Call it self-imposed exile. Or solitary confinement. Or witness protection. Or whatever.
Three days ago, I flew from my home in Las Vegas to Monterey, Calif., to visit my children and grandchildren.
It had been two months since my last visit, and I was looking forward to it. Two months is a long time to go without seeing people you love, especially little people who change so fast you can blink and the next thing you know they're shaving.
Randy is 2 1/2. Henry is 18 months. Wiley is almost 3 months old. Talk about cute. I wish you could see them.
Their parents are cute, too -- have been for as long as I can remember. The difference between the big people and the little ones is not how I feel about them. I love them just as much. But the big ones seem to remember me no matter how long we're apart. As well they should. I've spent years reminding them. ("I'm your mama; don't forget me.")
The little ones, however, barely know I exist. Each time I see them, it's like starting over, and I have to try to impress them all over again. It's not easy to make a good first impression, especially more than once.
Actually, Randy is old enough now that he seems genuinely glad to see me when I show up after months away. Or at least he's polite enough to pretend. Either way, I'll take it.
Henry gives me a long look, followed by a grin as if to say, "Wait. Aren't you that woman who promised to buy me a car?"
Wiley just stares at me and sucks his fist and wonders why I'm biting his toes.
On the first day of my visit, we decided to take the boys to a studio to make their pictures.
The photographer, bless her, shot dozens of poses, including one of the three of them piled up like a litter of pups with Henry on the left and Randy in the middle, hanging onto Wiley with a chokehold. I'm having it enlarged to billboard size.
After the photos, we went out to lunch. Randy ate chicken strips. Henry had mac 'n' cheese. Wiley sucked his fist. I don't know what I ate, but it tasted like the best thing ever.
We talked about things to do while I was in town -- the beach, the park, the aquarium. The week would go by way too fast.
Then, the next day, I got sick. Sore throat. Headache. Stuffy nose. Not something you want to give to three little boys. Or even to their parents.
So, OK, I did a bad thing. I didn't lie about it exactly. I just didn't quite tell the whole truth.
Usually, when I visit, I trade off between houses -- my daughter's and my son's -- to spend time with each family.
This time, in a selfless effort to keep my germs to myself, I decided to let each think I was staying with the other. When, in fact, I'd checked into a hotel.
I knew if I told them, they'd never let me do it. So I did what they used to do when they were teenagers. I didn't tell them the whole story. It seemed only fair.
Of course, I called my husband to tell him where I was staying. (I didn't want to end up dead in a hotel and have people wonder what I was doing there.)
And it would have worked like a charm, if not for one minor hitch. My son dropped by my daughter's house and said, "Where's Mom?" And she said, "She's at your house." And he said, "No, she's not."
And that's how I got busted.
When you're my age, you shouldn't have to explain yourself to your grown children. And their spouses. And your grandchildren. And their dogs. Especially when you're sick.
Which I am.
But it's not the first time I've ever had to explain myself, and it probably won't be the last -- if I ever get well enough to check out of this hotel.
I hope they remember me.intelligencer
Sharon Randall is a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service (www.sharonrandall.com).