I’ve been a mom for 14 years now.
I’ve comforted nightmares, patched bruises, and wiped noses. I’ve held hands during first steps, calmed fears of darkness and scary movies, and celebrated victories like riding a bike or swimming across a pool. There have been road trips, school pageants, and baptisms. We’ve faced funerals, playground politics, and family crises. I’ve even spent two horrifying sleepless nights in the hospital watching one child conquer pneumonia and bronchitis.
In the process, I’ve watched my oldest daughter, Molly, turn into a young, independent teen, and my youngest, Erin, become an active second grader.
One would think that, by this point, I would be pretty well versed in this whole “parenting” thing. I did too–until it was time to let one of them babysit the other.
The idea of leaving my “babies” home alone was a completely new concept to me. I grew up in a house with a live-in grandparent who watched us on the rare occasion my parents went out. My brother was seven years older than me—the same age difference between my own two children—but I don’t remember him being “in charge” without other adults around.
I had friends and classmates whose parents both worked long jobs, were divorced, or, in one case, were neglectfully absent due to substance abuse problems. To me being “home alone” without adult supervision seemed unfathomable.
As for my own kids, my parents watched my oldest until my mother passed away. My oldest was six then, and our youngest wasn’t born until a year later. Then, when we went out, one of my husband’s former students, whom we knew well, would watch then, as well as my father from time to time.
However, my husband reminded me when Molly turned 14 it was time to let her watch her little sister… on her own. Gulp!
When it was announced in May (the same month my daughter turned that fateful age) tickets were on sale to see two of the founders of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, John Cleese and Eric Idle, I immediately went online and purchased two of the best seats in the house. Then I crumbled slowly into a panic over the next seven months.
What had I done? How will my kids cope on their own? They argue constantly. The world is filled with creepy people in vans, rabid wolves, tornadoes, and earthquakes… and sharp corners.
One thing they never tell you when you become a mom is how violent your unnecessary premonitions become. What if she falls on scissors? What if they stand on the bathtub and fall? What if they see YouTube video on making Molotov cocktails… and try it in the kitchen near that gas stove?
My husband, Rick, who had “taken care of his little brother on his own” since he was ten, said I was being ridiculous. He had to “cook,” “clean,” “get him to bed,” “re-wire the house,” “build their own beds,” and blah, blah, blah.
Okay, okay, I get it. I’m over-reacting. I had to keep reminding myself that being able to see these two men is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for me. The Pythons were like The Beatles to me. I’ve memorized their skits and movies and even made a Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch to celebrate the anniversary of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
They are both in their 70s, and there likely would be no more “live” Monty Python tours after this–definitely not with the whole crew. Graham Chapman is long passed on, and it was recently announced fellow Python Terry Jones was diagnosed with a progressive form of dementia. There are very few “celebrities” I would fangirl for, but the Pythons are at the top of that weird list.
However, every loving parent knows that “first times” are always terrifying. Whether it’s sending them off to pre-K, dropping them off for an overnight visit with family, handing them over the keys to the family car, or (gasp) leaving home for college.
As a result, an event I would otherwise have been talking about enthusiastically I hardly mentioned the entire summer and following autumn. I didn’t help that I kept seeing Cleese’s constant lamenting about sluggish ticket sales in El Paso on his Twitter feed. This couldn’t be a good sign. Was it an omen? Maybe I should cancel.
When the day arrived, my father (our only local relative) was out-of-town, and I felt a bubble of eerie isolation surrounding the home. We ordered the girls a pizza, and my husband gave Molly my cheap flip phone so she could text him in an emergency.
This meant I was left without a phone, or more specifically, without a lifeline to the kids. What if I needed to call them? He assured me it would be fine. He didn’t want me constantly checking my phone, but I needed some sort of “date night” security blanket. In a rush, I grabbed an old fob watch and carried it with me. My only logic to this move was I could check to see how long we’d been away–as if there some statute of limitations to them being good. If we were gone longer than two hours, then all hell would break loose.
My perpetual trepidation was constantly in the foreground of my mind. When the ushers opened the main theatre, Rick sent a quick text to say the show is going to start soon and he was putting the phone on quiet mode. Molly texted back that everything was fine.
“For now,” I thought.
I kept running a little prayer in my head over and over, “please let them be okay,” although who was I kidding? It should have been “please let me be okay.” I wondered if there was a way I could hijack Rick’s phone on the way to the bathroom and zip a quick note to the girls.
No dice. It was firmly in his pocket, but at least I had my watch, and I knew the show was about to start at 8 p.m. When the little stage lights went on, and Cleese and Idle wandered on stage, I got a moment of giddiness… then checked the time. It was 8:04 p.m. Somehow this was comforting. Throughout the first half, where they talked about their histories, showed film clips, and read hilarious skits, I kept checking the watch as if it was somehow going to give me a magical glimpse of home.
Seriously, what was my problem? I had wanted to see these guys (even if it was just two of them) in person for more than 30 years. I needed to let go of my worries and enjoy myself. Yet, my mind kept wandering from the show to how my girls were doing at home, and by intermission I made Rick send a text. Actually, he was already doing it when I asked.
All calm back at the ranch, apparently. My husband asked if I was enjoying the show.
Of course I was, except for that part of my brain releasing that little medley of disaster scenarios.
I glanced at the watch, which had made a nice indention in the palm of my hand. Nine o’clock and the second half was about to start.
“They could easily go another hour,” my husband said happily.
I inhaled deeply. A lot could happen in one hour.
By the time the second half of the show began, something very strange started happening. I slowly “forgot” to worry and begin really enjoying myself. I laughed more genuinely at these men’s re-enacting of favorite sketches and film clips of iconic scenes from The Holy Grail and Life of Brian.
“We dine well here in Camelot
We eat ham and jam and spam a lot!!!
Even through my worries were easing, the girls were still floating around in my head, although not so much near the front. I had remembered I wanted to show Molly Holy Grail but not Brian quite yet. Wait a few years on that one.
By now I was having such a good time, I had even neglected to grip the fob watch, and the mark on my hand had disappeared. The show ended with Idle leading an enthusiastic audience in “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” and we all stood up and sang along:
“You’ll see it’s all a show,
Keep ’em laughing as you go.
Just remember that the last laugh is on you!”
After the show, we waited a few moments for the crowd to thin out, then headed quickly out of the theatre. I couldn’t wait to get home to my children. Parked in front of the entrance was a large, white limo with a few hopeful fans lingering around it. We ignored it. Had to get home to the girls. Probably a “decoy,” anyway.
We were parked on the other side of the building, and I found myself speedily walking around the back to get to the car. As we passed the “backstage” door, we saw a small gathering of people.
Not massive but big enough to be suspect. Then I noticed Cleese’s head looming over the rest of the crowd. At that moment, I did something “awful.” I forgot who I was, for a bit… at least in terms of being a parent. I grabbed my nice little leaflet with the caricature of the two Pythons and made my way into the crowd. Idle was also hidden in the midst of them. I managed to meet him first and thanked him for being such a big part of my growing up (at least that’s what I hope I said; no telling what actually came out of my mouth). He signed my leaflet, and I managed to make my way to Cleese and tell him similarly as he added his signature to the paper. I had just met two of my comedy heroes, and I was practically skipping back to the car.
I was coming down from my middle-aged fangirling when a sudden wave of panic hit me: I had let my guard down and not thought of my children for a few moments. What kind of parent was I?
Then my husband sent one last text to Molly before driving home and got that familiar “bleep” back with a note saying all was well and “see you soon.” My nerves suddenly calmed. Yes, all was well.
It is right for parents to worry about their children’s well-being, but I had been clinging so desperately to the torturous visions of my own over-protective mind that I never realized part of their “well-being” was to learn self-reliance and independence.
Molly needed to take on the responsibility of caring for her little sister. As a result, she began looking at little sister as less of an “annoyance” and more as an actual person. This was, like her, a very special, precious thing to her parents. She was going to do the best job she could to keep her safe.
Erin also needed to realize, even when her parents were away, they still love her. She needed to know she could rely on her big sister and to not be afraid to have us out of her sight.
My lesson was the hardest.
I needed to know I could trust them. I had to trust my teen to do what’s best in the case of emergency and to know we now see her as a responsible, smart, and resourceful young woman. I had to trust my youngest to follow instructions, get herself ready for bed, and to take on more small chores of her own.
I had to trust they would be okay and that being away from Mom and Dad for an evening wasn’t going to cause any permanent trauma… to me.
When we got home, Erin was already in her pajamas, but she had waited up for us so she could hug us goodnight. The house was clean, the pets were alive, there were no signs of flooding, smoke damage, or any of the other Biblical-level plagues I had concocted happening in my mind.
They were happy. They were unhurt. They were… just fine.
“Mom, I missed you,” Erin announced, running up to hug us as we entered the house. “We had a fun time.”
At that point, my guilt for “abandoning” my kids had vanished, and it was replaced with relief we all made it through the night… but even more with pride in my children.
Then, before heading to bed, she asked, “When can Molly watch me again?”
We’ve already bought tickets to a show next month.