If you’d asked me to leave my first son for five days when he was two years old, I would have made you carry me out, and only IF you could hog-tie me first. After all, I was always the one to scoff at the Christmas newsletters from friends boasting tales of their fabulous kid-free vacations, pictures included. What kind of parent does that? My thought was that a vacation is all about spending time with family – letting the children have the time of their lives. So for the first two years of both of our sons’ lives, they came along to every beach and big city we encountered, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
That’s why when my brothers asked us to take a cruise with them and their wives, I naturally included my two boys, Isaac and Alex, in the planning. We’d pay the full price for both of them, even though we knew they wouldn’t eat half their part in the all-you- can-eat “value” price. We’d take breaks in the middle of the day for naps, spend our time by the kiddy pool, and we’d skip fancy dinners and opt for the casual pizza and burger buffets. Done.
But as the time approached to book the trip, Alex, two, was getting much more active, and even less controllable, especially in public. Parks were no longer fun – he didn’t care that there were climbers and slides; his only objective was to see how far and how fast he could outrun me, all while I was trying to help Isaac, four, accomplish a new feat on the jungle gym. The mall became a nightmare when he refused to sit in his stroller or even stay in the playplace, where he used to be semi-contained. If he was not running, he was not happy. How on Earth, I began to wonder, was I going to have fun chasing him while on a tropical vacation, and most importantly, keep him from falling overboard a huge ship with rails to scale?
When I discussed my concerns with my husband, he logically suggested we not bring the boys. Yes, Isaac was well behaved, but he hated to be in the sun for long periods. And even if we did bring Isaac, Alex would be lost at home without his big brother. So why didn’t we just go without them?
Go…without…them. It was easy for him to say. He traveled at least a week out of every month, but I was home with them every single day, all day. I’d left them a couple of times overnight, but leave them for FIVE days? No way.
Then he took a different approach. Instead of logic, he went for my heart. WE needed it, he said. We had not shared even a weekend away since Isaac was born, and it would be fun to reconnect. To talk about and experience things we used to enjoy in the eight years we were together before becoming parents. And how many times had I said at the end of a long day at home with them that I “wish I could just go away somewhere”?
He made good points. Still, I contemplated for months, talking to other moms who had vacationed without their kids; doing online research about the psychological effects of parents leaving children for “extended” periods of time, and thinking about how safe and secure I always felt with my parents because they never left me.
After getting so stressed out about leaving them, I was ready to nix the cruise all together. But my sister-in-law and my parents suggested they each keep the kids for a few days. They’d split up the time when we were away so it didn’t seem like too much for either of them. My boys loved playing with their teenage cousins, and also loved spending time with their grandparents.
So I asked Isaac, “Would you rather go on a big ship with us or stay home and play with your cousins and mamaw and papa for a few days?” His face lit up and he said, “Stay home!”
Hesitantly, I told Rodney to book it, but I bawled when he clicked the final “Submit reservation” button that meant it was paid for, and I was locked in. I cried for the next three months each night I put them to bed and thought about not being there during that special snuggle time. And I cried when Rodney refused to cancel it after I changed my mind.
But as our sail date approached, my excitement eased my anxiety. And along with Alex becoming more unruly each month, Isaac began begging for the day when his cousins would come and play video games and Power Rangers with him. I was reassured that I had made the right decision.
When our sail date came, I tried to kiss them goodbye, but my kids were oblivious that we were going, much less that there was anything to be upset about. They were climbing trees and throwing water balloons and having a heck of a lot more fun with cousins than they had on an average day at home. Knowing they were safe and happy, we headed for the airport.
With no car seats to lug, stroller to push, or huge diaper bag to tow, I felt empty-handed – and liked it. Instinctively, I turned from side to side several times for head counts, but soon let myself relax a little when I realized there was in fact no one there to keep track of. After breezing through security with only my shoes to remove and replace, I bought a magazine that I haven’t read in years – something without Diego or Dora gracing the cover – and a copy of a grown up book. We boarded the plane, ordered some cocktails and got comfy.
It was SO strange at first. No fruit snacks to distribute or DVD choices to referee — I have to admit I was a little lost. But as each hour passed, with each page I turned, and – okay — each sip I took, I slipped even more comfortably out of mommy mode, and into the world of “me.” I was here now. There was no turning back, so I may as well make the best of this whole trip.
In the ship’s terminal, I saw children waiting with their parents to board. Yes, it made me a little sad, but I perked up when a little girl knocked her mom’s suitcase into her little brother and the two began punching each other. Ahh, this was kind of nice.
For the next five days, we lounged by the pool and enjoyed fancy dinners with only our own bread to butter. We talked about the kids, but were also able to hold adult, uninterrupted conversations with my brothers and their wives. We stayed up late and sung in karaoke bars and danced in the disco. I didn’t get mad at him for coming into our room late from the casino – because I wasn’t in bed wondering if he’d make it home safely. On our day at port, we parasailed together and even joined a conga line. I had forgotten that the fun girl that used to be me, not just “mommy,” still existed.
By the last day, we were ready to come home. The kids came running into our arms, then jabbered non-stop about the fun they had while we were gone. They’d been to the zoo, had water balloon fights, and were basically given 100% attention for five whole days – something they don’t get from us all the time when we have laundry to do and dinner to cook. And for a long time after that, they asked us often when we were going away again.
A year after that, we took another trip to Hawaii. I was able to join him on a business trip, and I didn’t have nearly the same amount of anxiety about leaving them as I had on that first trip.
Since then we had another child – a daughter – and she’s a little harder to leave. At four years old, she still asks for me to put her to bed, and of course adds a dramatic flare if I’m not around when she wants me to be. We enjoy our family vacations, and have just as much fun with the kids in tow as we had without them, even if they do try to take a spin on the luggage carousel or eat all my Goobers on the plane. Those things are just peanuts compared to the hundreds of laughter-filled memories we’ve made.
But I do feel that itch – that need – to get away and be just us again. We are parents, but we were a couple first. Now, I open those Christmas letters detailing grand, kid-free ski trips or tropical excursions, and I still sneer at the pictures of our friends. Instead of wondering how they can possibly be enjoying their alone time, though, I wonder how soon our turn will come.