Every once in a while, I take a trip and leave my 3-year-old daughter behind. I drop her off at my parents’ farm in southeastern Ohio, where I load the fridge with blueberries, kiss her, and say goodbye. On the return drive to Pittsburgh, I feel bittersweet and fragile. My life has a missing piece.
The first night is a little queasy. The next day, though, I decamp with exhilaration. I have come to see that these trips follow a mythical arc. First comes the literal voyage: airplanes over the Midwest, or a long rainy drive on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Physical distance and travel sharpen my senses, and the filter of mothering lifts: I see the world the way I did before I had a child.
I am a mother. I am unsure if my maternity makes me old, putting me in the same category as my own parents — beyond hipness — or if my maternity simply makes me other, no longer capable in the same way of partaking in youth or intellectual or avant-garde or party or travel culture. My culture is parenthood, like an accent I can never shake, but sometimes hide.