Baby Steps: Homecoming

BabySteps-apr16Our columnist leaves her baby for the first time during a business trip and finds that home is much more than four walls.

One overcast morning in Seattle, I woke up to an alarm — instead of my 6-month-old — on my first trip away from her.

The good news was Maxine was eating from a bottle back home, pumping was going great, and I was prepped for the work that took me out of town.

The bad news was that I forgot to pack pants.

As I pulled on the leggings I’d worn on the drive up the night before, I breathed a sigh of relief. At least I didn’t leave behind something really important, like breast milk freezer bags.

Hashtag working mom problems, am I right?

Despite that slight hiccup, remedied by a quick trip to the Gap, the rest of the three-day trip went smoothly. The people I worked with were accommodating of my need to pump, and I was so busy that I barely had time to worry about my two girls at home. Whenever I could spare a minute, I talked with Edie and I watched the 14-second video my mom had sent me of Maxine more times than I can count.

“Grown-ups come back, right Mom?” she asked me over the phone, quoting a Daniel Tiger episode, and I promised I’d be home as soon as I could.

After my last meeting, I zipped to my car and rushed to the freeway — only to sit idling in deadlocked traffic for hours. I had hoped to be home by dinner, or at least in time to put Edie to bed, but those plans dissipated like so much exhaust as I crept along at five miles an hour with other impatient commuters.


About halfway home I had to stop at a rest area and, yes, pump. Fortunately I’d ordered a hand pump so I didn’t have to go in search of an electrical outlet among the steel toilets. So I listened to This American Life and the drip drip of my milk, hoping other travelers couldn’t see me inside my darkened car.

Finally I parked in our driveway. I walked inside and could hear my husband singing to Edie in her room.

“Hi Mom!” she said, as if I’d never left. There was no heartfelt reunion, but that was fine by me: We simply slid into her bedtime routine, and I kissed her forehead just like I do every evening.

A little later, Maxine woke up. I’d never been so relieved to hear her fussing at night. I went into the bedroom, picked her up and settled in for a feeding. As she nursed, her little hand meandered over my chest and face, as if she were getting reacquainted with her place in my arms. All the stress of my high-stakes business trip, the traffic and being away from my family faded a little more with each swallow.

Soon, her breathing evened out as she relaxed completely. She had fallen asleep. I brought her over to her bed but didn’t put her down right away. I rested with her head on my shoulder, and as she surrendered to sleep, I held her close.

I was home, where I belonged — at last.

Catherine Ryan Gregory
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