It isn’t often in parenting that you can definitively feel the turning of a page, but occasionally it’s unmistakable. My life has shifted because four of our kids are in school now, so I have several days a week with just little Claire. It’s unbelievably freeing, and she and I look at each other in the quiet house, like…what now?
I started with twins, so I’ve never had just one baby at home with me. It’s like there’s nothing I can’t do. Errands, chores and parks? Look at us go!
It’s been a minute, so here is the current line-up:
Henry and Arden, 9, third grade
Hunter, 7.5, first grade
Jameson, 5.5, kindergarten (3 days a week)
Claire, 2.5, home with her lucky mama
This change in our life also means I’m able to get away a little more. Last month Mike invited me along on his business trip to Nashville. It’s easy to decline when the destination is say, Boise, but he knows I have a love affair with the South.
I bought my outrageously priced ticket as soon as our wonderful parents agreed to tag-team babysitting.
His trip was a Sunday to a Wednesday, but I added Friday through Sunday and invited one of my oldest friends along. Thankfully, Amy was willing to drop other commitments and flew from Philly for 48 hours with her fellow redhead in Music City.
My flight was at 6:30am, but when a mom knows she’s traveling solo, waking at that hour is a lark. For instance, when I picked up my carry-on and walked away from security, I felt naked due to the lack of children and additional luggage. It was unnerving and thrilling to sail out of there unattached.
I made it to the gate before the coffee shop was even open, which in Seattle is really saying something. A man walked up to his buddy sitting across from me. “Bad news,” he said. “The bar doesn’t open until 6.” I looked at my watch. It was 5:55.
This turned out to be a harbinger of a theme of the weekend.
I bet I’m not the only one who marvels at what folks wear to board airplanes. Before departure, I played a good-natured judgmental game I like to call “I Look GOOD.” I watched passerby and pictured them getting ready that morning, looking in the mirror, saying “I look GOOD” and heading to the airport. I saw one woman and imagined how she must have pulled on the sports bra and leggings, hesitated as she reached for a shirt, then ignored the need for outerwear and grabbed her luggage. And there she stood in the boarding line, happy and shirtless.
The men’s version of the game removes the word “look.” It’s more “I’m Good.” A man passed me in enormous plaid pajama pants, Crocs, and a hooded sweatshirt. I pictured him waking half an hour late, pulling on the sweatshirt, thinking “I’m good,” grabbing his bag, and heading for the door. I’m 35; why can’t I wear pajamas on a plane? I’m good!
Have you been on a new plane in the last few months? The seats on the planes fresh off the production line are laughably small. I’m only 5’5″ and my knees were touching the seat in front of me, and it was virtually impossible not to rub arms with the men on either side.
This was tolerable until I pulled out my in-flight entertainment: The Wall Street Journal…print edition. I’d saved a couple days’ worth to cover the hours in the air, and every time I turned the page it was like snapping a bedsheet across the three of us. With a CRACK I’d snap it back, and then if it didn’t fold cleanly I’d have to karate-chop the seam to bend the pages, sweating from embarrassment. I’d never mentally bargained with paper that fervently before. It would’ve been bearable if this was a one-time thing, but clearly we all knew I had to get to A18. Imagine how their relief turned to dismay when I finished, only to discover it was yesterday’s paper as I pulled today’s fresh copy from my bag. I’m surprised they didn’t ask to change seats.
After a late arrival in Dallas that required actual sprinting to make my connection, I landed in Nashville and these lookalikes were reunited after three and a half long years.
We gabbed and unpacked and then had a drink in our boutique hotel’s exquisite bar. We stayed in the Arts District at Dream Nashville, and everything was hyper-designed and glamorous and really helped these two moms shake off the responsibilities of home.
After a chef’s-choice dinner at Butcher and Bee, we crashed early from the exhaustion of our pre-dawn flights. The next morning we hit the ground running. I was bursting to see every single thing.
I was not prepared for Broadway. People told me I was visiting the new bachelorette capital of the States, but the day drinking! Holy Dolly Parton, y’all! It was Saturday morning and the street was filled with people moving in and out of the live-music bars, riding down the street on pedal pubs, hollering from drinking buses. Y’all, there was even a tractor pulling a bar.
If it isn’t yet obvious, I will be using y’all with complete abandon.
Amy made killer reservations for our entire weekend, places that are, to borrow from Ferris Bueller, so choice. Naturally, this included Husk. I ordered the fried chicken to nourish my Southern heart.
At the end of our meal, the waiter tried to sell us on a specialty brandy. We were like, “I bet your bachelorettes go for that every time. Unfortunately, you’re looking at two 38 year old moms.”
A huge part of our happiness was our never-ending conversation and reveling in our freedom.
Want to walk over there? Sure. Want to eat? I do. Want to tour this place? Yes, ma’am.
Thankfully, Amy is as eager as I am to tour historical attractions, so we spent our afternoon walking the grounds of Belle Meade Plantation.
I should note that I am a complete sucker for the civility of southern gentlemen. Every single time a man addressed me with “ma’am”, I was a puddle. It made no difference if he was young or old, attractive or not. If someone who looked like he crawled from beneath a bridge said, “yes, ma’am” in a southern accent, I was like, “Listen, I’m married, but thanks to your drawl I’m willing to set that aside.”
But this weakness met its limit in our tour guide at Belle Meade. This guy was so extreme in his undulating radio voice and so drenched in dad jokes we were ready to run screaming from the estate.
As he mercifully wrapped things up, he asked if there were any additional questions.
A lady standing next to us in a t-shirt that read “Tasha’s 50th Wild Weekend!” spoke up for her group of gals and said, “Nobody has any questions, we just want the damn wine.”
Did I mention the tour came with a tasting of the estate’s finest?
I was interested until Amy held my arm and said “Abby, this is not…wine. This is….” she reached for the words.
“What do you mean?” I said. “The place is packed.” There was hardly an empty seat to be found in the courtyard; bachelorette groups, moms and freshly legal daughters, birthday gaggles of women over sixty.
“You’ll see,” she said wisely, patting my shoulder.
The ladies behind the bar of the tasting room whipped out wine glasses and started pouring before we could even glance at the wine list. I received a pour of white and looked at the description, which mentioned “notes of peach, pineapple, and lime,” none of which should ever be involved in wine.
I took a sip and grimmaced. “It’s dessert wine,” I said to Amy.
“Interesting,” Amy replied dryly, and then added in a thick Southern accent, “because the lady behind me just said, “Okay now this is too dry for me.”
We laughed but there was no time to chat, because the lady behind the bar was already coming at us with the rose.
Amy said, “The smell! Smell it!” And I wish I hadn’t. It was like tire rubber. The notes called it “a nutty aroma.” I looked for the spit bucket.
“There are no spit buckets,” Amy noted. “They think it’s delicious.”
We had to knock it back because the reds were being poured with “dark strawberry notes” “hints of tobacco” “flavors of allspice” and “a zesty white pepper finish.” I couldn’t help myself with the giggling judgment. I come from the land of wine; the snobbery is not even a choice anymore.
On the Uber ride back through the town of Belle Meade, I was a complete airhead, so this compensated nicely for the wine elitism. Our driver was explaining that this was a wealthy suburb of Nashville with the likes of Carrie Underwood and several titans living in the mansions we were passing.
“Oooo,” I said, leaning toward the driver. “Titans of which industri–“
“AH!” Amy tried to save me. “No no stop -“
The driver tried to be gracious. “I meant the Tennessee Ti-“
It clicked. As if my brain would ever, ever go to football first.
He drove us to our next restaurant, Rolf and Daughters, and once seated, it occurred to us that mustaches are back.
“Those two are clearly on a first date,” I nodded toward a couple across the restaurant. “And he is unironically sporting a stash. So was our concierge at the hotel. And they both look 25. Something is happening.”
She sighed. “Kids these days.”
Changing the subject, she asked if we should start with the beef tartare.
“That depends,” I replied. “Is it sliced or ground?”
“There is no ground,” she said. “It’s only sliced, like tuna tartare.”
“I’m pretty sure it also comes ground. You should ask.”
“I’m not asking because ground is not a thing.” She was confident.
Ten minutes later the waitress presented her with a bowl of bright red ground beef. There were spices and crumbles of something mixed in, but one sprig of parsley wasn’t hiding all that raw chuck.
We stared at each other as she took a bite. I raised my eyebrows and asked, “How’s that going down?”
“It’s okay if I don’t look directly at it,” she mumbled.
Sometimes you’re confident the beef will be sliced, and sometimes you’re confident there are titans of industry living in Belle Meade. The important thing is to take turns.
But back to the glories of downtown Nashville.
At home in our normal lives, Amy and I drink at the same rate, which is about a glass of wine a month. In a lot of cities that’s the main attraction at night, so we were curious how we’d do here. We needn’t have worried. It’s the live music, y’all. Neither of us listens to country music regularly, but here, forget it. We just went for it. We also found a bar playing 90s covers and we sang and danced with abandon.
There is no way to overstate the proliferation of bachelorette party costumes.
“How can I thank you enough for not suggesting we come here in hideous white cowgirl boots?” I said as we walked the street.
“What if you’d begged me to get on Amazon for matching snakeskin cowgirl hats?” she replied. Looking around us, other ladies had not been so generous to their flock of friends. It was clear that sequin cowgirl vests had not been optional for the bridesmaids.
We stayed up late sitting at a rooftop bar, sharing things we never could over text or children-interrupted FaceTimes. It was glorious swapping secrets like we did when we were thirteen.
The next morning we went to the Nashville Farmer’s Market which is every bit as adorable as you’d expect.
Lattes and sunshine, y’all.
We walked half the city that morning, and I kept commenting on the 62 degree loveliness. It’s so humid in the South in the summer, but this was pretty much ideal.
“There’s a name for that,” Amy replied. “It’s called fall.”
“We don’t have that in Seattle,” I sighed. “It’s 75 degrees at the pumpkin patch one weekend, and the next it’s 45 and raining.”
After a lovely brunch at Liberty Common (seated near a bachelorette party of approximately 18), we packed up our glam hotel room and Amy headed for the airport. It’s so awful saying goodbye when we don’t know when we’ll see each other again, but we have been saying this same goodbye for twenty-five years. We know we’re in this for keeps.
Mike arrived that evening after I’d checked into The Westin. “Wait until you see our hotel room,” I texted him.
I had a fun conversation with the receptionist, as she’d just moved to Nashville from Spain. Apparently it paid off, because on the ride up the elevator, an employee asked which room I was staying in. When I told him, he said, “Lucky you. That’s the nicest room in the hotel, after the presidential suite. It’s the corner of the top floor. The windows are fifteen feet floor to ceiling.”
He wasn’t kidding.
We walked to dinner at Adele’s, and Mike’s parents sent us a cute picture of the kids. We sent this one back, but it backfired because seeing our faces made Jameson so sad he couldn’t go to sleep.
A quick FaceTime outside the restaurant calmed him down. And lesson learned…that was the end of sending pictures home.
We walked down to Broadway because if there’s anything Mike enjoys, it’s live music. We had a great time but didn’t stay out too long because he had to work the next day.
I didn’t have to work the next day, so I took an Uber to Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. Mike met me there after wrapping up a meeting and I savored being unrushed and able to read every single placard to my heart’s content.
I miss living on the East Coast sometimes, and having access to all of the historical pleasures in the area. I love Seattle, but everything is ten minutes old. It’s not the same.
I really feel for the West Coast kids who might not be able to visit former presidents’ homes, or places like them. Nothing can prepare you for what you’ll feel when you cross the threshold of former slave cabins. No book can convey the weight of such a reality, because words inevitably fall short. It’s sobering and informative, and made me grateful my parents took us to countless similar sites as children.
Intermixed with the seriousness of our visit were little joys in the experience, too. The joy of traveling without children is that you can linger. I essentially stood directly next to the tour guide so I could catch every word, and then lingered after the group moved on so I could ask follow up questions. Mike was like, babe, let’s move it along, and I’m like, “after I find out if this staircase is original to the house.” I tour hard.
As we headed for the exit, we dodged this unappealing offer:
“Something everyone will love!” Lies.
I begged Mike to take me to Franklin, which I’ve dreamed about for two years. It’s a little suburb of Nashville with an idyllic Main Street, beautiful homes, a strong community, and charm for days. We walked the streets and I asked him to please move us immediately.
No shame. I can’t help myself.
I found a Franklin brochure and stared at this quintessential Southern bourgeois lady, Buffie. This is the problem: if I moved to Franklin I’d just want to be Buffie in all her Southern Buffieness. Oversize pearls, big hair, and weird mother-son dynamics, y’all. Can’t have that.
Brandon and Buffie forever.
We had dinner that night with Mike’s aunt Julie and favorite cousin, Dustin, and his family who live locally. It was so fun meeting their kids and it made us miss ours.
The next day Mike went to meetings while I visited the Grand Ole Opry, which was overpriced. The joke’s on me because I’m not a country music fan, but it felt like an obligatory Nashville experience and it let me be a tour nerd, so mama was happy.
I Ubered to the 12 South neighborhood to visit Draper James (Reese Witherspoon’s store), which makes me a basic Betty, but I couldn’t care less.
I wanted to buy everything in powder blue gingham, but that doesn’t really translate to misty Seattle afternoons. Everything there is darling and twee, but also very one-note. Like it’s all ideal if you’re sitting on a wraparound porch in the middle of summer in the South with a glass of sweet tea in a Mason jar. Otherwise, it’s not gonna work.
So instead of shopping, I went back to the hotel and had a facial. Like one does.
The next morning I bid adieu to our gigantic windows.
I flew home in the morning while Mike stayed to work, and I had a four hour layover in Houston. This wasn’t a burden for me so much as my parents who had to do four extra hours of grandparenting thanks to my lousy route home.
I was browsing for snacks at the airport when I heard Bleachers over the tiny snack stand speakers. I smiled and sang along while debating Popcorners or Skinnypop.
Sidenote: this summer Mike took me to a Bleachers concert because he loves them. At the time, I liked them, but was ambivalent. Midway through, the lead singer asked the ladies to get on shoulders.
I said, “Eh, I’m good.”
Mike was adamant. “Let’s do it. C’mon.”
Then Jack Antonoff said, “I refuse to start this song until you get on shoulders.”
Mike didn’t hesitate. “This is happening.”
As soon as I was up, they played Rollercoaster and I was grinning like an idiot. I instantly felt 22 again. The girl behind me grabbed my hand and held on like we were at Woodstock. She was hammered, but it was love all the same.
Antonoff walked over to our side of the stage, looked right at me and we beamed at each other. It was sublime.
After that, I wasn’t ambivalent.
Later a friend texted asking if I’d been at the concert, because a friend of hers had seen me up front. I hadn’t seen this person in at least ten years, so how she spotted me, I’ll never know, but I’m so glad she texted our friend a video so I have it.
End of parenthetical.
I don’t have AirPods (because when in my daily life am I using them?) but Mike owns several, so he gave me a pair for the trip. I would like to state for the record that I have never – not once – put them back in their case correctly on the first try. This is probably why I’m not cool enough to use them.
When I had to sit and charge various devices, I used my little AirPods to listen to Everybody Lost Somebody. The song has a melancholy heart, despite its unmistakably happy sax-laden sound, which filled me with affection for all the strangers milling past on their various journeys home.
At last I made it home and walked in the door to the greatest tight-neck hugs, squeals of delight and three dozen questions and life updates, all spoken in unison.
I’m so thankful I said yes to the trip, and even more thankful to our parents for their selflessness in caring for our babies.
Mike just reminded me he leaves Sunday for his next business trip. Where to?
“Uh, Palm Springs.”
Mom, Dad? Nana, Papa? Might need you Sunday.