We couldn’t believe we were actually making this happen, but my two girlfriends and I booked tickets from three different continents and promised to see each other in Greece. Prior to this, my precious bundle of two and a half year old joy had never before been out of her doting mother’s care for the entirety of one night, never mind one full week; so though I was excited about the prospect of my girlfriends-only trip away, as departure day crept closer, so did a niggling sense of gloom.
I have one hell of a capable husband, so despite asking for photos everyday so that I could giggle about what outfit he’d styled her in, I actually wasn’t concerned about either of their well being. Plus, we were visiting his family in Europe, so I was escorted away by in-laws with promises that his clan would be there to help with the entertaining, care of, and feeding (definitely feeding) of both of them.
Still, the day before I left, I was a pile of sadness, just observing every molecule of her face and little hands, taking in every gorgeous toddler mannerism, and wondering if she’d still be doing those when I got back. Earlier, we’d taken to the Internet for advice on whether we should set up Skype dates, to which the Internet resoundingly responded that it would not be a good idea for a child her age who cannot understand the complexities of “Mom is in the computer”. (P.S. – don’t ever Google “should I go on vacation without my child,” if you are really thinking of doing such a thing, unless you want to feel like a heartless, self-involved, child-eating monster). When the time finally came, and Partner-in-Crime executed the crafty move of taking her to the grocery store with little fanfare, ahead of my airport ride arriving, I tried to hide my guilt-ridden tears as I asked for a hug, and she chirped “Bye, Mama,” and walked out the door.
My logical mind knew all the reasons I should go:
- A week really isn’t that long.
- It’s healthy for Mom to have a break.
- It’s good for Dad and his family to have some bonding time with her, and vice versa.
- Dad took 3 weeks away when she was under a year. And I solo-parented for 6 weeks while in the States. My turn.
- All the sleeping in.
- My girlfriends from college and I have been dreaming of doing this trip together for years. Don’t mess this up, emotional mind!
So, logical brain leading the charge, and a pack of tissues on hand, I boarded the plane. I took out a book. Like, an actual book. And, I read an actual book for the next two hours. I felt like an impostor, and kind of wanted to hit the Serbian lady next to me on the arm and say, “get a load of this scene!!,” but I kept my quiet secret of being a toddler mother with uninterrupted reading time to myself. Then, I met my friend at the airport, we figured out the Athens train, found our hotel, ate a long and huge lunch, swam in the hotel pool, drank some wine, met our other friend, ate dinner at 11p.m. (!), laughed a lot, and went to sleep until we woke up. And then repeated some version of that for the rest of the week in Athens and Santorini.
It was OK.
No, seriously, it was a lot more than OK. It was so special.
It was this:
And it was this.
It was being with two people who have known me for 20 years. It was sitting with them and all the white wine, and talking about the deepest places inside and laughing until we didn’t have any more talk left until the morning and our sides ached. It was being the only mother in the trio, and hence, talking about a lot of things other than children, and sometimes children, too.
It was making brave decisions for myself. It was about doing things on my own and finding that person who used to be so much more bold and unafraid. It was a 4 hour hike. It was leaving my friends at the pool and jumping back on the Athens tour bus myself because that’s what I wanted. It was sitting at the very front of the catamaran. It was buying a souvenir just for myself. It was a second bottle of wine.
When I booked this vacation, I knew I craved sleep and that I really wanted to go to the bathroom alone. What I didn’t realize was that I needed to know me-by-myself. I don’t mean me-before-motherhood, but rather finding this new version of myself as a solo traveler. My daughter was always with me in mind, of course, but this new person springing from the Aegean was a completely formed person unto myself, much like the one I was before this magical creature entered my life, but now shaped by her appearance, as well. Whole unto myself. Better for the people who walk with me.
Meanwhile, at home, Partner-in-Crime’s entire family was struck down with illness, and so the promised help didn’t really materialize, and he had to go it alone, But, he did. Of course he did. He’s a great Dad. He sent daily reports, and I did get teary mid-week when he said our girl told him she’d “lost her Mama bird.” Apparently, she decided I’d gone to the store, and could recite a list of things I was purchasing there. He continually assured her I’d be home soon.
I was imagining a blissful, cinematic reunion upon my return. But, in the interest of honesty, I’ll disclose that it wasn’t that. My girl looked at me like a stranger for a moment, then started rambling about the granola bar she was eating (toddlers, am I right?). She looked somehow different to me, as well. It was clear for the next couple of days that she wasn’t entirely pleased with me. And, Dada (who became “Daddy” in my absence) has claimed the title of “favorite parent.” I don’t think the impact is long-lasting. And, frankly, it can be exhausting being the favorite, so I’m mostly happy for “Daddy” to take the title for a bit. She still needs Mama snuggles.
I’d do it all again in a heartbeat – including, I’m certain – the guilty and tearful goodbye. We survived, all of us. We’re all fine. And, I found a part of me at the bottom of that second bottle after another glorious sunset, a part of me that is proudly my own.