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Two Days

That’s how long I’m happy being away from Simon. I know this for a certainty as I just wrapped the better part of five days being on the road.

I left town on Sunday. But we spent most of that day together, as my flight didn’t leave until he was ready for an afternoon nap, and I had packed the night before to free me to spend all of my time with him before leaving for the airport.

Then Monday, I worked a bit from my Berkeley office, had a lunch meeting with an author, met an advisor at Cal, and then spent the evening with friends. It was a good work day, and I managed to visit with the children of friends without missing Simon too terribly. In fact, his absence most certainly allowed me to spend more time with the other children, especially 3 ½-year-old Thomas, with whom I rolled cars, played with vintage Star Wars toys, and engaged in various other little boy games. So Monday was cool.

Tuesday was my busiest day of all. I was booked at my conference from breakfast until after dinner and had nine official work appointments. I like being busy and find conferences alienating and overwhelming when I have too much time on my hands. I got back to my hotel room just in time to check email and go to bed on Tuesday, with sufficiently little down-time that breakfast was tea and scones with an author and lunch was skipped entirely. So Tuesday was cool, too.

Then I woke up Wednesday and suddenly felt not cool at all. I missed Simon. It seemed wrong to have been away for so long. I had my meetings and did my best, buy my energy was lower than the day before. Whenever I saw a small child, I felt a little wistful. I was ready for my day to end—ready for my trip to end.

Thankfully, I got rescued from my doldrums by the arrival of good friends Katherine and Yun, the parents of a total of five children. Katherine arrived by dinner time, consulted with me on boys clothing at Zara, and then offered field-tested advice on the best Chinatown trinkets for little boys. I used to pass by the tables heaped with junk outside the seemingly identical shops lining Grant Street and wonder, “Who buys this stuff?” People with children, that’s who buys that stuff. And it’s not all alike, either. I learned that lesson as Katherine persisted in her search for the “right” toy cable car. Not all them ring when you roll them, she explained, and ringing is a crucial element in the toy cable car experience.

Arms loaded with new purchases, including matching pleather purses I would have turned my nose up at four years ago, Katherine and I retired to a nice little French bistro for a matching dinner of scallops and wine. Then Yun arrived just in time for some dessert and girl talk. She arrived bearing gifts for Simon, including a tee-shirt I almost ordered him myself (in the wrong size, might I add, while Yun got it right) and a super cool Automoblox mini car. If you aren’t familiar with these—and I wasn’t—they are wooden cars with exchangeable assembly parts that allow children to design and build vehicles of their own design. Also, and this is important, they roll like an absolute dream.

Simon went to bed last night clutching his Automoblox in one hand and his cable car in another. These women know their toddler stuff!

But more than the stuff, Wednesday was salvaged by four hours of companionship with these wonderful friends. Our backgrounds, lives, and kids are all wildly different, but we all genuinely like and respect each other and support our mutual choices. There was none of the competitive parenting or even sizing-up I sometimes witness, just an honest sharing of experiences, tips, frustrations, worries, and delights. By the time we said our goodbyes forty-five minutes after the restaurant closed, I felt better about my parenting and buoyed with new ideas for the same all at once.

When I teetered up to my hotel room at 11:00 Wednesday night, I still had to pack and get myself ready for a 5:00 wake-up call the next morning. This was going to be no easy feat, for my small rolling bag now had to contain an extra purse and pair of shoes of mine, four shirts and a sweater for Simon, three toys, home-made preserves from friend Christine, a bag of tea, and a conference book. It was closer to a geometry exercise than anything I’ve done in a long time!

I was physically tired when I woke up Thursday, but mentally felt much better than I had the day before because I knew I was going to see Simon that day. I also knew that just as soon as Simon is ready for a cross-country flight, my little family is going to plan a California vacation to spend time with all these people who made our separation easier to swallow.

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