With sons ages 2 and 4 and an extended family largely located on the opposite side of the country from me, I feel fairly accustomed to traveling with kids at this point. Can’t say I’m crazy over it, and my husband Alex and I do draw the line. We have good boys but we’re not gluttons for punishment. I figure one cross-country trip every other summer is plenty; anybody who really wants to see us in the intervening year can come out west, where, incidentally, there are no mosquitoes.

When Alex’s family planned a reunion in the Cape Cod area last summer, I couldn’t face making the trip. The previous summer we had done the whole nine yards — cross-country flight plus several longish road trips ferrying around to relatives’ houses for two weeks. It went well but by the time we came home, I seriously needed another vacation, and I still break out into hives remembering some of the hairier days of that trip. But I also didn’t want to be the party poopers; we’d have been the only family members to shun the reunion, and I didn’t particularly want to get on my in-laws’ list (although I admit being a little bitter that it was an easy short trip for the rest of them and, at the time, we were the only family members with toddlers to tote).

So I came up with the idea of sending just Alex and Luke, who would have just turned 4. He’s a particularly good traveler and we knew he’d love to see all his “big kid” cousins. Rafe, who would be almost 2 (and who is a much more high-maintenance traveler), and I would use the week to make a short visit to my folks, who live just an hour’s flight away. It would give each parent some bonding time with one child. Truly this seemed like the perfect solution. Plus, taking care of just one son for a week seemed practically like a vacation in itself!
I did worry, of course, it being required by law and all: Would Luke miss his mommy, being in a strange place so far away? Would little Rafe be upset over the missing daddy and big brother? What sort of calamities might befall the travelers?
Little did I know: The boys were not the problem this time. I was.
The airport taxi came to pick up Alex and Luke in the morning and as I kissed them goodbye, I started bawling. Suddenly seeing MY BABY go off, heading for somewhere thousands of miles away from me, completely undid me. I didn’t want to upset Luke so I tried valiantly not to bawl too noticeably. Tricky.
Problems continued that evening when they called to check in from their hotel. Everything went fine and I felt fine myself until Luke’s high voice piped through the phone, “Hi, Mommy!” He wasn’t even remotely distressed over anything. I once again started bawling, and again tried to disguise it, this time as a sneezing fit. Finally I just asked him to put dad back on the phone so I could bawl freely.
I managed to burst into tears this way upon hearing Luke’s voice for at least the first half of the week. By the end of it I wasn’t quite so emotional and was able to actually engage in conversation with him. On the day they came home, I had a sitter stay with Rafe during his naptime and I drove to the airport to pick them up, happy that I could go back to being normal at last. I waited with excitement, watching for them to appear at the far end of the walkway leading to baggage claim. Finally, there they were: Alex wearing his backpack and pushing the umbrella stroller, with Luke rolling happily along in it. They pushed through the glass doors.
I bawled.
Truly, there are few experiences more humbling than having your 4-year-old look at you as if you’re completely mental and say, “Mommy, why are you crying NOW?”