A friend of mine is a midwife educator and we took a few classes with her before our baby was born. In one of them, on the topic of pain, she introduced us to a great saying: FEAR is False Expectations Approaching Reality. It buoyed me at the time in the hopes that labor wouldn’t be as painful as I expected. Although I can’t say the birth of my daughter was less painful than I feared, I can say that traveling to the U.S. with her was.
There were many things that allowed my FEAR to be just that—false expectations. Some things were better than I worried they’d be, and some things were worse. But overall, it was a much more pleasant experience than I imagined—as another American friend who’s a long-timer in Mexico has suspected may be the case with me, I might be psyching myself out to be pleasantly surprised in the end. Not a typical personality characteristic of mine, but when it comes to love and exile, it can be a useful tactic.
The cost was not a problem because I did not keep track of how much money I spent like I have on other trips. Why bother? Keeping track of my receipts wouldn’t change how much I had to shell out, that I’ve been unemployed for the last 24 months, or that my financial safety net is developing some seriously large holes. In the end, I had enough to get back home.
The family reunion was a success, if you don’t count the fact that my husband wasn’t there. But then again, neither were several aunts, uncles, and cousins…so why be nit-picky? The important thing was that my daughter got to see her grandparents (my parents) again, meet her uncle (my brother) and his fiancée, her great-aunt & uncle and a couple of their relatives, a good handful of my high school friends, and a large number of my parents’ friends from work.
One unexpected dynamic was that despite his absence, Margo had a much stronger presence than past trips, and I chalk that up to him being present through our daughter. She looks a lot like him, questions directed to me about her invariably brought him up, and many people intuited how much she (and me, by default) must miss him. So it was nice not having to tiptoe around the subject of his absence like a big white elephant.
I’d done my grieving over not being able to get a Canadian visa for Margo for travel. I’d prepared myself emotionally and let loose a few floodgates en route to have the best mindset possible upon arrival. Sure, a few tense moments occurred as can happen with anyone traveling with kids and aligning parenting philosophies with the grandparents. But I was surprisingly solid when it came to not falling apart.
It might have been because I convinced myself, as I told our daughter, that there were some good things about him staying home: he had to work, we saved money, someone had to feed the chickens and the bunny and the cats and water the garden, someone had to watch the house. So when we’d make our phone calls, it felt more like he was serving a purpose back home than languishing lamenting about not being with us. That was fortunate.
I also might not have had time to grieve his absence since I was so darn busy taking care of the baby. Besides fully co-parenting with my husband, we also had someone coming in a few days a week to help with the baby for the month before we left, and so I was used to getting a large amount of help with the baby at all hours. Her grandparents were great with her, feeding, entertaining, and bathing her to everyone’s delight, but spending the nights getting up alone with her and putting her to bed during Fourth of July fireworks and the days prior were more tiring than normal.
One FEAR that was more true than I expected was the exhaustion factor of the actual bus and air travel by ourselves. But even so, it was kind of funny to see a couple in the airport with two young kids bickering over some aspect of parental care mid-escalator ride. In the state I was in, baby hanging from the sling, (albeit balanced nicely with backpack weight), with luggage in tow, I smiled knowingly at the woman and said, just breathe. She looked surprised for a moment but then smiled back at me. Then they went back to their bickering and I thought to myself, I don’t have to deal with that aspect of traveling together, even if my back is aching!
Another silver lining to the exhaustion was that all of that extra time with the baby by myself also led to something special—we bonded like when she was a newborn, and that was perhaps the sweetest unexpected benefit of all.
When I got back to Mexico, I got some feedback from friends with children that gave me some insight about the fact that, although I may have unique circumstances as to why my husband isn’t able to travel with us, it’s surprisingly common for many of my friends to fall into the traveling alone with kids department. One friend related how her husband is stuck in the PhD program from hell for almost 10 years, which has forced her to strike out camping on her own with two small boys. A new American friend here in Mexico traveled alone with not one but two kids up to the States in June—not because her husband doesn’t qualify for a visa but because he forgot to renew it. Others travel alone because their spouses can’t get time off work.
Although I feel womanly solidarity in that we all face similar challenges with our children and I empathize with their spouses’ unavailability for travel (and I also bow down to their ability to juggle multiple infants alone!), when I mentioned this to Margo, as well as the pros of the “holding down the fort” argument, he wasn’t 100% convinced. “Yeah that’s all true, but I would like to go.” Knowing he’s someone who doesn’t express their wants and needs often, his words didn’t fall on deaf ears. And perhaps that is the one expectation that most disappointingly approached reality: that on the subject of traveling together as a family, reunion or otherwise, bright sides or not, ultimately we didn’t have any choice but for Daddy to stay home.