For at least six months, Carol and I had been planning to travel to NYC for a non-fiction writer’s workshop.  We’d been working on our book about “Guilt-Free Girlfriend Getaways” for more than a year, and figured it was time to start “pitching” the idea.

Because my husband travels a lot for work, I was able to secure “free” plane tickets and two free nights at the Hilton on Sixth Avenue (just two blocks from my old office, so a comfortable area).  Carol also had enough “points” for free flights and coupons for the Grand Hyatt, for the last part of the trip.

A few weeks before the conference, I lined up a babysitter to shuttle my 10-year-old daughter around on three schooldays.  I made detailed lists of her and my three boys’ activities during that time (football practice and games for the high schoolers, cross-country practice and a meet for the eighth grader, Sunday lacrosse practices for all three boys, dance and choir rehearsals for the girl, youth group meetings for the sophomore and the SAT exam for my senior…).  It looked like a busy five days, but no different from any other week.

My hour-by-hour list omitted no details; it even instructed when to walk the dog and feed the pets.  After losing a hamster during one trip away (I found him upside-down in his plastic “spaceship” after returning from a weekend with my mom), I don’t leave anything to chance.

Everything was shaping up, and Carol and I felt ready to share our “pitch” and book proposal.

A week before the trip, my husband mentioned his own travel plans.  He needed to attend a company meeting in D.C., so would be leaving Sunday and returning Thursday night. “You’re going on Thursday, right, so the kids should be okay until I get home,” he said.

“I’m taking the red-eye on Wednesday night; you should have that on your calendar,” I spat at him.  “We can’t leave the kids alone that night.”  You know, just when they’re old enough to be on their own, you can’t trust them to be in the house “alone.”

“Okay, we’ll just have to get someone to spend the night,” he replied.  He’s really good about saying what “we” need to do.  I’ve learned how to respond in a very clear manner: “Yes, why don’t YOU call your nephew or your parents,” I said.  “I’ve covered every other minute of my trip, but I can’t deal with that.”

He understood.  Fortunately, our nephew is back living at home, half a mile away, while he finishes his last quarter of college.  Happy for the babysitting pay and a night away, he came over for some “cousin bonding” just before I left on Wednesday night.

When Carol and her husband arrived for the drive to the airport, all four kids hugged me and wished me well.  “When your book makes it big, I want you to remember that I was the ONLY one who supported you from the start,” my 17-year-old said.

“When your book makes us rich, can I get a jet ski?” the 13-year-old asked.

“Take pictures of really cute clothes,” my daughter instructed me.

Finally, we were off.

Neither of us likes airport stress, so we arrived 1.5 hours before our flight.  The only issue at check-in was that I had to sit on Carol’s bag so she could zip it shut.  Fortunately, both of our bags then passed muster as carry ons, mostly because no one weighed them.

We planned to have a late (9:30 pm) dinner and glass of wine at the airport before takeoff.  After locating our gate, we took seats at a nearby terminal restaurant.  It was probably a few minutes before 10 pm.  “Sorry, our kitchen just closed,” our waiter announced.

 “Do you have any bar food, chips, peanuts, or whatnot?”  I asked.  He nodded sadly.

Hmmmm, alcohol on an empty stomach, after two weeks of too-little sleep (getting ready for the trip and the book presentation). Well, at least we would sleep well on the red-eye.

Of course, “red-eye” connotes a quick night’s sleep en route, which is a misnomer for the night-time flight from Seattle to New York.  The plane departs at 11:15 pm Pacific time, and lands in Chicago at about 5 am, which is 3 am in Seattle.  At that time, McDonald’s and Starbucks are just opening their doors, announcing “It’s time for coffee and McMuffins,” but your body is saying, “Excuse me?  Breakfast?  It feels like the middle of the night.”

An hour later, we were flying from Chicago to NYC, with the strong morning sun streaming in through the windows.  Businesspeople were dressed in suits for their East Coast meetings, reading the paper, working on their laptops and getting buzzed on caffeine.  I was still wondering where the night went.

It reminded me of those early parenting years.  When the morning alarm rings, you wonder why you don’t feel rested.  Then you remember: Jimmy woke up screaming from a nightmare, the baby wanted a 2 am feeding and two-year old Susie snuggled in after wetting her bed.  Never mind the fact that your husband seemed to be sawing logs.  Yes, motherhood is good training for red-eyes.

I was groggy when we landed at LaGuardia, but the hustle and bustle, strong smells and even stronger accents quickly woke me up.  I was so happy to be back in New York, where I spent my carefree 20s.  And so began our five-day escape to the Big Apple.

I found a heads-up penny on the street as we climbed into a cab, and stashed it in my pocket.  I knew it would bring me luck.

-Linda Williams Rorem, 11-1-10

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