Missing by choice

After one of the biggest events of the year at work, I jumped on a plane alone for my now annual walkabout. (Thank you so much David!) As an introvert in a very extroverted job, in a household that recently has included three Au Pairs (the new, the about to leave, and the quasi permanent past au pair), two dogs and all of the kids; as Tess likes to say, “I need a minute!”

With all of the frantic preparations, I started missing the kids and Dave before I even left. It’s weird to feel their absence before I’m gone, and to know they’ll miss me before I walk out the door. I unfortunately missed the last few days with Elise, who heads back to France this week after an exciting year in our house! Choosing to leave means missing something, every time.

The first time I took this trip, it was a wonderful break and a chance to reconnect with a dear friend who would be harder to see for a while. The second time, I was absolutely drained and needed a breath. That said, I was startled at how many days it took me just to rediscover who I am by myself. This year, I came with that as my core intention.

I watched my parents go from carefree young couple to veterans on the family raising front. I may not have many early memories of when they were just starting out, but I have enough to remind me how much growth happens to parents as they raise families. My parents – as usual – transitioned to large family parenthood and empty-nest with grace. I hope to follow suit, even if my growth requires slightly different ingredients.

Dave and I made each other a few promises when we got married and decided to start a family. We swore that we would force one another to hold true to what makes us individuals, that we would not do anything out of a sense of obligation if it was not a good fit for our family, and that family would come first. So far, so good.

That said, it’s getting harder and harder to extricate my individual self from my multi layered existence. Like the rest of the world, I am a lot of different things to different people: daughter, mother, sister, employee, manager, friend, neighbor, annoyance, delight. As I near the end of my 30s, I realize how much more comfortable I am with all of the facets of my relationships. Still, per my agreement with Dave, I am keeping the flame of my self for myself alive.

When I set off like this, it takes a couple of days for me to disentangle my thoughts from the office, grocery list, schedules and morning routines. I have to constantly remind myself that no one cares if I eat dinner late, or whether I order coffee to my room. I aggressively shed the guilt over reading a novel instead of checking my email or following up on paperwork for the kids. I go to bed late or early, as the fancy strikes. In those first two days, I have an endless chatter of “shoulds” going through my mind that I examine and discard.

People are often taken aback that I can enjoy this much time alone. The staff always looks startled when I ask for a table for one, when no one joins me at the pool. I’m so rarely alone aside from this week that I have to remind myself to be aware at night time when I’m walking alone, and that no one cares what temperature the room is or what my plans are for the day. I know many people to travel alone, and I’m not saying that that’s weird. Clearly I love it! But it’s no longer my usual mode.
As I suspected, I miss my kids intensely, as they miss me. We had a quick video call, and I could not get enough of them. I wonder how they’ll remember these weeks, as I remember my parents’ rare trips without us. In many ways, we enjoyed the slight variance in our regular schedule when my parents were out of town. I wonder if my kids will feel the same way. When Dave disappears for a weekend, the kids are fine. I assume they are the same when I am gone, missing me but not in a panic. They know I go away and come back.

I often think about how our children will reflect back on their childhoods when they’re older. I am sure, no matter what we do, they will be annoyed about something and delighted by something. I also hope they remember me taking care of me, and Dave doing the same. I hope they follow our lead, and make time for themselves in lives that seem to get busier every generation.

When I get to the end of my trip, my often frenetic thoughts are calmer. I’m rested, sun-kissed, and usually full of fresh ideas to implement upon my return, at work and at home. My love for my family overflows, and I’ve been known to get a bit teary when the kids welcome me at the airport. That said, I don’t think I could keep my promise without these retreats. It’s not about where I go, but about quieting the noise and busyness of our every day existence.

My full life picks up again right where I left off, but for now, I’m going to enjoy a few more days alone. David, Sassy, Manny (the kids’ nickname for Marion) and Joy, thank you for making that possible.

And getting home happened right when Griffin gets old! Our sweet baby turned two and couldn’t be happier.