In 1984, I was an angry six-year-old with a penchant for running away. My mom, dad, brother, and I had just moved from Lake George, New York, to South Florida, and I wasn’t having any of it. Every day in the two weeks since we’d moved into our new house, I packed one of my mother’s old suitcases with my white ankle-length nightgown that my grandmother had sewn for me, two of my dolls, and a jar of peanut butter.
“I’m going back,” I’d say as I walked out the door. My parents were not frantic; they weren’t even moved to action. They just waved good-bye without so much as a glance out the window. Some days, I’d take a detour from my journey to the curb at the end of my street to climb the oak tree in my front yard; other times, I’d march straight there in an attempt to escape my fate of a life lived under the blazing Florida sun. Because I wasn’t allowed to wander, I figured that running away would involve someone coming to help me, someone who was probably magical, and, after a while, when no fairy or unicorn materialized, I’d trudge home, defeated.
At fourteen, I made it as far as Miami International Airport. My friend Emily and I had ditched our after-school drama club and walked the train tracks that ran behind the school to the closest Tri-Rail stop. There, we boarded the train, borrowing money for the fare from a man who had the misfortune of sitting next to us.
We didn’t have a plan, and we didn’t want one. We were anti-plan, anti-establishment, anti-authority, and we said as much in melodramatic letters we stuffed through the locker vents of our two closest girlfriends, Anne and Sophie. These letters, we later learned, were shared with our families, who, for the few hours we were missing, grew more enraged by the minute. An airport security guard, apparently curious as to why we were lying outside of Gate C34 listening to our Walkmans, asked Emily and I for our tickets, and when we couldn’t produce them, he made us call home.
My mom’s face was strained, her mouth narrow and tight, when she came to collect me. “I can’t believe you would do this to me,” she said.
College was four hours from home, just close enough that family visited me on occasion, but far enough away that my mom didn’t do my laundry. I was free to drink too much at frat parties, eat breakfast-dinner at 3:00 a.m. at Denny’s, and spend all afternoon shopping at Express, with no one to answer to but myself. At first, this moderate degree of independence made me giddy, but every once in a while, the familiar itch to go somewhere, anywhere, other than where I was, crept back up.
When the two roommates I lived with junior year both decided they wanted to move out—at the same time—leaving only me to pay the rent for our three-bedroom apartment, I wished I could crawl out the window. When my boyfriend of two years said, “I never cheated on you,” after I had seen him just that afternoon with his arm around another girl, I wanted to first scream, which I did, and then I wanted to speed away in my car, never to return.
Now I’m married, with two daughters, Violet, who’s three, and Harper, who’s 15 months old. My husband and I both work full time. Outside of work, he’s writing a novel and I’m training for a marathon. We make it a priority to give each other the time to pursue our interests independent of our children, but investing time in ourselves means, more often than not, that the beds aren’t being made, the pool isn’t getting vacuumed, and the armadillo living underneath our back deck and driving our dog insane isn’t being relocated.
It’s true that those things can wait, but those things can also multiply. Recently, my living room and the girls’ rooms were so covered in toys that I lost one shoe from Harper’s only good pair for an entire week. And I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve come home and seen that I only made up one eye or discovered that I left the driver-side car door open all night long, because I’m always trying and failing to multitask, always running late, and always exhausted.
Still, we just came back from a Disney World vacation. This past summer we went to the Florida Keys for a week. I have a good-paying job, despite having degrees in education and creative writing. My husband and I are completely united in our parenting of the girls, and in all decisions, big and small, that affect our family, and we are getting better at taking time to go out as a couple.
These days, when I get an email asking if I’m available to work over the weekend or the roof starts to leak after a downpour and the tiniest urge to run begins to rise within me, I lace up my sneakers and wind through my neighborhood, ending up right back at my house. I remind myself that this life of mine is one built completely by my own design. That’s a liberating feeling, not a stifling one, and as a result, it’s no longer escape I’m after—it’s permanence.