on top and Mammy on the bottom.

Emptiness

On the quiet air bridge queue onto the plane I hear them coming behind, thunk, thunk, thunk. One of the last to board they arrive with yelps and the type of uncontrolled running that only legs of a smallie are free enough to do. I can share the fear among untethered passengers that they’ll be sitting behind (kick, kick, kick). And yet I get a sense of longing. An emptiness. It’s the same kind of unrealistic yearning I get watching my children sleep. I check my bags, feeling like I’ve left something behind.

As the flight hurtles into the air I realise I can never feel all together when I’m apart from my boys. I close my tired eyelids and Louis’s cheeky grin flashes as if etched there. Passing the time until I see them again.

The feeling stays all weekend. But uninterrupted conversations, cocktails till the wee hours and sleeps-in till 9am dull the longing. I’m relearning how to be me. But the ding of a message with photos of at-home antics make the mammy in me jump with glee.

Sitting on my airplane seat as I begin my journey home, I rifle through my bag for one last check.

Mammy assignment complete, I pull out the multicoloured elephant trinket.