Warm sun, smooth sand, a fruity cocktail sweating in my hand…and tears streaming down my face?
I’d been dreaming of this week away for months, maybe even years, but once I was finally on my first solo vacation since having kids (that’s 15 years, people), I was silently crying behind my sunglasses. I could tell it was about to get ugly, but couldn’t haul my butt out of the hammock I’d plopped in, the one with a full-on view of the sunset.
Maybe I was exhausted. I’d taken two flights with a lengthy layover in between to get to Costa Rica and had been up for 24 hours-plus. Or maybe I was hungry — the kale chips and gluten-free blueberry bar hadn’t been very appealing during my overnight flight. It probably didn’t help that I was sitting next to a cute Swiss couple who couldn’t stop touching each other and smelled a little tangy, like maybe they hadn’t showered in, like, days.
Or maybe these were tears of happiness. I was finally making good on one of my bucket list items — learning to surf — and the joy was just too overwhelming.
Yes, yes, and yes. Exhaustion, hunger, and happiness combined were more than enough feels to bring me to tears, but how to explain the snot-nosed sobbing that hit me like a freight train once I rolled out of the hammock and made it to my room? I flung myself across the crisp white sheets of the king-sized bed that was all mine for the following seven days and lost it.
After all the years of caring and nurturing, running amok among the Legos and My Little Ponies, counseling my three girls through their wins and losses, helping them navigate their friendship, school, and sibling dramas; after years of their constant touch, their chirping, whining, giggling voices my daily soundtrack, I was finally on my own — and I was lonely.
Intoxicated by the adventure ahead of me, I hadn’t given much thought to what it would feel like being away from my everyday life for so long. I hadn’t expected to miss it. I crave alone time on a daily basis. I’m a tightly wound person, so recharging on my own is critical to my mental health.
I snatch 20 minutes here, an hour there, to organize myself and diffuse my anxiety. There’s usually some sort of exercise involved and/or list-making plus a few minutes of sitting still (I won’t call it meditation because I suck at meditation). This just-me time is short and patchy, nothing planned or consistent, but more like little Band-Aids that get me through the day. The few one-nighters I’ve had away and the much-cherished annual girls’ weekend are wonderful, but they’re not long enough for me to fully switch out of mom mode.
Now I had a week away from my kids, my husband, and my house, and I was freaking out. Here was my chance to completely detach from the demands of motherhood, and I was miserable. I had no reason to worry about the day-to-day back home. My husband is totally capable when it comes to handling the kids on his own, plus my two older kids are mostly self-sufficient. The 5-year-old demands the most attention, but she wipes her own butt and gets her own snacks, so it’s not so bad. They know where the grocery store is, how to do the laundry, and where they need to be when.
So why couldn’t I let go of home?
When my two older girls were little (and the youngest one hadn’t arrived yet), I was desperate for a break. The few hours on Saturdays I had to myself while my husband took the kids were barely enough time for me to regroup. A tropical vacation of my own where I could sleep and wake whenever I wanted, pee alone, maybe finish a book, and not have a small child hanging off of me was a far-off fantasy. I craved the break. I needed it.
Fast-forward a decade or so, and I was livin’ the dream — only the dream was back home. It took thousands of miles away for me to realize that I didn’t need a break from my life. Not anymore.
I certainly didn’t miss the work and schedules of parenting. What I missed were my kids, their smiles and eye-rolling, their special brand of humor, their challenges, and the way I know what each of them needs to get through those challenges. Family life is demanding, and my household requires a lot of work to keep it humming, but after all these years, I’m finally okay with it. I don’t need to get away. The life I lead is full of chaos and high emotion, fierce love and mundane routine, too little sleep and too much coffee. It is wonder-filled, and it is worth missing.
I cried myself to sleep that night listening to the lullaby playlist my 5-year-old listens to when she falls asleep. I woke up puffy-eyed, still missing home but ready to find out who I was beyond “Mom.” And it turns out, I’m a pretty badass surfer.