Last March, I packed my bags, left my husband and three kids behind, and flew to Bali, Indonesia for a five-day momcation (defined as “an extended break from motherly duties.”). The key word here is “extended” because prior to this trip, I had been a hands-on stay-at-home mom for 10 years. My “me-times” were limited to a few hours at the least, to a whole day at the most. To be away from my family overnight, and in another country to boot, was a big step for me.
To leave or not to leave It was also a step that almost didn’t happen. In the past, I had, on multiple occasions, expressed to my husband my need for some longer alone time. While he was supportive, he told me he did not like the idea of me traveling alone. My friends were busy with their own stresses and coordinating schedules for an out-of-town trip was next to impossible. Plus, whenever I would tell my kids during moments of parental exasperation that “Mommy needs a vacation,” they would howl in protest and list all the things that would be remiss if I left them by themselves. “Who will remind us to brush our teeth?” “Who will fix our bed?” “We don’t trust Papa to help us with our homework!” So I would end up feeling guilty and forego making plans.
I saw the signs My momcation finally pushed through because of a confluence of factors, proving the adage that the best things in life really happen when you don’t plan for them:
First, my senior citizen father retired from work and was developing itchy feet. He was (and still is) forever tagging me on Facebook every time there was a post about some exotic destination. They made perfect travel companions for me except I didn’t know where we would go.
Then one day I got a call from my brother, who told me he had to travel to Bali for work. Would my parents and I want to tag along? Destination problem solved!
Third, an airline that flies to Indonesia was offering promo airfares to Bali, even cheaper than what our local airlines were offering! Perfect timing!
Fourth, my brother’s conference was to be held a week before my kids’ final exams -- usually the week when there are no longer any new lessons, since teachers already start reviewing the previous lessons. They didn’t need me to tutor them for those few days -- yes!
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And, lastly, there was my mother. When I said I feel guilty about leaving the kids behind to join them, she told me, “The separation will do you both good. And it’s just for five days -- they’re not going to die if you’re not around.” This, coming from my mom who, in my opinion, was an even more hands-on parent than I am, assuaged any mommy guilt that I may have. So off we went.
Separation anxiety -- mine, not the kids’ My first night abroad, I hardly slept. I worried that my kids were missing me, that they were probably experiencing separation anxiety and giving their father a hard time. My husband replied to my repeated texts that “they were okay,” but I thought he was just trying to make me feel better. He had the last laugh when I finally called home -- and my kids, whom I thought would burst into tears at the sight of me on the phone screen and beg me to come back, just gave me a disinterested wave and seemed more eager to go back to playing than to talk to me. It was the same thing over the next few days -- I would chat with the kids, but there was none of the tears or whining that I expected. As my husband wryly puts it, “You miss the kids more than they miss you.”
So I relaxed and put my family out of my mind, and enjoyed my first bonafide vacation in a decade. It was a liberating experience to be out of mommy-mode -- I could stay out all day, climb the steepest steps, stand under the sun at its hottest time, and not worry that I had little ones who might be tired, hungry, or dehydrated. I could order anything from a restaurant menu and not have to ask for food that is kid-friendly. I didn’t have to nag anyone to brush their teeth, wake up, or get dressed. And, for the next few days, I enjoyed being a daughter again, and spending quality time with my parents.
But something was also missing. Every time I saw something interesting I would find myself wishing that my husband and kids were with me. When we would go shopping, I would always buy souvenirs for my kids first before picking something out for myself. And there was never any point that I wished my vacation would last forever -- this trip was a nice break, but I didn’t mind at all when the five days were over.
Reflections Most moms I know are hesitant to leave their kids because something bad might happen. Well, when I was gone, my husband (who is the good cop to my bad cop) gave the kids iced tea to drink, potato chips for snacks, and let them watch TV past their allotted time. But their teeth are fine, they did not get sick or break any bones, or forget that they had a mother. When I got back, we simply resumed our normal routines, and it was as if I never left. I don’t know if it was because my five-day absence was too short to be of consequence, or my kids are more mature than I give them credit for -- either way, I’d like to think that my momcation was beneficial for both sides. I got a break, and my kids had a mini-vacation from mommy’s rules. Everyone’s a winner.
My husband, who held the fort in my absence, deserves a shout-out, too. I sometimes complain to my friends that he’s not hands-on enough, but I know now that if he weren’t the father he is, my kids wouldn’t have adjusted to my absence so easily. He made sure most of my rules and routines were followed, was home every night to have dinner with them and put them to sleep, and was a constant, secure presence in my absence. My momcation would not have been a “success” if it weren’t for him.
Do I plan to take another mom-cation again? Probably not anytime soon. Maybe once a year is fine for now. This trip made me realize that I am still a mom first and foremost; there will be plenty of me-time once my kids are older and start living their own lives. In the meantime, I will be content with my mani-pedi breaks and dinners with my gal pals. I may find my kids tiring and exasperating at times, but for now, they are my world.