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06/18/2005

We don't miss much

A few weeks ago, my mother and I were discussing her upcoming visit on the phone. She said, "While I'm there, I want you and Paul to go away one morning, spend the night, and come back the next day." Her tone suggested that she expected an argument, but I was frantically stuffing clothes into a filthy torn plastic shopping bag before she'd even finished her sentence.

Once my mother was here and settled and versed in our routines with Charlie, such as they are, we reserved a room at the most expensive hotel we could find, tore out of town without filling up with gas, and drove to Montreal like we were being chased. It was a stormy day and the highway was awash, so we hydroplaned our way to the border at full speed, slowing just enough to wave our passports at the surly uniformed Québecois and to drench him in our wake.

At the hotel we were greeted with those three little words that make any traveler swoon: "You've been upgraded." And indeed we had: we were shown to a gigantic suite with 14-foot ceilings, two bathrooms, a separate bedroom and living room, floor-to-ceiling arched windows, and a gas fireplace that flicked on and off with a handy remote control.

"Never," I told Paul as I flopped onto the king-sized bed and made an angel in the down comforter, "am I ever going back."

We partook gluttonously of the hotel's free wine and cheese, then sallied out into a drizzly Old Montreal. We explored for a while, then had dinner — steak frites, more wine, and a generous portion of my favorite dish, mocking the patrons next to us sotto voce. (If you were the fiftyish gentleman next to us who was bursting with noisy bonhomie, merrily jingling the keys to his Hummer, and reeking of Donald Trump: The Fragrance, I want you to know I regret nothing.)

As the meal wore on and as time passed, the wine and the months of cumulative sleep deprivation took their toll; by the end of dinner, the expression of our scorn was reduced to monosyllabic grunts and uncontrolled eye-rolling. We knew it was time to go when the waitress solicitously asked Paul whether I was having a seizure and offered to slip her pen into my mouth to prevent me from swallowing my tongue.

We made it back to the hotel without incident, tongue intact, and I filled the Jacuzzi for a long soak. I'd hoped to find it relaxing, but the motor made a sound like a Harrier during takeoff and the jets were powerful enough to ultrasonically destroy any kidney stones I might have smuggled past customs, so I decided instead to wrap up in a snow-white hotel bathrobe and take my ease in front of one of the suite's three flat-panel televisions.

We were, however, in Québec, where French is the predominant language. Although I speak and understand French, I was too drunk and sleepy to follow the rapid-fire dialogue on eleven of the hotel's twelve channels, so we settled on the single English-language offering, which was showing a news program on Karla Homolka. And nothing, but nothing, soothes me into a relaxed, romantic mood faster than detailed descriptions of cold-blooded rape and murder.

Nevertheless, after we consumed three desserts courtesy of room service, sleep came easily to me. It was the first and only night of uninterrupted sleep I've had since Charlie was born — even while he was in the hospital, I woke, either to cry or to toil and chafe over the breast pump. I did not wake at all. I did not dream at all. And, no, I did not miss Charlie at all.

Did I think about him while we were away? Certainly. Did we talk about him? Some, but not much. And I have to confess I didn't miss him. To me, missing means wishing someone were with you, dwelling on thoughts of him, feeling reluctant to turn away from the picture that stays in your mind's eye. For a short twenty-four hours, knowing he was safe in my mother's care, I was ready to turn away.

The next morning we slept until the decadent hour of 9:30, then spent a leisurely morning walking, dawdling in front of gallery windows, and eating crêpes in the shadow of the basilica. It was with great reluctance that I repacked my torn plastic bag, pocketed the unused hotel toiletries, and called to let my mother know we were heading home again.

When we got back, Charlie greeted me with a wide, toothless, indiscriminate grin, the one I see when I pick him up after a nap, the one he uses to signal his eagerness to have another glob of cereal, the one he'd been giving my mother all week. He was happy to see me, for sure, but he hadn't known I was gone. He's still a young baby who can't, after all. So while I was busy not missing him, he hadn't missed me, either. And that was just fine with me.

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