This Friday, less than two weeks before my daughter turns three, I am going to go away for the first time. Without her.
Sugar Bee has been traveling since she was three months old, with me wherever I went. We have traveled to New York and Florida many times to visit my mom and dad in their respective states. We have been to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic on our first family vacation with her Russian side of the family. We have driven to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Phenix City, Alabama, and Panama City, Florida. She has been on more airplanes than some of my adult friends. We have always been together.
In the first 14 or so months of life, this was because I was breastfeeding. Pumping never worked for me, so there was little chance of a separation then. And to be honest, I never wanted to leave her. I was truly cherishing every moment, even the colic, the allergy issues, the early onset of her seriously fiery personality, and I had no desire to miss a beat. I am fortunate enough to have my career and work from home, making traveling places easier since I can work from anywhere. I haven’t had a traditional office in years and the thought of ever having one again makes me physically ill. It would be nice, I suppose, to get to leave the house and all the stresses associated with it behind for a few hours (out of sight, out of mind) and then be able to leave work behind to come back and focus on home life. Being able to still have my career while raising my daughter for the past three years has given me so much satisfaction and a healthy sense of pride, and I constantly remind myself how lucky I am to be able to have it both ways. But I need a break in the worst way. And the time is now.
When Sugar Bee entered our lives in 2011, my husband was still in the Army Reserves and working full-time. He would leave for his weekend every month, getting his break from this new, crazy life we now had. (We joked about how he was going off to “camp.”) Then he started back at school to finish up his degree, going to school at night after working all day. He would have his 2-3 week leave each spring for his regular spring Army commitment, and then it would be just the girl and I for more than just a long weekend. He has gone to visit his parents in Russia at least 4 times for 2-3 weeks at a time, including long layovers in places like Rome, Paris, and the Netherlands where he had time to explore those cities. (It’s important for him to visit his family, and he works hard and deserves these breaks.) When his time with the Army was fulfilled and he was released in September of 2012, he really ramped up his course load. For the past year and a half, there have been semesters where he says goodnight to our daughter on Sunday night and doesn’t see her again until Friday after work. (Let’s not even address how this has changed our marital relationship because we never see each other.) All week long, it is all me. All mama, all the time. And I love it, but I’m tired. No, exhausted. I don’t even think that word is enough sometimes.
I feel like I have been a single parent for a lot of her life, and I want to send a huge shout out to all the single parents out there. You are amazing and have my utmost respect for everything you maintain, and for doing and giving your best every day for the little ones. For all my complaining, at least there is someone around on the weekend so I can go to the store by myself, go to church, take the dog for a walk, or work in the yard. I do take her to a preschool four mornings a week (three days for camp this summer) from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. to give me time to focus on work. She (thankfully) takes a nap for 2-3 hours when she comes home so I can get a few more hours of work done, but after she gets up, the rest of the afternoon and most of the evening is shot. After I finally get her to bed, I’m back at my computer to do more work, often until 11 p.m. or later. It makes for very long days and I’m pooped.
So when my good friend was over one night a few weeks ago, we were chatting about all sorts of things (as wine can sometimes make happen) and she mentioned her bachelorette weekend was coming up and that I should come along. I have never been to Charleston and I really enjoy this group of girls. Friday through Sunday? That’s only two nights….SURELY they can survive without me. I immediately started to get excited. I wasn’t even sure how it could happen as my husband would have to take a vacation day, but I decided that I was going to give it a try.
The next day, the Russian and I were instant messaging through our chat system at work (we both work for the same company), so I asked, “Can you take a look at the calendar and see if it might be possible for you to get the 25th of July off?” His response was, “I already have that day off. And the 24th.” I immediately asked him why, figuring he had taken the days off to go get together with his Army buddies for their summer boys weekend (forgot to add that one to his list of breaks that he’s had), and started to feel bummed. When he explained that he already had those days off because he has to work the weekend before (which happens every other month or so), I was cautiously excited again. Is it possible that the stars had aligned to make this a real possibility? Am I actually going to get some time away to just be me and relax with some girlfriends? Of course he immediately asked me why I was asking. “Well, Tina’s bachelorette weekend away is that weekend, Friday through Sunday” I wrote. It was followed by an immediate response back, “GO!”
This was quite possibly one of the nicest gestures from the Russian ever. I have never asked to have time away, to leave my family and my responsibilities as mother, wife, maid, cook, dog caregiver, and my job, but for the past 10 months or so, I have talked about how I felt that I was really needing a break. That we all need me to go somewhere, to recharge for a few days. It never mattered where to or for how long, and now this was the perfect occasion. He has always supported me going somewhere, and for a long time, I really thought I needed to go alone. In fact, I had started talking to people that I know around the country to see who I could stay with for free to get some time away. I have lots of miles for someone that doesn’t travel for work and can fly anywhere, but I didn’t want to blow up the budget (I’m the accountant) to do something for myself. Why do I/we as mothers feel guilt for that? Why have I felt guilty sometimes going to get a pedicure? That is ludicrous. He’s never felt guilty leaving or buying a new gadget, so why do I allow it within myself? For all that I do on a daily basis, I should be able to give myself a little luxury, a small treat, yet I often find my brain wandering while I’m relaxing, thinking about bills or some expense that is coming up in the future, a meeting I need to prepare for, something to do for Sugar Bee’s school, a vet appointment…the list is endless. Guilty is the wrong word, but I don’t know what else to call it.
Two weeks later, the post When It’s Mom’s Time to Leave, came out. Holy crap there were so many things that resonated with me, even to the point of a few tears. This was possibly one of the best ones I’ve read this year. I love when I read something that makes me feel a little less crazy, or mean, or guilty, or alone in this whole mom thing.
“It has become all too common for moms to carry the entire burden of child-rearing, all while not inserting a single need of their own. But it doesn’t serve our children, it doesn’t serve our families and it breeds resentment to play the martyr all the time.”
There are some things that are just part of my personality. I’m a nurturer. I take care of people and always have. My friends are treated as my family. I’m terrible at asking for help, but I have definitely gotten better at it since having a kid. I suck at taking care of myself; the emotional self. I’m fine with the physical one as I put my health and body in my list of important things, but I don’t take any other time for me aside from my time at the gym. I allow myself that, but very little else.
There was another thing she was right on about. No one can tell you when it’s the right time because there is no answer. I’m sure some of you reading this have never left your kids. My mom tells me all the time how back then, “taking a break” was never a thought to her. She’s right. I don’t ever remember a bunch of moms going off on girl trips together, leaving their young kids behind. I remember when my parents had an opportunity for her to join my dad on a business trip to Japan and China. She was so worried, even though both of our grandmothers were staying with my sister and I. Of course, I ended up getting really sick while they were gone, but I’m sure that won’t happen this weekend. Right?
As Kiri Westby writes in her post about her mom, “…her generation of moms were fighting just to be allowed to work outside the home, while my generation of moms are expected to work outside the home, raise amazing kids and still look good in a little black dress come date night… thus, most of us feel like we’re failing.”
My mom went back to work when I was ten and my sister entered high school because she wanted to and she felt we were old enough. Times were different then. Today, most of us need two incomes to just survive, let alone have extra left at the end of the month. The internet and social media has given us a ton of places to compare ourselves and our lives with others that may seem to be doing it right or better than us. We are all different, not better or worse. None of us really knows what we are doing and if someone says that they do, they are full of it and probably have less of a clue than I do.
She also mentions in the article about how her husband wants his daughter to know he can be there for her and take care of her. That goes along with why I say, “We all need it.” The Russian and Sugar Bee need me to go away, too. I want her to know he’s always there for her, especially now that he’s absent so often between work and school. I want them to bond, to do things together without me around. I want them to do something different and new while I’m gone. I’m always taking her to places for the first time or am at least part of it, and maybe he will take advantage and do something new with her himself. Or maybe not. It’s not my problem to worry about, I just want them to be together and have time without the distraction of mama. She should know and trust that he can do what mama does, for the most part.
Once I had been given the day off from the flight school where I work part-time on Saturdays, it was real. The Russian didn’t have to worry about work, I had Saturday off, and I was actually going to go away. Without my kid. Eeek! The next thing I knew, I found myself almost bragging about leaving. Anytime someone asked me what was new, that was the first thing that came to mind. “I’m taking my first trip away from my family!” I have some friends that have left their kids behind for girls’ weekends and trips away with their spouses several times, even when there’s a little-little one around. It doesn’t make them cooler than me or make me better than them. I’m happy for them that they have had the opportunity and the ability to take the time for themselves. I think it’s great. And I’m thrilled that I am finally ready and actually doing it. As I said, we are all different.
My daughter has stayed overnight at Gigi and Jack’s a few times through the years. They are close friends, more like family to us than friends, and we refer to them as our Georgia family. But one night with her a mile away when I’m picking her up around 9 o’clock the next morning isn’t the same thing. This is going to be a whole new experience for me. I’m sure they will both be fine and I know that I deserve (and need) to do this for myself. Considering how much of my daily life is spent thinking about and tending to my family’s needs and the demands of my job, of course I’m excited about the prospect of getting away and focusing on myself and this ridiculously fun weekend that lies ahead. But I’m also nervous, anxious, worried, and feeling a little guilty. (There’s that damn word again.)
Three consecutive days of being Shannon again. I’m sure I will miss her terribly and wonder if she’s eating enough, sleeping well, or missing me. But maybe not as often as I’m imagining right now. I will have to write about it when I get back.
Of course, the next thing is to plan time away alone with the Russian. That will be the next big thing.
I stumbled upon a few more great reads on the subject of the importance of us moms having a break before writing this post. Here they are:
When was your first time leaving your kid(s)? How long were you gone? How did it go?