Every three years, teachers in my district are given funding to take a trip to attend Professional Development sessions in other cities. In 2014, my teaching partner came into my classroom one day and said, “Do you want to go to New Orleans?” Before I even knew why she was asking me such a random question, I automatically answered yes. Since learning about this magical funding, I have made it my mission to take advantage of the opportunity every chance I get. As it turned out, this year marked 3 years since our last trip, which meant that it was time to capitalize on this rare perk of being a teacher once again.
When I booked the conference in Austin back in October, I was very excited for the chance to have a few days off of work to learn about new ways to integrate technology into my classroom (ok, ok, I was also excited for the amazing food and the warm weather, but that’s probably a given). As the trip got closer and closer, I was still excited, but could also feel a bit of anxiety starting to creep in. This would be the first time I’d ever been away from my toddler, and I was going to be gone for 5 days. That, coupled with Herr Trump’s newly imposed travel ban and the ensuing political tension in the States turned me into a bit of a nervous wreck for the week leading up to my departure.
While I tried to shoo visions of plane crashes and other events leading up to my demise out of my head, it seemed like the number one question people asked me regarding my trip was, “How are you doing?” in reference to the fact that I was going to be away from my child for the first time since he was born. I don’t want it to sound like this was a bad question to ask, but it really got me thinking. How many times has my husband gone away for work without our son? How many times did I take Beckett to visit his grandparents for days or even a week at a time while I was on maternity leave, leaving Stu at home to work and catch up on hours of precious sleep? Did anyone ask him how he was doing? Was anyone concerned for his mental and emotional well-being while he was separated from his son? I’m not saying that dads never get asked these questions, but my bet is, with the exception of single dads, it’s probably pretty rare.
Maybe subconsciously I was feeling a bit guilty about leaving my son to have some time to myself (hence the doomsday thinking in the days before I left), but I don’t think that it’s fair for moms to have to feel this way. I don’t know how many moms I talked to about my trip who had mentioned that they had never been apart from their kids (even kids who were 3, 4, and 5). This is 100% personal preference and I don’t judge anyone for leaving their kids behind to have some me time, or choosing never to do so. It’s great to want to be around your kids. I love my little guy to pieces and had to Facetime him every day I was gone to tell him how much I missed him. But I also really enjoyed having the opportunity to have dinner at a pub or plan a full-day excursion without having to coordinate childcare or a nap schedule. It was amazing to have a few days to sleep in and treat myself to a stay at a fancy hotel where my friend and I spent evenings in our robes watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S. reruns and American commercials about suing everyone you know. And it’s great to get to do those things and not feel guilty about it.
What did my 17 month old do the whole time I was gone? Well, obviously he sat at the front door of our home, crying out my name while holding a picture of me in his trembling hand.
Uhhh, no. He and his dad watched cartoons, went swimming at the wave pool and ate Vietnamese food for dinner. Two of his grandmas and one of his grandpas came from out of town for a visit on the weekend. He played hockey and went to church and to daycare, just like he would have if I was at home. His world continued to spin, just as mine did, and when he saw my face suddenly appear on the screen of Stu’s phone, he was excited to see me, just as I was excited to see him.
Was it hard being apart? Of course. Just like my first day of work after maternity leave was hard. Just like the first night of him sleeping in his crib instead of a bassinet next to my bed was hard. Just like putting away the clothes he’s outgrown was hard. These are all challenging moments, but they aren’t things to feel guilty about. They’re milestones that are totally normal and totally ok and they can even be exciting if we allow ourselves to look at them from that perspective.
Being a mom brings me incredible joy, but it’s important for me to remember that, while it’s a part of my identity, it’s not the only thing that defines me. I’m allowed to do things for myself and have time alone; it helps me to appreciate the time that I do spend with my son and not take those moments for granted. Since I’ve returned from my trip where I was focused completely on myself, I feel like I’ve had even more to give to my son when we’re together. It’s helped me to recognize the importance of self-care without guilt, and appreciate that I don’t need to go on a vacation to achieve that (although it was nice). When I see pictures of moms treating themselves to a pedicure or a haircut or a solo trip to the mall, I want to reach through the screen of whatever device I’m using at the moment and give them a high five. I know I’m not the only one out there who has treated a trip to the vet or the dentist or the doctor sans baby as a much needed moment of alone time, and that is L-A-M-E.
So ladies, go ahead. Treat yo’ selves. Stop calling apointments your moments of self care. Let someone pamper you. Have a sleep in. Go for a run. Take a vacation. And don’t feel guilty about it. You deserve it. And your kid will be just fine.