You’re basically living the lyrics straight out of Alanis’s “Ironic,” I think to myself. This is a vacation you’ve waited for, counted down for months, weeks, and then finally, days. And yet, here you are: tears streaming down your face as you walk back downstairs, away from your babies’ rooms. Ah, the tug of heart that exists for a mama going on vacation.
Down to four days. Then three. I’m bursting with excitement over the thought of living in REAL vacation mode. I find myself lost in a daydream while sitting at a traffic light on my way home from picking up the kids from school. I can see myself sipping wine al fresco in the middle of the day with the hubby. I’ve packed my suitcase in my mind 100 times during the daily 5:00 P.M. toddler meltdowns. One more week until we’re free, I think. Our first kid-less vacation in three years. We need this. I. Cannot. Wait. Not family trip mode—an actual vacation. Serious sleeping in (anything later than 7:00 A.M. will work), a lazy brunch followed by some non-child-friendly sightseeing? Yes, please!
I can almost taste the freedom. And then, the night before, I feel this absolutely annoying guilt-filled sadness.
Hello, mom guilt, my old friend.
I’m putting the kids to bed and packing their small suitcases to stay with my parents. They’re so excited and running around their rooms, attempting to pack everything they’ve ever owned “just in case.” I self-check. I’m actually excited, right? But suddenly I find myself looking at their shoes: scuffed-up, sticker burrs in the Velcro, and—gosh, when did their feet get so big? Apparently they’re still cute enough to make my eyes well up with tears. They’re so cute. I remember buying these shoes, and it was the cutest little day. Huh, I think to myself. Actually, that was a shopping trip from… Wait, why am I feeling so emotional?
It’s this weird tug on my heart that is all too familiar to mamas. It’s that tug that notices how cute their toes are as they splash around too long in the bath. It’s the tug that hears their cute little nightly demands of one more hug. One more conversation about making sure their stuffed animal babies are tucked in close enough to them. I brush my daughter’s bangs off her head as she asks me to count with her the number of days we will be gone. “Five,” I whisper. I tear up.
This is so ridiculous, I think. I’m so excited and need this so badly. My husband and I need this so badly. You know how healthy this is, Erin. Think of yourself. Think of every aspect, every relationship. Let this be good—no guilt, no sadness. Be happy you’re leaving, literally on a jet plane. Smile and be pumped, dang it!
And yet, that weird sadness still sits with me. I kiss my babies and head back downstairs. My two-year-old doesn’t even really know that tomorrow morning he won’t see me. It’s only five days, I think. Pull yourself together and be a normal human excited for vacation. I AM excited. I AM absolutely thrilled to only be a wife for five days and that’s it. There’s a Clay Walker song that always makes me smirk when I hear it: “Mama, ‘Fore She Was Mama.” I get to be that girl again for five days.
But, the truth is, I’m a mom and that doesn’t stop when I get on that plane. It almost feels lonely because it’s different for my husband and that’s just a fact. Mamas are different birds and always will be. He misses the kids and asks to FaceTime them on occasion when we’re gone, but he’s all in. He’s self trained, honestly. He’s out of the house 10 hours a day, five days a week, so this isn’t as new to him. Me? As much as I yearn for space and time, I’m a mom and thus a creature of habit. My heart lingers a bit.
The next morning we get the kids where they need to be, share kisses and hugs, and off we go. I look at my husband, take a deep breath, exhale, say a prayer for my babies, and let go. I intentionally choose to let go of the guilt. (For the record, the kiddos are absolutely thrilled by the vacation to their grandparents’ house: days filled with zoo trips, ice cream, and all kinds of treats.) That’s what makes this weird mom guilt/sadness even more ridiculous. It’s all me. I must intentionally choose to be a wife first.
Why is it so hard for me? I have the greatest husband of all time and don’t want him for a second to think I’m not over-the-moon excited. Because I am—it’s just confusing to me to feel these polarizing feelings and not act on them. It almost makes me jealous that it’s easier for him, not because he’s less invested (he’s not), but because I can’t just pack my suitcase and go like he can. It’s physically impossible for me to not be concerned with what happens while we’re gone.
So what’s the deal, mamas? Why does this happen? I think it is the general lack of attention we place on self-care. I think we’re out of practice, so when we actually make a move to take time for ourselves, it leaves us wondering if it’s OK.
Is it OK to love time away from our children? YES.
Is it OK to be happy without them? YES.
What if I forget to think about them for a whole afternoon? IT’S OK! Good for you! They’re OK!
Eventually, I leave. My husband and I have an absolutely incredible vacation. Sure, I worry from time to time. Should I call? Should I not call? What are they doing right at this moment? I wonder if my son ate his lunch today? Did I pack their socks? But, I work to make those thoughts fleeting rather than consuming, all the while sipping a most fahhh-bulous afternoon cocktail. I focus on my wonderful marriage, relishing in the freedom of a mid-morning trip to the spa and listening to as much inappropriate music as possible. We laugh, sleep too late, and quickly remember “Mama ‘fore she was Mama.” We both appreciate that person, no doubt.
This trip served as a good lesson for me. I refused to let my love for my kids and my job as their mother interfere with my marriage and happiness as a wife. I decided then and there to take a look at the good that comes from the time away: the happiness that fills my soul when I breathe in the mountain air at the top of a hike my children could never have completed; the joy of interlocking fingers with the man I adore while strolling down the street instead of pushing a stroller filled with snacks, extra clothes, and diapers; the freedom of a long, uninterrupted shower in preparation for a late-night, laughter-filled dinner.
On the flight home, I’m ready. I find myself transitioning back into “mom mode” as my husband watches an in-flight movie (still very much on vacation mode). I sip my coffee and start to worry that I need to get my son’s birthday invitations out, take clothes to the dry cleaners tomorrow, and call the babysitter to rearrange our schedule for the week. I stop myself. Two more hours, Erin, I think. I close my calendar, turn off my mind, and watch one more episode of mindless TV just because I can. I may always need to intentionally choose time away from my kids, but I relish the freedom and will start planning the next getaway soon. But man, for now, I can’t wait to kiss those babies of mine.