For the first time since becoming parents, my husband and I vacationed, alone. My eldest child just turned 10.
Ten years without a single escape from the realities of parenthood for more than a five-hour date night. A decade worth of time to forget what it was like to be him, and me, and us together without being Mommy and Daddy.
For ten years, I felt too guilty to think about an adult vacation. There was, of course, some guilt around leaving my kids behind, about not appreciating every tiny, little second of their lives, as all of the parenting memes insist that we do. My youngest is 4, so there was always a baby at home, someone who was a lot of work to take care of, harder to pawn off on a grandparent for more than an evening. But above all else, the guilt revolved around spending money (sometimes a scarce commodity around our house) on myself.
As we are all well aware, when it comes to raising children, there is a never-ending demand for funds: lessons, sports, toys, that pesky food and shelter we have to provide. Could I justify spending on a hotel room, restaurants, show tickets, and shopping? Guilt responded with a resounding “No!”
I had firmly resolved myself, at 38-years-old, to the fact that the achievement of any personal goals I may have had, the pursuit of any enjoyment outside of my children, was over. At the very least, until my children were grown.
Thinking about that now, I mean, WTF?! What a miserable way to live life. Is it any wonder that my husband and I were exhausted and impatient and stressed, and sometimes resentful? Resentful of the amazing opportunities, fun, adventures, and achievements of our own children — experiences we were working tirelessly to provide.
It was our fault, our choice to ignore ourselves. I didn’t even realize we were caught in a trap. Then I lost a friend far too young. At a time when I was already drowning, his death handed me an anchor. What could I do but struggle against the weight? It wasn’t a realistic option to sink when three little humans were relying on me.
Salvation required a radical act of selfishness. Actually, let me reframe that: self-preservation. So I planned a getaway to Cape Cod, complete with a beachside hotel, theater tickets, and reservations for restaurants that don’t offer a kids’ menu accompanied by crayons. And it was joyful, the best three days of my life. Yes, better than my wedding day, better than the days I gave birth to my children (I mean, how much fun can you have splayed open on an operating table doped to high heaven?).
My husband and I, we have always loved each other fiercely, but it’s near impossible to feel truly connected as a couple when there are three miniature humans tugging you both in a million different directions. This vacation, it offered us the opportunity to be just us again, a couple with no one else on whom to focus our attention and physicality and caring. It was priceless.
We rediscovered freedom, the chance to go wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted. The freedom from carrying snacks and Band-Aids in my purse, from considering whether browsing the goods in a fancy store was worth the risk of our children destroying something we’d end up paying for, from buckling car seats, from the restrictions of a packed schedule full of practices and lessons and bath times and bedtimes. Not once, during that entire three days, did anyone walk in on me while I was on the toilet or ask me to get them a drink while I was naked and sopping in the shower.
A glorious world opened before my eyes. I awoke to the realization that I am not yet dead, that the time between now and death does not need to be an uphill slog through endless responsibility. I have a life to live, fun to have, goals to achieve. I am worth spending time and effort, and yes, even some cash on.
What kind example do I set for my children when I wrap my entire life around them? It is a detriment to them to see me as only a parent. They should aspire to be well-rounded, satisfied, fulfilled adults, even if they choose to be parents someday. I need to set that example for them, or I am, in fact, an irresponsible parent.
Since returning from our trip, we have made resolutions that we have already begun to fulfill. We have booked an overnight to see a band we’ve been fans of for ages. I updated my wardrobe as well as my husband’s with a few new outfits, replaced my 15-year-old makeup (yes, literally), and my husband and I have taken up playing music together once again, preparing to play in a local busking competition next year.
Our three children lounge on the couch or floor, coloring or wrestling or simply enjoying their Daddy and Mommy singing and strumming. They witness the happiness that we take in reserving time for our passions and toward attaining our goals. They witness our joy, while hopefully understanding and appreciating a model of how to achieve their own.