On having a phantom limb for a few days

It was my first time in Los Angeles. Travis had a work conference, and I tagged along to explore the city and recharge before we start a new year, possibly with a new baby by March.

It also seemed like a good opportunity for us to mark our ten-year anniversary, and Miles’s grandparents in Oregon were more than willing to have him to themselves for a few days.

We’ve traveled without him only once before, but then he was only 18 months old and it was a shorter trip. This time he had the capacity to grapple with what it meant for us to be away–and come back.

My partner, Travis, got the brilliant idea from somewhere to make a paper chain, with a ring for each day we’d be gone. At the end of each of those days, Miles could rip off a ring. It really seemed to help him better understand the concept of the passing days. He constantly asked if it was time to cut the next ring.

It also helped that we had already spent two weeks with his grandparents. Occasionally, in the last two days, when we reminded him about what was going to happen, he would look up at me and say, “I don’t want Papa and Daddy to go away.” This made something die inside me, but fortunately, he never dwelled on it for long.

Once we left him, the change was massive, to move through my days without Miles—my baby, my constant companion.

Since the day Miles came into our lives, I lost some of my individuality. I didn’t lose my personality (although it has changed), but I lost a physical sense of being a differentiated body, apart from others. Especially since I started spending all of my days with Miles, I became partly fused with him, this other creature who is strange and irritating and beautiful and demanding and cuddly.

Much of the relationship is one way: I give to him. But many aspects of our lives together have become symbiotic. I’m often exhausted by his demands and his active, always-on behavior, but I can almost never get enough of his dimple-smiled radiance, his laughter, and what it feels like to press my cheek against his. I have come to need those things.

The symbiotic nature of our lives together is more than just those moments, though. Being away from him, I could detect ways that he has influenced how I see the world and interact with other people. It is different to be a parent. The emotions I have go deeper than they could before because life with Miles has forced me to experience a new level of intensity.

In a very physical sense, I had a hard time adjusting to not having his bodily needs intertwined with mine. I didn’t necessarily miss it, but I felt like my body was in some kind of withdrawal. Or like he was my phantom limb.

At one point, sitting in a coffee house in Los Angeles, I pictured the mountains and mountains we had flown over from central Oregon to southern California. A wave of nausea spread across my gut.

The news of birds falling dead out of the sky and hundreds of fish floating belly up had me thinking I was insane to leave my son. What was I thinking? What terrible timing! We finally decide to take some time to ourselves, and of course signs of the apocalypse are popping up all over!

More than once, I found myself strategizing about how we’d find our way out of the pre-apocalyptic traffic surrounding Los Angeles to get back to Miles. Just in case, we told Grandpa that our contingency plan was to meet them in a far northern California town.

Don’t get me wrong. I did not spend most of my time in L.A. wringing my hands for Miles. Most of the time, I actually forgot his absence—for hours at a time. I wandered the streets of downtown Los Angeles, luxuriating exclusively in my reactions, my impulses, and my sore legs. It’s just that when I remembered him, it came back to me with a small sense of panic and anxiety.

I loved the chance to be away and to remember what it’s like to be an autonomous individual. Not to have to stop and start everything I’m doing—from putting on my coat to eating food—to take care of another being’s needs. But it wasn’t just being by myself, it was marvelous to be experiencing a place as vibrant and foreign as L.A. on my own, for three full days. Really, it was a dream fulfilled, and it definitely made me feel more centered as a parent upon our return.

When we finally arrived back in central Oregon—after a terrible, seven-hour delay spent in Burbank—I could barely wait to rush out and hold Miles. I kept reminding myself that, contrary to what I wanted, he would not want to just sit and cuddle in my lap for an hour.

Travis kindly let me walk out first while he waited for our bag at the gate. I could see Miles’s face light up through the revolving door. I tried to pick him up immediately and hug him.

He dived out of my way and his first words were, “Look at this, Papa!” He did a joyful dance—weaving and bobbing all over the floor. (And almost crashed into exiting passengers.) Then he beamed up at me and jumped into my arms.


3 thoughts on “On having a phantom limb for a few days

  1. Pingback: Mild obsessions: Catherine Opie « Regular Midwesterners

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