Packing for a trip back East a few weeks ago as I vainly tried to shove my full-length goosedown coat into a suitcase, I felt a pang of wistfulness I couldn't shake off.

Separation anxiety is supposed to peak at the age of 2 ½, so how come I'm still battling it? Honestly, it's a tad embarrassing when you and your toddler are sharing a developmental milestone.

Before I had my daughter, Daphne, I had no idea how besotted I would be by motherhood, how visceral the tug would be to bask in that still-lingering baby smell. She's now 3, and I am an utter toddler addict. The sensation makes everything else pale in comparison.

I didn't realize what a bad case I had until a business trip cast my condition into high relief. It's not just that I knew I would miss her, but that I knew it would hurt.

The maddening thing is that most working moms I know cherish the chance to take business trips, given the opportunity they afford for civilized meals at restaurants sans crayons and sippy cups, taking uninterrupted baths and shopping trips free from the siren song of Gymboree and Bounce-a-rama.

While the thought of savoring these activities filled me with glee, I still found myself dreading having to leave my 3-year-old for a few days, even with daddy and grandma at her beck and call.


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For the record, she's fine with me going off to work in the daytime, but she's thoroughly peeved if I have to work a few nights in a row. Missing the bedtime ritual is unacceptable. Whenever it starts getting dark, she asks me if I have to go to the "theatuh" soon. Sometimes, she tries to come with me. Once she climbed into the car after me and explained that she was doing the driving this time. It was very cute in the moment, but later that evening, when I spotted the stuffed elephant she had left behind, I got a little misty.

On some level, it's hard for me to admit that I am so vulnerable to these feelings. Having spent most of my adult life obsessed with journalism, it never occurred to me that I might become equally riveted by parenting.

Even the temptation of a trip to New York, a mecca for theater critics, could not distract me from feelings of fear and loss. As my departure approached, I was fretful.

Some of this was simply cowardice. I've only gone on a few trips since Daphne was born. The first was excruciating, because I was still in the thick of breast-feeding. On the other hand, I remember the sheer unadulterated bliss of getting to sleep through the night for the first time in months.

The second time was easier physically but brutal emotionally, because Daphne was livid when I got home. She felt betrayed that I had left her, and she used her scathingly sharp verbal facility to calmly explain to me that she no longer loved me quite as much as before I left. Ouch. I spent a long time winning her over again.

This time, I was prepared for the worst. And that turned out to be a good strategy, because it wasn't nearly as bad as I feared. Perhaps it was because I spent a lot of time prepping her (and myself) before I took off.

Don't get me wrong. I did have my moments. I was actually jealous of the mommies wheeling their toddlers over snow banks and slush lakes. I even enjoyed the symphony of toddler meltdowns on the flight home.

Certainly, I was steeled for a doozy when I got home -- but it never arrived. My little one has apparently matured a lot since the last time I traveled away from her, which is a relief. It's almost as much a relief that I have, too.

Life Stories is a rotating column by staff writers, editors and critics. Karen D'Souza is the Bay Area News Group's theater critic. Contact her at kdsouza@mercurynews.com or 408-271-3772. Follow her at Twitter.com/karendsouza4.