"Flight attendants prepare for takeoff."
They're not exactly the most poignant words, and I've never had a fear of flying, so why was I sitting on the runway with tears streaming down my cheeks?
It had little to do with sadness at the thought of leaving my husband and little boy at home. I was only going for a long weekend and though I'd miss them dearly, a few days away can go a long way toward recharging the batteries. Especially when the batteries are constantly being drained by an extremely energetic (is there any other kind?) toddler with a penchant for being chased in circles. All day long. So it wasn't that.
It wasn't really the fear of traveling solo with a baby. By the time the pilot uttered those words, the hardest part was over. We had arrived at the airport the recommended 3 hours in advance, lugged the suitcase, stroller and diaper bag from the parking lot to the gate, paid all the necessary and unnecessary fees, stripped down as requested by the TSA (did you know even a 7-month old baby must take off her shoes?), and made it onto the plane. So it wasn't that, either.
It took me a few minutes to figure it out, but when I did I realized I wasn't sad at all. They were tears of happiness. Because for the first time in nearly three years, I finally felt like myself.
Travel has always been a huge part of my life, especially solo travel. There's just always been something so satisfying about throwing clothes in a bag and taking off...alone. Backpacking through Europe? You bet. Crossing the Australian Outback? Absolutely. I even made travel my career for several years, working for both Air France and Club Med resorts.
But then along came baby... and another baby... and it's never quite been the same. It's not that we stopped traveling. Both kids have passports and have already logged their share of frequent flier miles. But we've always traveled together as an entire family. And with so much luggage. Strollers, diapers, toys, bags of this and that. Even up at 35,000 feet, I felt so heavy, so weighed down. So afraid that I might not make it through the day, much less an entire trip, without the essential gear. Like my tenuous grasp on motherhood might somehow fly right out the window the moment we left solid ground.
Becoming a mother isn't an instant process, it doesn't just "happen" the minute the doctor puts that wriggling mass in your arms. It happens slowly, while rocking a sick baby back to sleep at 3am. It happens boldly, when you snap open a stroller with one hand while balancing a baby, a bag of groceries and a stuffed cow in the other. It happens silently, when you and your child exchange a knowing glance that turns to giggles in the rearview mirror. Sometimes it even happens on an airplane.
I didn't accomplish any great task, I just got on a plane and took a flight. But it was enough. Enough to make me realize the things that used to make me happy still can. I can be a parent and I can still be me. It's all part of the new person I'm becoming. It's beginning to happen.
And one day, I know I'll fly again.