My husband and I recently took a vacation without our son, Ben. My parents graciously agreed to watch him for a week so that Jeff and I could have some grown-up time. We spent four days in Los Angeles and then drove up the Pacific Coast Highway to Napa, where we spent three days indulging in food and wine (and then a lot more wine) to our hearts’ content. In the months leading up to the trip, I convinced myself that it was going to be no big deal to be away from Ben for an extended period of time. And do you know what?
I learned a few things from the experience, so I thought I would share four of them with you in case you are considering taking a kid-free vacation.
1. The Hardest Part is Walking Away
I was twenty years old the first time my parents went on vacation without my siblings and me. I remember watching my mother weep hysterically and continuously turn back to look at us as she walked towards the cruise ship. And I have spent the past thirteen years teasing her for being such a cry baby.
[Cut to: June 2014] I have just left Ben at my parents’ house and am ugly-crying out of control. Heaping sobs of tears. “My baby just came home from war” level weeping. I pulled myself together after getting into the car. By the time I got home, I was checking off my mental packing list and doing well not thinking about the fact that I already missed my little boy.
2. I Take that Back. The Hardest Part is Imagining Bad Scenarios.
Prior to this vacation, I had only spent two nights away from Ben. Leading up to the trip, my imagination started running wild thinking about the things that could go wrong. To ease my worries, I planned for those scenarios as best as I could. I made sure to send Ben to my parents’ house with his favorite blankets and lovies so he would have some comfort from home. I gave my mom all of his medical information in case there was an emergency. And since Jeff and I haven’t gotten around to drafting an official will, I wrote a letter to our families outlining our wishes for Ben in case anything happened to us. Writing that letter – just imagining a scenario where I wouldn’t be around to raise Ben – was excruciating, but not as excruciating as the letter I wrote to Ben telling him how much I loved him. [Cue more ugly crying. Snot this time. Lots of it.] As hard as it was to write those letters, I felt better just knowing that if anything happened to us, our families would know what kind of life we wanted for our precious guy.
3. There Will Be Repercussions
We chose not to video chat with Ben during our trip for fear of upsetting him (and me), so he went over a week without seeing us. One of the thoughts that kept me going as I longed to hold Ben was thinking about our reunion. I imagined him running towards me with a bright smile, a few happy tears, and open arms. It didn’t quite go down like that.
Repercussion 1 – Rejection :: When we got home and Ben saw me, he looked really confused and started crying for me to pick him up. But then my mom entered the room and he started crying for her – his mom for the past week! Dagger. In. My. Heart. After my parents left, Ben was standoffish for the rest of the night.
Repercussion 2 – Clinging :: I was heartbroken thinking that our bond had weakened, but by the next morning, Ben and I were attached at the hip. Literally. He would not let me put him down. If I left the room, he would burst into tears. If I put him down to do chores, he would shriek. I didn’t get much accomplished that first week back, but I cherished our time reconnecting and snuggling on the couch, especially considering his cold welcome upon our reunion.
Repercussion 3 – Off Schedule: :: Despite my parents’ best efforts, the change of location and routine shifted Ben’s schedule. When we left for vacation, he was on a regular 8:00 am – 8:00 pm sleep schedule. The first week back, he awoke every three hours at night. It was like we were reliving the worst part of our newborn days! Gradually, he stopped waking throughout the night, but he is still rising at 6:00 am every morning. I am holding out hope that my human alarm clock eventually lets me snooze until 8:00 am again.
4. You Should Not Feel Guilty
A friend asked me if I felt guilty for not taking Ben on vacation. To that I answered, “Uh, heck no.” Ben was too young to realize that he was being excluded from our trip. Plus, I knew that he would have a blast at my parents’ house, which has a dog, a pool, and is usually filled with his cousins. Hello, tons-o-fun!
While I thought about Ben a hundred times a day and harassed my family for photos and videos of him, I truly enjoyed exploring new cities without considering nap time. I truly enjoyed having meals with my husband without apologizing to the waiter for all of the food being thrown on the floor. And I truly enjoyed cruising around California in a convertible without worrying about whether the car seat in the back was secure.
Being a stay-at-home mom is a blessing, but it is also a job. Everyone deserves a vacation. I love my son infinitely, but it was nice to have a break.