If I’m being completely honest with you, there are a lot of days in this “parenting three kids” gig where I find myself staring into space and thinking that I would really like to run away. WAIT. Did I say “run away”? I meant “GET AWAY.” And come back. Of course. Probably.
And I’m fortunate in that my kids are old enough that I’ve been able to do just that a few times in the last couple of years. My husband and family members have stepped up and watched my kids so I could get an overnight break. But as much as I crave that break in the chaos of the busy days, I’ve come to realize it’s a little more emotionally complicated than I anticipated. If you, like me, love and adore your children, but really would like to remember what it feels like to sleep through the night and pee without an audience, I’m here to help you.
- JUST BOOK IT. It feels really, REALLY good to pull the trigger on some travel plans on one of your worst days. Did your daughter wake up whining and tantruming, not pausing until long after sun went down? Get on hotels.com. Did your son pour out a bottle of laundry detergent on the garage floor, then paint the bedroom with fingernail polish while you were cleaning up the first mess? (Not that this particular situation has happened to me. Oh WAIT. YES IT HAS.) Cash in those airline miles TONIGHT. Email your husband’s work address with the mandatory vacation days he needs to request NOW.
- FIND KINDRED SPIRIT TRAVELING PARTNERS. One of my most cherished getaways was last summer when I got to fly to California and meet up with a handful of my college girlfriends. Of course, we’re not “college-y” anymore, we’re all moms in our mid-thirties. Even though our lives look different than they did 15 years ago, we’re still like-minded. They were ready for some child-free hours as much as I was. My husband, having a front-row seat to the three ornery blessings in our home, is also pretty game to make plans to vacate the premises. It’s a huge treat when we can sneak away TOGETHER.
- COUNTDOWN to V(acay)-Day. Because life with small children is what it is, you will have many, many moments of chaos and insanity between planning your trip and actually leaving for your trip. This is helpful, because your mind and body are reminding your heart that you REALLY NEED A BREAK from these precious offspring. Every time you find yourself in another ridiculous, nonsense argument with a preschooler (“No, mermaids are NOT REAL”), you can just look up at your calendar and say, “17 days.” The kids will know you are getting ready to leave, so their crazytown behaviors will be breaking records by the time your countdown is in the single digits, and because you are a good mom, you will not scream “I CAN’T WAIT TO GET OUT OF HERE!” But you may think it.
- PACKING/PANIC. But guess what? You are a good mom. And your kids are actually really good (and normal) kids. And you truly love them more than you ever thought possible. And you’re not used to being without them longer than an hour or two. And suddenly, as you are packing a carry-on suitcase with NO goldfish crackers or pull-ups, you start to freak out that you are LEAVING YOUR BABIES! What the heck?!?! You are hyperventilating a bit, because WHY did you ever think this was a good idea? You can’t bear to be gone from them for that long, and they CERTAINLY will not survive without you for that long! And you keep packing, but your mind is playing awful cruel tricks on you, and you imagine: what if one of them gets really sick? What if they miss me horribly and can’t stop crying? Or worse: what would happen if I died on this trip?! When my husband and I go away together, my packing panic is even worse! This last February we got to travel to Seattle for four days (FOUR DAYS!) and the morning before we left I double checked our will and reminded my brother that he and his wife are first on deck to parent my children if their parents died on I-5 between Vancouver and Centralia. It was not my proudest moment, friends.
- FREEDOM! Maybe if you’re lucky, one of your kids will be a real stinker on the morning of your departure, making your emotional good-bye a little less sad. You’ll look at your mom, or your husband (whomever is taking the first shift) and just give them a fake smile and say something trite that you don’t mean, like “Good luck!” Then you run like a bat out of hell towards the interstate or the airport. And if your plane is delayed a bit? You have to sit in traffic? You don’t really care because IT IS SO QUIET! At the first meal you eat, you realize no one has wiped ranch dressing or apple juice on your sleeve, and your shoulders start to loosen a bit. And at some point, maybe on the airplane, you open a BOOK (remember those?) because you don’t have anything else to do OR ANYONE ELSE TO WORRY ABOUT and you may cry some happy tears just a lil’ bit. It takes a few hours to begin to decompress, but when you do, it FEELS SO GOOD!
- Repeat steps 4 and 5 continually throughout your time away. Yes, it feels good, but you also miss your kids. You’ll see a huge bulldozer being pulled on a flatbed truck RIGHT NEXT to your car and realize that your son would be so excited about it. And you smile and kinda wish he was here. But then you have a chance to take a nap—A NAP!—and you are glad he’s not here. But then while you and your husband are flipping through the cable stations in the hotel room, you’ll come across Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, and Daniel’s singing “Grown-ups come back” and your heart catches in your throat and you feel overwhelming guilt and you want to shout to your children in another city: “I’M COMING BACK, BABIES!” Fortunately, your husband finds HGTV and you get distracted immediately and forget about Daniel and Prince Wednesday and are really content just to focus on Chip and Joanna.
- READY OR NOT—COME HOME. It really depends on the mama and the particular trip. There have been times when I could have used another 48 hours away to really re-charge my batteries. And there have been times when I’ve only been gone one night, and I could not have handled being away from my kids for ONE. MORE. MINUTE. But something I have learned through these rare and valuable trips is that I need respite. I need to be intentional about taking some times for me, or me and my spouse, to rest and re-energize. Getting away from my children actually makes me a BETTER mom. And nothing is as sweet as those giddy screams and welcome home hugs when you walk through the front door.
- MISSING FREEDOM. Guess what? Your kids didn’t learn to do their laundry or dishes while you were gone. And they are going to start bickering and tattling as soon as your 20 minute “Mommy’s Home” honeymoon is over. And you have 89 unread emails. And three messages from: the dentist, the class-mom and the library about your overdue fines. And your mini-van is still making that annoying sound. And your middle child still wakes you up multiple times a night. And you didn’t plan anything for dinner. So you know what?
- REPEAT STEPS 1-8.
Bon voyage, mamas!