Nicki Gilbert

Please switch to airplane mode

Leaving now. Luv u

It’s 5am. I was just falling back to sleep. But I reply:

Luv u

Four, five, six hours later:


K. Thanks

He travels a lot. Almost every week, at least three days a week, all over – Seattle, Cleveland, Dallas, Chicago. He takes red-eyes so that he doesn’t have to waste a day, often going all the way to New York for one meeting, returning to San Francisco the same day. There are days when the exchange above is the sum total of our interaction. At least I know he’s alive, and somewhere. Airplane wifi is the greatest invention ever.


He’s always traveled, even before we were married and we were living in South Africa with our parents. He would travel to the U.S. and we would have blow-out phone arguments at $2 a minute because I felt alone and abandoned, and he was in meetings all day and couldn’t call exactly when he said he would, and there were two continents and ten time zones between us. I’m sure our parents thought our engagement would be over before it had a chance to begin!

And now there are days when neither of us even notices that 14 hours have passed with no contact. Not because we don’t love each other, or don’t care to talk to each other, but because of L.I.F.E. It was evening, it was morning. And it was good.

Before Kids (B.K.) I hated being alone when he went out of town. Days were busy with work, friends, yoga, dog walks – but the nights… yuck. Long. Lonely. Monica, Rachel, Ross and Joey were pretty good company (remember the one with Fun Bobby?), along with Dr Ross, Nurse Hathaway and nebbishy Paul and Jamie. That was fifteen years ago – I didn’t know to really savor my alone time. B.K.

Six weeks after our first child was born, he went out of town – far out of town. To Taiwan. My mother-in-law sent a sweet email: “Nicki, now you won’t be lonely when he travels.” She was referring to the baby who would keep me company, and to the as yet unknown three future babies who would join us when he left on the gazillion future trips.

I wasn’t lonely – she was right. I was completely stressed out. I had to do everything myself and by myself, from morning till night and through the night. No relief from crying babies, changing diapers, preschool drop-offs, grocery lists, bedtime stories, teething pain blah blah fucking blah. I think I hated him… and then loved him more than ever when he would finally come home.

Until the night of the revelation.

Kids all bathed, fed and miraculously asleep by 7.30pm – thank you very much, there’s nothing a mother can’t do single-handedly! – I inhaled a bowl of cereal for dinner (fish sticks and apple slices have never appealed to me), got into bed, and watched Private Practice… by myself. Alone. Not lonely. Happy! He hated that show, always gave me a hard time about watching it. But that night, I didn’t have to answer to anybody about what I was doing, and why I was doing it. No unrealistic expectations about who was reading to whom, whose turn it was to clean up the kitchen. Only me to expect anything of – so I did it. Or I didn’t. And got into bed. With a book. Or Don Draper. Easy.

He never travels on the weekend. He always makes it back home in time for Shabbat dinner. It is easy, and we’re all used to it. His weekday schedule is unpredictable, and I never know if he’s going to be in town from one day to the next. So I assume he’s not. No expectations equals no disappointments equals happy wife equals happy life. And if he can accompany me to the JCC event, even happier wife.

But I’ve noticed something lately. Something I didn’t notice before. Or it wasn’t there. Or I wasn’t paying attention while I was wiping noses, and cleaning up after the dog, and keeping that one awake while putting this one to bed.

He anchors me.

When he’s not in town, I am not quite here either. I get it all done, and I eat my cereal, or skip dinner, or go out with my girlfriends, or attend the barmitzvah solo. And it’s easy. And even fun.

But I feel like a big red balloon that’s been let go, left to float above the leafy trees of responsibility and accountability. It’s big and blue and airy up there – and kinda scary. Actually, a lot scary. Not because if anything happens to the kids, G-d forbid, it’s all on me. Not because if anything happens to me, G-d forbid, one of those kids will have to figure it out for a bit. Not because it’s exhausting, emotionally and physically, being mom and dad for those days. All of that is true, and for single parents everywhere that is indeed the reality every day, not just some days.

It’s scary because I’m alone with me. I switch to airplane mode. I disconnect.

Because, after 16 years, four kids, one dachshund, two countries, a bunch of schools and home loans and jobs, two minivans and a gazillion flights, he is the tether that keeps me grounded. Gives me perspective. Keeps it real. Even when real is not pretty. And those blow-out arguments are still happening, with stakes now way higher than $2 a minute and we are breathing down each other’s necks instead of transatlantic phone lines.

But pretty or not, real feels better than auto-pilot.

If it’s Thursday it must be LA. But that seatbelt sign will go off.

And airplane mode will switch to fully functioning 4G.

About the Author
Nicki Gilbert, South African by chance and Californian by choice, lives in the California Bay Area with her husband, four kids and Pretzel, the dachshund. She has worked in theater, marketing, and event planning, and is now a full-time barely-at-home mom, writer, avid reader, country music lover and wannabe surf diva.