I remember sitting in the back seat of a cab, looking at the open front door of my house, where my 18-month-old son was standing with my husband blowing kisses as the driver pulled away. I was en route to L.A. to visit a friend for four nights away from my baby, the longest I’d ever been away from him times two. I tried to keep up my end of the conversation with the driver over the lump in my throat and the thoughts racing through my head: Why did I think four nights would be ok? What if he gets sick? What if he decides to wean while I’m gone? What if, what if, what if? Four days later, when my son welcomed me home, I got my answers to these questions and more: It. Was. Completely. Fine.
I discovered that having a weekend away is like the Gestalt principle, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” One baby-free trip is more than the 4 dinners + 1 movie + 1 concert + 4 late-night conversations + 2 flights to read uninterrupted + 3 mornings of hot coffee + 20 times in and out of the car without fussing with a car seat. Together these luxuries, some large and others almost imperceptible, create something bigger: a real break. Not a few hours to quickly run some errands while your mom can watch the baby, or finally, a date night with your husband, after which you have to wake up early anyway, because it turns out being hungover and being a mom are not mutually exclusive. During a weekend away, the hours stretch out leisurely ahead of you, free of the constant-ness of parenting. How long would it otherwise take me to have all of those experiences listed above (the dinners, the movie, the concert, etc.), baby-free? Weeks? Months? A year?
There will always be a long list of reasons not to do something, especially something we can convince ourselves is selfish. I wondered if the time was right, if my son was too young, if he was in a developmental phase where this would traumatize him for life. I thought, “Maybe if I wasn’t still breastfeeding it would be easier to go,” or “Maybe if I wasn’t used to staying home with him every day.” But I eventually admitted to myself that there is never a perfect scenario to justify taking a trip for yourself. I imagine it will always feel inconvenient (at best) or scary to leave him.
I’m sure my friend would have understood if I had taken a shorter trip or if we had made it a family vacation so that I wouldn’t be away from my son. But there is something special about having that length of time together to stay up way too late laughing and reminiscing and making new inside jokes. How often do I get to be a good friend these days? It’s more likely that I’m canceling plans because of a sick child or that I simply don’t have the energy to cater to people other than my son, my husband, and once in a while, myself. A solo trip gives you the chance to reconnect with yourself – not just who you used to be, but who you still are in addition to being a mom. I promise, that person is still in there, she might just need a little nudge.
A caveat: As with all things parent-related, everyone’s experience is different. Maybe the timing truly isn’t right for you. If, in this chapter of motherhood, the thought of going away gives you significantly more anxiety than excitement, always, always, always do what you feel is best. But if you’re reading this and you feel a pull to do something for yourself (because it’s probably long overdue) – go for it. My guess is it will be completely fine.