Parenting is nothing if not relentless, you need time away to get back some things you lost, says Jessie Collins.
I left my house on Friday afternoon, having spent days, no, weeks of planning – emails to my mum, sister, creches, summits on who was going to handle what, then advance shopping, cooking, freezing, washing, explaining. “Mummy will be gone for four sleeps.” “Can I come with you?” Unfortunately not. “But why not?” Because they don’t allow 4- year-olds on work trips and you really wouldn’t enjoy it anyway. Knowing full well that only most of this was true, but definite in the knowledge that if I didn’t take this opportunity, the potential that not all of us would emerge from family life fully intact was growing all the more likely.
After relentless days of reaching basic end-goals, people fed, washed, clothed, no emergency hospital visits, the biggest challenge I face is just making it to the airport, to then experience the first and almost greatest pleasure, the solo plane journey. Sitting in silence for two hours, with your own view and someone serving you drinks is up there in parenting heaven. Then to emerge, creased but already feeling more sound in mind, to be scooped up and deposited to a winery – yes, a winery – is probably as near to a perfect scenario as you can design. Food was offered, wine was, unsurprisingly, plentiful. A slow, slightly fuzzy tour of the cellar (did I mention this was a wine trip?) almost brought me to tears, I could have dived in among those beautiful, curvy barrels and hugged them as I wept.
Then a hotel – a room of one’s own. Just your mess, should you choose to make it. Your TV, blissfully free of Blaze and the Monster Machines. It’s wall-to-wall news if you want it. And you keep wondering why everything is so easy, why you aren’t wiping someone’s bum, cleaning up juice or shoveling peas into a Peppa Pig-entranced mouth. Why is it so damn quiet? It is followed by an uninterrupted sleep, no nappy-clad rear end in your face, no night terrors, no elbows in your side.
By day-two you are starting to wonder what your old life was like. And all of a sudden, your pre-parenting person kicks in, someone you haven’t spent time with in years. Someone who really enjoyed going out, being in company, who was inspired by other peoples conversation, and had the time to drink in the world with some of their own wonder.
Taking this kind of time away is not totally alien in my house, it just hasn’t been me doing it. Since becoming parents, my partner has taken an annual, if not bi-annual, leave of absence for a few days at a time. I always resented it, and was slightly scornful of his burning need for this solo experience. But in fact, it was me who was missing out. In my martyrdom to the cause, I actually wasn’t doing anyone any favours. I was just denying myself something that actually would have contributed to me being better parent.
By day three, I’ve remembered that I am actually, alright, sometimes easy going person, and not the slightly demented totalitarian that I have begun to resemble at home. I begin to see into the distance a little further, to a time when I can possibly travel with my kids to a city and for that not to be a masochistic impulse. My edges are less frayed, I think my voice may have even returned to a lower, less high-pitched register.
I go for a walk, on my own. Not a breakneck sprint to the local shop to grab some milk or that run-walk stress-dash from work to creche or after-school pick ups. But a meandering stroll through unexplored streets, where you stop and look at stuff, randomly, and the traffic doesn’t bother you, you can weave your way among the crowds, no chasing small legs whose favourite game is to try and cross the road unaided, no apologising to grannies for near-scooter misses.
Day four comes and I’m almost out of time, and though my heart is anxious to be back with my kids I’m also nervous about slipping back into old ways. I realise that though the intensity, the dependency, of my love for them, and hopefully, their’s for me, is what keeps us together, there is someone who has gotten lost, someone who got swallowed. I would like my kids to meet her, she was fun, and who knows, perhaps she will stick around, even just for a little while.