My husband and I celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary this past August. As soon as the summertime hit, we started thinking of places that we could go to celebrate. Since we had our first child in 2014, we have not gone off by ourselves for longer than one night, and even that was a staycation at a nearby hotel to celebrate our 7-year wedding anniversary. So, we knew we wanted to go somewhere grand and we wanted to go there alone. This was our chance to get away, we told ourselves. We need time to reset and reconnect, after all. We were "us" before we were "mom and dad" and tapping back into that side of ourselves is healthy, after all.
Or, so we thought. We finally decided on Hawaii after going back and forth on Key West for a few weeks. Yet, as I started to research the islands, watch tourism videos and learn more about things to do, I found myself becoming increasingly disheartened. There were waterfalls galore, beautiful, sprawling beaches and all the snorkeling you could ever hope to do. In short, it was looking like a kid's dream. I just imagined myself driving solo with my husband along the famed Road to Hana, looking out at all of those gorgeous vistas, and thinking to myself "Wow, the kids would really have loved this." That's when the guilt started to creep in and I began second-guessing everything.
Next, my youngest child, our two-year-old son, started seriously potty training this week. The transition has been a timely and needed one and I don't think anyone was as ready for it as I was, but it came with its own set of challenges. I don't know if it's this new stage or the buzz-cut haircut his papa gave him on the side porch last week, but I can tell my boy needs me more than ever before. Always my best, champion sleeper, he has started crying out for me all throughout the night. He's begged to crawl into my bed, for me to lie on the carpet outside of his crib and hold his hand through the slats. To rock him just a little while longer in our old threadbare rocking chair so I can smooth his hair back and tell him all about the big day he will have tomorrow.
These kids of requests and demands are supposed to drive me up the wall. I'm supposed to be aggravated by the neediness and stressed out by the lack of personal space. Instead, I find myself leaning heavily into it. I lay beside the crib on a makeshift palette until I fall asleep myself, my arm going numb between the crib slats. I leave one kid's room for another, where a stack of books is waiting beside a sleepy, smiling daughter who wants just one or five more bedtime stories. I do it all, gratefully, happily, like it's the most natural and wonderful thing in this world, because for me, it really is.
This is the season of life I'm in right now. I'm a mama. Before this, I was a young professional, the only female and only person under the age of 40 at my technical writing firm uptown. Before that, I was a long-time student and newlywed. I've been an artist, a shop owner, a vintage clothing enthusiast and a cheerleader. I've lived many variations of my life and changed constantly. Throughout, I've embraced all of these points in my life as integral cornerstones to my story. I don't want to be anywhere other than where I am now, needed by tiny hands who will all too soon not want to hold mine any longer.
Yet, there is a tiny part of me that does still want to go on this getaway. I've been looking for ways to truly understand the guilt that accompanies the need for time alone, especially for stay-at-home-moms who have wrapped this identity so fully around themselves it feels like a familiar, favorite blanket. How to I pry my fingers away from a clutched grasp, then slip off to devour fresh pineapple, shave ice and sunsets without feeling a little selfish? The answer is "I'm not sure, but I'm going to learn." I know there are so many ways to vacation with your brood. You can camp with kids, take them on epic airplane adventures, go on exciting hikes and so much more. I can't wait to do those things and to show them the world. I want them to get out from behind their favorite cartoons and look up, look out.
I want them to breathe fresh mountain air and get their toes wet in the Pacific ocean. One of my most cherished memories is going to the Grand Canyon with my family when I was 11. It was the most beautiful thing my eyes had ever seen and I felt so incredibly small against it. I want my kids to feel that way, to gain that perspective. I want all of these things for them and yet, I'm not certain they're ready for them. They are two and four and still very much finding their identity and their comfort within our cozy home.
So, I'll feel the guilt momentarily. I'm sure the airport drop-off will see me weep with concern, confusion and gratitude for the mothers in my life who are making this all possible. Yet, I hope that as that plane takes off for the island, and my hometown becomes a speck on the horizon, I can learn to embrace this time away as an investment in myself and in my marriage. I'll come back fresher, renewed and ready to tackle this parenting gig like never before. Because as amazing as Hawaii will be and how much I'm truly looking forward to it, there really is no place like home and there's no role I cherish more than this one.