When we found out that we were expecting a fourth child, we had to cancel our planned trip to California. Yes, we’d booked airline tickets to California almost a year in advance. This has NOTHING to do with our own organizational skills, and everything to do with the generosity of Erick’s father, who had given us his airline miles for the trip. We had to book tickets with those miles by a certain time, so we went ahead and scheduled a 2-week visit to California in June 2013.
Then we found out I was pregnant, due in early June. Obviously, California wasn’t happening this summer.
Traveling anywhere from Vermont isn’t easy. Since we moved here in summer 2011, we’ve taken two out-of-state trips as a family: a two-hour jaunt to Lake George in upstate New York, and a four-hour drive to the Maine coast. Traveling to California requires a one-hour drive to the airport, at which point we’d pack onto a teeny-tiny plane bound for Chicago or D.C. or Detroit, where we’d transfer to a San Francisco-bound flight. (And that’s the best-case, single transfer scenario; there are no direct flights between Vermont and California).
To be honest, I don’t relish the idea of traveling with three (never mind FOUR) young children, so most days I’m grateful that the logistical challenge of leaving Vermont forces those less burdened by dependents — like our parents — to come to US.
But I’m sad that we’ll have to postpone our trip to California. Here’s my dirty little secret why:
I really, really miss our friends and family in California.
There! I said it!
The thing is, I’ve moved so much in my adult life: from Virginia to Massachusetts to Connecticut to New York to California to Vermont. Like most Americans, I have leaving in my genes; I’m descended from leave-rs. My ancestors left England and Scotland and Italy, bound for the farms and factories of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. So, I’m a pretty good leave-r; I say goodbye to places and people I love, and I don’t look back. I’ve prided myself on this adaptive skill. Somehow, I got the idea that missing people was wimpy, and would get in the way of embracing the life of whichever new place I’d settled. I’ve loved every place I’ve lived, but when it comes time to say goodbye I take an “out of sight, out of mind” approach. I just move on. I’m horrible at keeping in touch.
But Fiona taught me a little something about missing this year. One night when Erick was out and I was putting the girls to bed, she said, in her understated way, “Mommy, I really, really, really, really, really, really, REALLY miss Daddy!”
And I said, “I know, honey, but you’ll see him tomorrow. And there’s me; I’m here now!”
To which she replied, “Mommy, I love you, too. But the thing is: you’re not gone.”
Just like that, I saw that I’d gotten missing completely wrong. Here I was, trying to convince my daughter not to miss her father because she’d see him soon, dangling the carrot of my own presence to distract her from his absence. Teaching her how to adopt my own “out of sight, out of mind” coping strategy. And Fiona showed me that NO, it’s okay to just MISS someone. Missing doesn’t have to get in the way of loving where you are or who you’re with; sometimes you miss someone just because they’re not there.
So (deep breath): I MISS the people we left behind in California. This includes Erick’s extended family: aunts and uncles and cousins whom we haven’t seen in almost 2 years. And it includes our friends in the East Bay, a community the likes of which we’ll never experience again. These were the people with whom we had our first children, all of us struggling through the exhaustion and confusion and elation of first-time parenting: celebrating new births, bringing meals, watching each others’ babies so we could have date nights, mourning challenges and losses, organizing a home-based co-op preschool so that we could afford to give our kids an early education. It saddens me that I won’t see these people who shaped me as a mother, who played such a significant role in our daughters’ early years.
The other night, I had a vivid dream which is going to sound cheesy but which I promise was very real. Erick and I were standing outside a pub with our pastor from California (those of you who know our pastors from California realize that it’s not at all incongruous to find a pastor in a pub — or maybe this was just my subconscious mid-pregnancy desire for a stiff drink). All of a sudden, various friends whom we hadn’t seen in years started gathering with us. They didn’t all look great; as I recall, almost everyone needed a haircut, and a few had clearly had a bit to drink already. But it was a reunion of pure joy. In my dream, I was sobbing with happiness. When I woke up, there was still a lump in my throat.
There is no doubt in my mind that my dream was about Heaven: a place where you don’t have to miss anybody anymore.
I love Vermont, and our life here, and our friends here. But the thing is: they’re not gone.