I was waiting in line at a Starbucks in the desert on our road trip between Arizona and California. I could've been anywhere. Everything inside the store was the same as if I'd been on 65th and Lex in New York City. Home. My four kids were away with their dad on Spring Break. My second husband, Kyle, and I were on a true vacation.
We’d watched three days of tennis at the BNP Paribas tournament at Indian Wells, driven from Palm Desert, CA to Scottsdale, Arizona, to visit my mom and stepdad, and were driving back to spend a few days in LA.
I’d tried blasting music in the car from my iPhone but realized I only had “Moana,” “Frozen,” and “The Greatest Showman” soundtracks downloaded. Instead, I’d put my feet up on the dashboard as Kyle drove, the wind whipping my hair around, the hot sun streaming in, listening to an audiobook for the first time ever before tuning in to local radio. I was laughing, singing, learning.
We even stopped at Arby's. Who knew they'd have a delicious turkey sandwich on multigrain bread?!
Every so often, one of the kids Facetimed me.
“Can you believe technology,” I’d say to Kyle, after hanging up. “We’re literally in the middle of the desert and I’m talking to the kids like they’re in the next room. It’s insane. Amazing!”
I loved knowing they were so happy with their dad and grandparents. I was having a completely guilt-free trip away from them. Although of course I missed them.
I was also getting great sleep on multiple consecutive nights for the first time in about 11 years. As I went to order at Starbucks, trying to assess just how much caffeine I needed, I suddenly realized something: I wasn’t tired. I couldn’t believe it!
I’d been exhausted pretty much every day since I got pregnant with my twins over a decade before. Once the twins started sleeping through the night, I had two more kids. As soon as my little daughter outgrew wanting to sleep in bed with me every night, my little son launched his own campaign. I could count on one hand the number of nights at home that I’d slept through the night. Yes, when the kids were with their dad I got better sleep, but I was usually still so worried about them, their plans, their needs (Did I pack their medicines? Did I remind my daughter that it was opposite sock day?) that I still didn’t sleep. Just because they weren’t physically with me didn’t mean I was really off duty. I mean, come on. I’m their mom.
But this vacation was different. I was relaxed. I was sleeping. I barely recognized myself. My wrinkles seem to have gotten a little lighter, along with my hair. My skin had a nice glow from being out and about in the sunshine. My shoulders weren’t tight and knotted together like on a regular weekday in the city, rushing to and from school pick-ups and drop-offs and coordinating after school logistics for four kids. Hebrew School. Chess. Gymnastics. Soccer. Doctor’s appointments.
My back wasn’t aching from carrying kids up and down stairs. I was laughing. A lot. I had creative ideas: thoughts for great essays to write, books to author, TV shows to create, kids’ toys I wanted to invent. I was overflowing with inspiration as if I’d just pulled the stopper out of the kids’ bathtub and all of a sudden, there was a swirling whoosh of activity.
Instead of getting through the day, hopscotching from one cup of coffee to the next, I was fueled by sleep. A few days later, at breakfast at the Farmshop in Brentwood, waiters were practically forcing cups of coffee on me no matter how many times I shook my head "no" or covered the empty mug with my hand. The entire wait staff seemed incredulous that I really didn’t want any coffee. I could barely believe it myself.
I started thinking about how much more productive every parent could be with this amount of sleep. In fact, more sleep could alter the productivity, creativity and entrepreneurship of the entire nation! I’d figured out how to increase the GDP! I also started to imagine how much more amazing a mom I could be if I woke up every morning with 10 hours of sleep, ready to attack the day. Imagine.
I floated through the last couple days of vacation on a complete sleep high. I felt like a teenager, not like the 40-plus-year-old mom with lower back and knee pain who felt way too old to have a toddler. I read an entire novel. I wrote a chapter in my upcoming book. I tried new restaurants. Met up with friends. Watched movies. Stayed up late for fun, not because I was at my computer filling out camp forms. Played tennis in the desert.
And then, just like that, it ended.
Our reunion in the lobby was epic. Screams.Tight hugs. Pile-ons. Kisses. More screams. More hugs. Huge smiles all around. I’d missed the kids so much. We fit back together, like putting a half dozen eggs back in their carton.
That first night, I was right back in it. Three of the kids woke me up twice. Each. (You do the math.) The crankiness returned, both mine and theirs. My creative ideas dried up and rolled back into the hole they’d emerged from, like the Wicked Witch of the East under Dorothy’s house. But I couldn’t forget the knowledge that I was still under there. Happy. Creative. Energetic. Me! And that if I could just get through the next couple years until the kids all slept better, I would be myself again, not just a bedraggled mom getting through each day trying not to scream at anyone.
I’m sipping my third cup of coffee now at 11:16 am, dreaming about that time to come. When I get there, I’ll probably long for this stage again. (Well, maybe.) For now, the glimpse ahead is enough to get me through these harder parts.
Sorry, Starbucks. My days with you are numbered. But for today, I’ll take a tall coffee with skim milk, please. Actually, make it two.