There was a time, not too long ago, before the husband and the children, when I longed to be out and doing and never gave a care in the world where I was or who was around me.  If I could not sleep – which was often: lifelong insomniac here – I’d load up my dog into my car, a bottle of water, my favorite CD’s and just drive the freeways of the city.

It didn’t matter what time it was.  It didn’t matter if I got lost.  All that mattered was that I was out, usually with the windows down, the radio blaring, exploring the city instead of staring at my ceiling counting sheep that fell asleep long before I did.

Maybe not the smartest thing in the world for a single girl in the city with her non attack pet Beagle along for no protection to do.  But I felt… free…

Fast forward 9 years, add a husband, three daughters, the loss of the Beagle, the addition of another dog and a meeting that went past 11pm the other night and I am a much different person.

I am a scaredy cat.

And I blame motherhood for the change.

I left my family happy at home at 6pm, dusk settling on our little slice of country.   I drove into the big city not far from where my first house was and that guy that I am SO glad I did not marry lived.

The radio blaring in my minivan… pause for laughter… my thumbs tapping on the steering wheel, my voice clearly meant only for confined spaces where no one else can hear, I am out and about and free from children, husbands, dogs and daily life.  It feels good, I won’t lie.

I attend the meeting and then stay after talking to some other attendees about nothing, all of us relishing this night out to actually talk to each other, no one pulling on our shirts, no one asking for the 67th time where we keep the straws, no one needing us.

But the time does come when we have to go and we head to our cars.  Minivans.  Whatever.

It is not until I am in the car and realize that it is about two hours later than I thought that I started to feel a tingle of nervous anticipation.  I had a good hours drive home, most of it over the same freeways that I used to drive in the black of night, hand out the window cutting the warm, humid Texas air and causing it to whip my hair around with reckless abandon.

It was late.  And things happen to people when it is late.  Bad things if you watch marathon episodes of Dateline like I do every night while I am working.  People disappear, people drive into lakes, people get pulled over by impostors.  All in the dark of night.

But it was not until I exited the freeway and knew that I had a good fifteen miles ahead of me on two lane roads into our little slice of country that I felt my shoulders raise and tense, the hair stand up on the back of my neck and I started looking in the rear view mirror for someone following me.  There are no streetlights on these roads and the houses are dark and hard to see.

My mind takes me there despite my fight to keep it sane.  What if my car broke down?  What if police lights did shine in my rear view mirror?  What if I hit a deer, a cow, a sheep?  I what if’d myself until my knuckles were white on the steering wheel and I had broken out into a cold sweat.

As I ran into my house, faster than was necessary, and I watched as the garage door closed and no one came running in under it at the last minute, I finally allowed myself to start the necessary steps to berating myself endlessly for being such a hairless chicken. I thought, “What happened to me?  Who is this scared little woman fearful of the dark and the unknown?  Surely not the same one who use to to chase the shadows?”

I entered my living room and there, on the couch lay my oldest.  Her legs hanging off the side, breathing deeply, a hundred miles into dream land.  I turn around and see my youngest clutching her blanket tightly as if it would save her from the drop into deep sleep.  And as I picked up my middle daughter, warm and smelling like baby shampoo, clutching her new favorite toy to take her to bed, it dawned on me.

This is why I am a scaredy cat.  Because I never want to miss a day of them nor them miss me.  And so I blame motherhood and its constant reminder that no matter how many freedoms I used to have, the responsibilities I cherish now are the ones that I am proud to be a scaredy cat for.

So, next time, I will take the route with the streetlights, not stay out so late, and won’t think that I need to grasp one more conversation in order to feel like I ‘got away’.  I’ll just be glad that when I get home, safe and sound, I’ll be able to grasp them again.