I came across this essay in the New York Times about a father, Reif Larsen, who took a trip alone called, In Search of Lost Me Time. This essay is a beautiful display of a father’s love and it made my day after reading.
In Search of Lost Me Time
By REIF LARSENMAY 31, 2016 In retrospect, maybe I placed too much significance on that first trip alone after my son was born. For the first year of his life I had barely spent a single night away from him, so it was only natural that I saw this trip as a precious chance to be, however briefly, a sane adult again. The trip was only for one night to a not-very-glamorous city where I would stay in a not-very-glamorous hotel and deliver a talk in the evening. The place itself did not matter — it could have been anywhere. Instead, it was the promise of travel, of not being home and on duty that seduced me. Somehow the whole experience became a stand-in for everything that I had lost as a new father: I would be able to sleep in! I could drink more than one beer! I could drink 1,000 beers! I could have a solo electronic dance party to early Kraftwerk records! I could dress up like a robot! I could play Ouija board with myself! (Apparently I have a very strange definition of being “an adult.”) This is not to say I begrudged fatherhood. On the contrary, I loved my new human boy-child more than I thought possible, as if there were a hidden water tower of love mounted somewhere just above my gallbladder that released its spout only when I saw him emerge into the world. Mothers have nine months to adjust to the realness of this creature’s presence; they feel the kicks and the morning sickness and the general hormonal tempest of gestation. Fathers can’t truly wrap their heads around a child’s existence until he or she actually appears: We have to play catch up in approximately 10 seconds, which is why at the moment of birth many of us weep or faint or start singing Whitney Houston songs. But we are allowed to dream, yes? We are allowed to pine for that simpler time before swaddle blankets and sleep cries, when time was still our time, unplanned and marvelously flexible, when we could watch an entire season of “Six Feet Under” in one sitting because … well, what else were we going to do? When every evening out did not also include a complex babysitter calculus (“These previews alone are costing me $10!”) So my little trip became a surrogate for this glorious period from my past: We’ll call it B.B.V. (Before Baby Vomit). Funny that I took great pleasure in planning out my re-enactment of this supposedly unplanned time. Perhaps, like me, you are one of those travelers who also takes great pleasure in meticulously designing a trip, in marinating in all the little delicious possibilities of getting from point A to point B. Oh, that restaurant supposedly serves the best carnitas tacos north of the Arctic Circle? Be still my beating heart. I often find the anticipation of a journey is much more enjoyable than the journey itself, which can frequently feel like a letdown, mired in such real-world phenomena as “that hairball smell from the hotel bathroom that won’t go away.” Reality never quite measures up to the unattainable perfection of the imaginary destination. So it was with great gusto that I filled up my imaginary day on the lam: I would go see a terrible movie! In the daytime! I would go to a barbecue restaurant! I would order a starter and a main course! I would take a three-hour bath! I would meet an old friend at a bar! Afterward we would go to another
bar! Then I would sleep. My God, I would sleep. Just dreaming of this possibility of uninterrupted slumber was enough to sustain me for weeks of baby fluid management. The time for my trip came. It started off wonderfully. At the seventh circle of hell we call Newark Liberty International Airport I was amazed at how easily I breezed through check-in and security without the usual accouterments of stroller/diaper bag/rattles/bottles/pacifiers/toys/books/poop. I felt almost guilty. Out of habit, I helped a solo mom unfold her stroller coming off the X-ray belt. “Thank you,” she said, half-grateful, half-confused. Who was this shoeless man?, she must have been thinking. “I have one too,” I said then held up my hands as if I had just lost him somewhere in the airport.
Credit Tony Cenicola/The New York Times The airport was perhaps the highlight of the trip. I walked and browsed. I had a beer! (This felt very indulgent. I didn’t know those people in airport bars were actual travelers. I always assumed they were all actors hired to lend the terminal a certain ambience.) Yet everywhere I went I couldn’t escape this feeling as if I had lost something essential. Keys, wallet, cellphone … hmmm. It was eerie. I examined every baby I passed, guessed their age, noted pacifier brand and travel stroller design. (Wow! That thing is tiny! I wonder how it handles the bumps?) I went into a gift shop and browsed through ugly “I♥NYC” onesies. Wait … what the hell was going on? What had I become?
Before my scheduled talk in the evening, I went to my terrible daytime movie (“Jupiter Ascending”). I was the only person in the theater so I took great pleasure in discovering how high I could throw my Raisinets and still have a reasonable chance of catching them in my mouth. I went swimming in the hotel pool without fear of exploding swim diapers or dry drowning baby lungs. After my talk I enjoyed a (wait for it) three
-course barbecue dinner. Yet everything still seemed slightly off. I missed the feeling of anticipating this trip, of dreaming of solo adulthood. In the flesh, solo adulthood felt kind of … boring. Later, I met my old friend for a drink. Our friendship originated deep in the time before marriage and kids, deep in the B.B.V., back when we wore flannel and still thought Jack Kerouac was a good writer. I tried to put on a good face, tried to imagine us drinking until dawn, when we would go jump naked into a polluted river, but I was so tired from not being a father for a day I felt short of breath and almost fell off my bar stool. I could barely make it through one beer. “How’s fatherhood?” he asked. I could tell he was giving me the opening to rant against all of the lost sleep and endless responsibilities. We could talk women and drugs and the dream of the open road. “Actually I kind of miss it,” I said. “It’s hard to be away.” He looked at me with great sadness. We mourned, he and I. Then I fell off my bar stool. The bed at the hotel was approximately one acre wide. There were no babies in it. I shed my clothes and fell into its vast territory. I called home to see if everyone was O.K., mining for mundane details (“So wait — he didn’t
like pineapple? What is he, crazy?”) and then set my alarm for 16 hours in the future, worried that I might miss my flight if I went all Rip Van Winkle up in here. How long was it physically possible for one man to sleep? I did not go all Rip Van Winkle up in here. Instead, I woke up two hours later. Confused, I listened for my son’s cries but heard only the dull, anonymous hum of hotel air-conditioning. I lay there for an hour, pondering my uselessness before finally drifting off, only to wake up again at 5 a.m. from a nightmare in which my son was choking on chunks of pineapple. Back at the airport the next day, exhausted and disoriented, I walked right past the bar full of background actors and bought a stuffed lion and an alphabet book at a garish kiosk. I read part of the alphabet book to the bemused cashier. “L is for lion,” I assured her. I could never go back to B.B.V., to the time of no time. That ship had sailed. But then I was beginning to realize the imaginary could never quite measure up to the unattainable perfection of reality. For now, I found myself looking forward to the ideal destination, a place full of exploding diapers and sleepless nights and water towers of love: home. The full essay can be found here