A little over a month ago, the husband and I took a four-night trip to Nantucket for a wedding that I was standing up in (see older post about bridesmaid dress shopping). We were a little concerned before the trip about what we were going to do with the little guy during the wedding festivities. We thought we would have to suck it up and pay for a local baby sitter recommended by the hotel. The idea of lugging all the toddler gear and car seat and having to change planes with our almost two year old made me shudder, but we would have to make it work.
Then a few weeks before the trip, I was joking with my mother in law that she should fly in and take care of her grandson. Much to my surprise, she seemed to think this was a good idea! I was thrilled and maybe a little nervous, knowing that my toddler was still wanting to nurse at night and still not sleeping very well at all (see previous post about never sleeping!).
My mother in law was ever optimistic. “He’ll be fine,” she kept reassuring me. “You two should go and enjoy yourselves and have some alone time.” I’m not sure she realized that it wasn’t the child I was worried about. I knew he would be fine. I was more concerned about how she would survive four nights of no sleep. But once the plan was made, I surprised myself by being very at ease with it all and not worrying about how Grandma and the boy would manage. They would tough it out and everyone would be fine. Oddly enough, my husband, who is usually so calm, did all of the stressing for me. He wrote his mom emails with many instructions. He included directions to the hospital and numbers of neighbors and friends and pediatricians and vets (for the dog and cat, not the child). In the days leading up to the trip, I joked with my mother in law about how she would surely have my toddler weaned and sleep trained before we returned. She laughed nervously. I'm not sure she knew I was kidding.
The night before the trip came and I settled down to read a story to the little one. I felt a little emotional knowing that I would be leaving him at 4:30 the next morning. I lay with him in his big boy bed and cuddled him to sleep as usual. I sniffed the top of his head, my nose touching his fluffy hair, which smelled of Burt’s Bees Baby Shampoo. He was so snuggly and soft.
We had been explaining to him for the previous few days that mummy and daddy were going on a trip and that Granny would be looking after him. I’m not sure how much he understood. So with a tear in my eye, I lay listening to his breathing until he fell asleep.
The next morning, as the cab waited to take us to the airport, I crept in to kiss my boy goodbye. He stirred and croaked, “Mama yay down.” I lay down next to him for a few minutes and rubbed his back as he fell back to sleep. “Mummy loves you,” I whispered kissing his forehead as I crept out the door.
Many thoughts went through my head in the cab. I worried that he would wake up without me there and be sad. I worried that he might have already woken up for the day and was begging his grandma to go to the park at 5am. I worried that my mother in law might not understand what he was asking for when he wanted “Poncho” his stuffed dog or a “possicle” from the freezer. I worried that she might understand what he wanted and give him too many “possicles” from the freezer. I worried that she might not remember how to get ‘Caillou’ or ‘Thomas the Train’ on demand. I worried that my husband and I might go down in a plane crash and leave our son orphaned. I worried that the dog might get out and run away from home never to be found again.
But as our plane took off from Chicago O’Hare bound for Boston, the worrying dissipated. Everything was out of my control now. I was on a plane. There was nothing I could do. So I let go and I relaxed and I ordered a Bloody Mary. And I napped!!
As we took a small plane from Boston to Nantucket (after changing terminals and having to go through a long security line again at Boston airport), all I felt was relief that we didn’t have our toddler with us.
We took a cab to the adorable inn where we were staying. We unpacked and as I lay on the very comfortable bed next to my husband it hit me. I turned to my man and said, “Oh my God! We can SLEEP! We can take a nap, then go out for dinner then come back and sleep for 12 WHOLE HOURS if we want to! My fantasy has come true!” My husband nodded with an almost sympathetic smile as I continued enthusiastically, “I’m going to take a long shower and I’m going to enjoy it and no one will pull the curtain back and throw toys at me! And I can pee ALONE!!” I let out a squeal of excitement as I jumped off the bed and ran into the bathroom. My husband looked at me like I was crazy, then proceeded to start snoring before I had even closed the bathroom door behind myself.
Needless to say, the whole trip was wonderful. We took long walks around the cobbled streets and idled around the cute little shops and galleries. We enjoyed the sea breeze and smelled the salty air. We ate late breakfasts and had margaritas on patios’ at 3 in the afternoon. We attended a stunning wedding by the water, where the beautiful bride and groom glowed and we glowed along with them. We danced at the reception and laughed as we strolled shoeless on the beach that night when the party was over. We ate beautiful dinners and we took midnight walks to the late night pizza stand near our inn. We rented a jeep and drove all over the island and saw seals and had an evening picnic on the beach while watching the sunset.
We thought about our little boy. We noticed every little kid we passed and guessed their age and compared them to our own child. We talked about him and all of his cute little sayings and habits. We checked in with Grandma often to see how they were doing. She was tired. One morning on the phone she exclaimed, “he doesn’t sleep and I can’t undo two years of bad habits in four nights!” I wasn’t offended. I knew how exhausted she was. She’d survive, she reassured me. She could sleep when she got home she said, and in the meantime some good friends of ours helped by taking our son on play dates so Granny could get a break.
But here’s the thing, one day when we ran into the bride’s mother and she asked if I was missing my son, I had to pause to think of an answer. The bride’s mom laughed and gave a little wave with her hand as if to dismiss the question. “It’s OK,” she laughed. “You don't miss him. It’s good that you’re enjoying your freedom. You need a break sometimes!” The truth is she was right. I didn’t miss my toddler. I didn’t wish he were with us. In fact, whenever we saw people struggling with toddlers in restaurants or walking around town, I didn’t envy them. I could see the stress on the faces of those parents. Because when you’re a parent of a small child or children, even on vacation, you aren’t really on vacation. You still have a schedule. You still have to eat before the kids meltdown. You have to make sure where you eat is kid friendly. And you can’t take midnight walks to pizza stands. I almost felt the dreaded mommy guilt for admitting it, but no, I didn’t miss my boy. I knew I was coming home to reality in four nights, so I decided to tell mommy guilt to go suck an egg and enjoyed every minute of my freedom.
We arrived home after flight delays at 1:30am on a Monday. Not long after we climbed into bed, I heard my boy crying. I went to get him and brought him into bed with us. He tossed and turned and after five hours of very restless sleep he was up. The grin on his face was unforgettable. I can still picture it in my head now. He pointed at each one of us repeatedly saying, “Mama, Daddy? Mama, daddy?”
“That’s right,” my husband yawned. “We’re home!”
“Where did Mama and Daddy go?” I asked my son.
“Mama, Daddy ‘tucket!” he answered proudly.
But the joyful reunion didn’t last. Later that morning, when we were on what felt like the millionth toddler temper tantrum, I cried into my coffee at the dining room table while my husband went into the other room with the boy to try and calm him.
“He was so good while you were gone,” my mother in law said.
“I know. He’s always worse for me,” I sobbed. “I don’t want to be home. I don't want to be a mom. I didn’t even miss him!”
My mother in law looked a little helpless standing next to me, awkwardly placing her hand on my shoulder. “Oh dear,” was almost all she could manage to say. Then she added, “I thought you’d want to come home early because you couldn’t stand being away from him.”
But I could stand being away. The trip had gone by so fast and I wanted more. I wanted just one more full night of sleep. I wanted the freedom of being back in ‘tucket. Or the freedom of being anywhere but here. I felt nostalgic for the days when I lived alone in my cozy studio apartment. When I could come home from a trip and sleep off the journey. I could spend the day unpacking, doing laundry, watching an afternoon movie and ordering take out for dinner, and I could enjoy a glass of wine and soak in a long warm bubble bath.
As it was, our suitcase sat around the house for about a week before I got around to unpacking it. Every time I tried to unpack or do laundry, my little guy appeared at my leg holding his arms up and demanding, “Mama, carry you!”
But I'm glad to say I have since recovered from my post trip break down and fallen back into life’s routines. And I’m also completely at peace with the fact that I didn’t miss my beautiful little boy while we took a vacation away from him. I don’t think anyone can spend literally 24 hours a day with a person and not need some time away from them, even if that person is your own child.
One day, in a year or two when Grandma has recovered from watching the boy and when he’s (hopefully) sleeping through the night, maybe we’ll take another trip alone. But until then, I’m glad of the moments I can steal to myself; when it’s Daddy’s turn to do bedtime, or when my boys go to the park together. Because those times that I spend away from my boy, mean that I can be a better mother when I’m with him and I know that’s a positive thing for all of us.