I am apprehensive about writing this. I was apprehensive about doing it.
Don’t tell Mark Latham but I have recently returned from a two-week holiday overseas without my children and it was heaven. Our daughters, who are three and five, checked in for a week with each of their grandparents, while my husband and I flew across the world.
It had been a vague pipedream for years but earlier this year we decided to make it a reality. We could get the time off, both of our parents were willing and able to take the girls for a week each, and with a third baby on the way we figured if we didn’t seize the opportunity now it would elude us forever.
We booked the tickets earlier this year without much thought; it was still so far away it hardly felt real. Even as the date of our departure crept up, it seemed surreal. I would say to people “We’re heading to London for a fortnight without the kids” and wondered who those words belonged to.
What lucky ducks, I would think to myself, before remembering that I was one of those lucky ducks.
Now I could tell you that before we left I was merely filled with excitement but it wouldn’t be true. I was filled with anxiety, dread, fear, guilt AND excitement. I went back and forth in my mind about this trip.
I contemplated the worst case scenario – something happening to one of the four of us while apart – regularly. I straw-polled my colleagues, the barista who makes my coffee, the girls’ child-carers, my parents, my husband….anyone who would listen: Are we barking mad? What sort of parents would holiday without their kids for a fortnight? SHOULD WE CANCEL???
Sage advice followed and reason prevailed. We weren’t mad, we aren’t awful parents and we didn’t cancel. And thank god for that because it’s one of the best thing we’ve ever done.
As soon as we were at the airport my anxiety faded. What had seemed an outrageous hypothetical in my head, seemed perfectly reasonable in reality. The girls were safely ensconced at my parents’ house, delighted to have chocolate advent calendars at the ready, and we were ABOUT TO BOARD A FLIGHT TO LONDON! Talk about a win-win.
Being together without the kids felt foreign and familiar at once. We were free to chat and laugh and roam about the airport without giving a second thought to logistics. There was no need to divide and conquer as we usually do. No need to negotiate bathroom visits, mediate disputes or wrestle with four thousand pieces of luggage, equipment and props. We could just be.
And it was all kinds of fun to remember.
Like most parents, we love our children to pieces and revel in the privilege of raising them. They are the axis around which our world orbits. But for all the fun and joy and love our family life entails, it isn’t always smooth sailing. It’s relentless.
Between our girls, two busy jobs and keeping the household running, it’s easy to forget us in the mix of daily life.
We have had a few nights away, here and there, and we do things on our own fairly regularly but there are only so many hours in a day. At this point in our family life, while our children are young, we happily accept that in day-to-day terms most of the time us will come second to them.
Mixing that up for two weeks? Paradise.
We missed the girls like crazy. We begged for daily photos from our parents. We watched endless videos of them on our phones and we talked about them incessantly while catching up with friends. But when we weren’t doing that, we were free. Blissfully free.
Free to drive without world war three erupting over the choice of music, seating arrangements or the tightness of anyone’s seatbelt.
Free to leave the house without plans.
Free to talk to our friends and each other uninterrupted.
Free to wonder the streets, eat when we wanted, sleep in, stay up, as we pleased.
Free not to contemplate what colour bowl/plate/cup anyone needs.
Free to take each day as it came.
Two weeks is a looooong time to bask in this kind of freedom, I know. We counted our lucky stars every single day we were away, and have continued to every day since we returned home.
You don’t need to travel across the world or depart for two weeks to find that kind of freedom. Even two days somewhere other than your home would be enough, I reckon.
As parents of small children we are well accustomed to negotiating moods, tensions, tantrums, dinners, logistics by the hour. That’s our bread and butter.
In an ideal world we’d never take that out on one another. We’d both be perfectly level-headed and calm in the face of family life’s vicissitudes.
We’d never find ourselves hissing at one another in the middle of the night about “their” impossible child. We’d never blame one child’s lost school bag or shoe on the other. We’d never take one child’s lost temper over a sandwich cut into squares when triangles were obviously subliminally requested out on the other.
We’d never be as irrational as that. Except that in the real world we are. Not all the time but when a parent’s patience is down? It’s not always pretty.
Letting that pressure valve off for a little while, reliving life without those factors, is a godsend. Turns out that car trips, leaving the house, getting dressed, eating breakfast needn’t be fraught! These activities can be simple. And fun!
And the impossibly clichéd upshot of taking a child-free holiday? The ridiculous and overwhelming joy in being reunited with our girls. That feeling alone, is worth going away for.