I tucked my bags beneath the seat in front of me, then leaned back and stretched out my legs—marveling at the extra room provided by the emergency row aisle seat I’d chosen. When the flight attendant came by, I requested a cocktail and handed her my drink ticket. With my drink in hand, I picked up my book, tucked in my ear buds and settled back for my four-hour flight to LA.

This experience stands in stark contrast to the flight I’d taken a few months prior. That one started with wrestling a car seat into the window seat of the airplane and threading the seatbelt through to latch it properly. It included copious amounts of snacks, picking up dropped crayons at two-minute intervals, and answering the question “Are we there yet?” no fewer than eleventy-billion times.

On my non-kid flight, the captain turned off the fasten-seat belt sign and somewhere on board, a baby began to cry.

Yes, I thought, as I started the next chapter of my book, traveling without kids is really pretty great.

My trip was to Hawaii. I was running a 15k race along the coast of Maui with my good friend, Erin, and then we were going back to her place on Oahu for a few days before I headed back home.

Aside from the two hours we spent running, the trip was a delight. We ate delicious food, lazed on the beach, and the only body I had to apply sunscreen to was my own. I never once had to scout for a public bathroom in a panic, and I managed a trip to the grocery store AND Target without a single meltdown.

For five days, I didn’t have to tend to anyone’s needs but my own. When I was hungry, I ate; when I was tired, I slept; and there wasn’t a single dinnertime that involved an ultimatum or tears.

It was glorious, friends.

I reveled in my freedom and soaked up every last selfish second of it. All too soon, it seemed, it was time to head home. Back to reality and responsibility, to where the simplest of tasks were made harder by cries of “I do it myself,” and, “Five more minutes, Mom, please?”

As I was prepping to board for the last leg home, I noticed a young mama flying alone with an infant. She was balancing allthethings and asked the gate attendant if she needed her baby’s car seat base or just the seat on the plane. The attendant didn’t know.

As the new mom became flustered and shifted her baby in her arms, I leaned over and told her she didn't need the base. Relieved, she confessed it was only her second time on a plane and her first time flying with her 9-month-old daughter.

I’d been looking forward to closing my eyes and grabbing a nap on this final flight home. Instead, I found myself asking if I could help her. Part of me expected her to reject my offer—to say no thanks, she was fine. But she said yes, if I didn't mind, that would actually be great.

I learned her name was Gabriela and her daughter was Olive, and they were flying to Nashville to visit her family in Chattanooga. I helped her gate check the giant stroller and tucked the car seat base in an overhead bin, then together we wrestled that seat belt through the car seat into the window seat of the airplane. I picked up the teething toys that were dropped, ordered her an extra glass of water while she was nursing.

As the plane began its descent, Olive woke up from her nap. Gabriela held her in her lap and played peek-a-boo and talked to her in that sweet way a mama talks to her baby girl. I watched Olive’s face light up at her words; her eyes tracking her mother’s every move, and I smiled in recognition. I knew that look; I’d seen it on the faces of my son and daughter.

“You know,” I said. “They save that look just for their mamas. That expression of absolute adoration, wonder, and trust—it’s just yours.”

When we landed, I helped Gabriela set up the stroller and snap Olive’s car seat into it. I tucked her bags in the bin beneath it and wished them a wonderful visit home. Gabriela thanked me profusely, but I waved her off. All I’d done was carry a few things.

She’d helped me remember what I love about being a mom in the first place.

Then I hurried off to my own home, where my son and daughter were waiting. When I walked through the door, their faces lit up like Christmas and they barreled across the kitchen to hold me tight.

Yes, it was nice to get away. But it’s even nicer coming home.