Oh, and without my partner.
And you know what? I can thoroughly recommend it.
My boys arn’t babies anymore. The older one will be off to high school next year and the youngest just had his seventh birthday. Five years ago we were lucky enough to spend a month in Europe. We planned this on the basis of a cousin getting married and it seemed like a great way to catch up with the whole extended enormous Big Fat Greek lot of them all at once (I’m not kidding about the Greek part either, although the ethnicity side of things has been diluted somewhat these days). Anyhoo, my partner had some frequent flyers that had to be used but this also meant that some of our flight options were limited. After much mulling and Googling, we decided we would fly in to Frankfurt (not as popular as London), head from Germany to Luxembourg, catch the train from Luxembourg to Paris, fly from there to Exeter (Devon) in order to spend a week in Cornwall and then drive from Cornwall to London for the wedding and the remainder of our trip.
A friend had previously told me that since having children he discovered it was more realistic to call his holidays, trips. Well, this was a fantastic and memorable trip – but definitely not a holiday for the most part since it was all pretty exhausting! Most beautiful, historic European cities and buildings were not planned to cater to families with prams. (and it really makes you realise how challenging life is for those wheelchair bound). Many Parisian elders also seem to despise children and we were told off more than once because our not-quite-two-year-old was crying about something or other (read: simply acting his age!). As most parents know, kids are usually happiest in the morning, but the whinge-ometer steadily increases as the day rolls on. This meant all our activities really had to be over and done by the late afternoon. Then it was back to our flat for the rest of the evening and we never got to see Paris by night. Personally, I think I was too pooped back then to actually care mind you! The little one did eventually get used to having his midday sleep in his pram (after several hundred tanties), so while my partner took the six-year old back to the apartment for a midday rest, I could at least continue on for a while. Marching through the gorgeous avenues and side streets, trying not to wake the toddler. Completely knackered, but determined to take in as much as I could lest I never make it there again.
That seems like five minutes ago, and the older I get, the shorter I (we all?) realise life is and the quicker time seems to pass. So if your dream is to see or do something, start planning now. Hell, book it if you can and start the negotiations ASAP if it’s something you’ll have to do with friends rather than family. A few years ago when my girlfriends and I first discussed a New York trip sans husbands and children, enthusiasm levels were high. But life does in the way (and we have a habit of letting it). As one by one they inevitably backed off or had to change their minds due to other commitments, lack of cash, inability to leave the family, business and work, I wondered if I would ever get there or whether I was brave enough to go alone (not quite). Adding to that was the fact that overseas trips are expensive and spending lots of money on yourself when you have a family seems selfish and is bound to induce at least a small amount of guilt.
As luck would have it, another cousin decided to get married and this time, rather than praying for sunshine in the UK, he decided he loved Florida and wanted to to do it there. It was the perfect excuse to finally make that booking and much as I ummed and ahhed about whether or not I could take my kids – the others were off to Disney afterwards – the budget wouldn’t allow it and New York was still beckoning. Not Disney which I figured my kids could survive without.
I was only away for around two and half weeks but it was such a great break away from the normal busy life routine that each moment felt like a state of flow. Believe it or not, the time actually went super slowly. Did I get to some yoga classes? A few, yes and I did my own practise but truly, it was as if I was practising yoga with every step I took (my friend and I averaged 15km per day in New York and Chicago). Drinking in all the sights and sounds around me, chatting to natives, having delicious food prepared mostly by someone else… It was like a constant, sumptuous, invigorating yet relaxing meditation. The only optional chores I did each day involved plumping up my pillow and making the bed (if I felt like it).
Did I miss my boys? Of course and every mum or dad worries about this when they go away, but two weeks in the days of Skype and Facetime make it pretty easy to keep in touch. The only time I felt pangs of total faraway-ness was when I first arrived and couldn’t contact anyone due to lack of wifi in my Marco Island (Florida) unit. I had been in transit for more than 30 hours. The cab driver got lost on the 2.5 hr drive along seemingly endless highways from Miami airport to Marco Island and every person we asked for help spoke Spanish but no English. It was midnight and I was alone in unfamiliar territory – who wouldn’t feel a bit emotional and overwhelmed?
Things certainly got better. The weather was perfect, I laughed a lot and the whole experience made me realise how important it is to take time out of normal life and to do things by ourselves. We don’t all want to do the same things but does that mean we should give up our dreams? My partner had been to New York and had no desire to return, but he has headed off on mountain bike trips to NZ with friends in the past few years for a week or so and will head off on more in the future. This serious level of bike riding doesn’t interest me, so it’s an opportunity, at least for a while, for him to totally indulge his passion without having to think about the usual day-to-day commitments. When it comes to creating balance in our lives, it is imperative that we have this time out if we can; to recharge, to remember who we are, to observe our “normal” frenetic life from the outside on occasion. We need to have a plan and work towards it. Time out to do the thing we are passionate about and/or have always dreamed of doing – if it is at all possible- before we no longer have the option.
In the end, we all love our kids and our family and would never be without them. But alone time, couple time and family time are three very different things that can and should complement and enhance each other. Getting off the day-to-day treadmill now and again really helps us appreciate all of it, just that little bit more.