Tonight I sit with mixed feelings: part excitement, part dread.
Tomorrow morning at 9.30 I am heading off to Edinburgh for the Fringe festival. I can’t wait. 5 full days and nights of comedy, drama, drinking, excitement and who knows what else. A week hanging out with friends I don’t get to see anywhere near enough with no worries, distractions or responsibilities. A proper break and quality time with my husband. The apartment’s sorted, show tickets are booked, music is downloaded and wine will be purchased on arrival.
It’s going to be amazing!
So why am I sitting here half dreading having to leave? Because I won’t be taking my 14 month old son with me.
It seems to be a controversial decision to take a holiday away from your child, especially when they’re so young. Reactions from people I’ve told have ranged from ‘That’ll be such a nice break!’ to ‘Oh, you’re going to miss him so much’ all the way through to ‘Wow. Don’t you feel guilty?’ That one really hurt.
There is a certain amount of guilt; some of it self-imposed, some imposed by others. There’s a certain sense among new mothers that if you’re not suffering, you’re not doing it right. From battling with breastfeeding even when it’s physically tearing you apart to martyring yourself by refusing to let anyone help with night wakings even when you’re dead on your feet, there’s a feeling that if you take any time for yourself, it’s a sign you don’t love your child as a much as someone who’s willing to make themselves completely miserable in the service of their offspring. If this is the case, someone who leaves their child behind to go on a totally self-indulgent mini-break must surely be the most selfish of all?
I’d have to argue ‘No’.
We booked this holiday a year ago, when I was still locked in a seemingly endless cycle of torturous breastfeeding, mind-numbing loneliness and chronic sleep deprivation. In other words, I was a brand new mum. I was reluctant to leave my little one for more than about 10 minutes, but was also acutely aware that my pre-baby identity seemed to be slipping further and further away as I morphed into a boring, baby-obsessed zombie who had absolutely nothing interesting to talk about. i couldn’t think further ahead than the next feed, but booking a holiday so far in advance provided a light at the end of the tunnel and something to aim for.
It’s also more than just a jolly. Edinburgh means something: it’s where we got engaged and where we spent the week before our wedding.
Becoming a parent is a huge adjustment and anyone who claims it hasn’t affected their relationship is lying. How couldn’t it? Pre-children you’re two happy go lucky people with only yourselves to worry about. Then one day your whole life and relationship begins to revolve around a crying , screaming, pooing little being who demands so much and, at least in he early days, offers little but its cuteness in return. Affection you used to lavish on each other is immediately transferred to someone new and crazy nights out or cosy nights in are swapped for an exhausted collapse on to the bed at the earliest justifiable opportunity. It’s not easy. But when I said ’til death do us part’ I meant it, and a few days to reconnect as people, not parents, can only make our marriage and therefore our family stronger.
Not just our immediate family either. While we’re living it up in the heart of Scotland, my son will be hanging out in the heart of Yorkshire with his two grannies. Never will a child have been spoiled with attention so much in one week. Do I feel guilty about leaving him? Not in the slightest! He’ll have the time of his life, as will the numerous friends and family members left to hang out with him without the worry of me sticking my maternal oar in to insist that he doesn’t eat that or he prefers it like this, when in reality he probably couldn’t care less.
There are loads of other benefits too: being reinvigorated by a few full nights’ sleep; finally spending time with friends without having to dictate location according to where has high chairs; lie ins; time to read in peace. Generally, a few days out to do all the things I took for granted pre-parenthood.
Still, I’m not a fool. I know it will be hard. Bedtime today brought me to tears as I knew it would be the last bedtime story I’d read for a while. I’ve been noticeably less grouchy with night time wake-ups over the last few days, glad to sneak in as many cuddles as possible before I go. Plus, the last two weeks I’ve been plagued by fears that I’d miss a major landmark moment: first steps, first word. I’m genuinely not sure how I’d get over that, but then here’s every chance I’d miss it because I was at work or just upstairs in the loo! Still, I’ve spent the last week desperately trying to get my boy to speak, enunciating ‘Mum-my’ so clearly and regularly passers by probably think I’ve suffered some form of strange, mild stroke.
Of course it’ll be hard. For 14 months that boy has been the centre of my whole world, and now I’ve got to remember how on Earth I used to function without him. There will inevitably be tears in my eyes as we leave tomorrow, and I’ll run back home at the end of the week, but for the space in between we’ll all be getting something we need and don’t get at home.
Plus, as if to give me permission, the little man looked me firmly in the eye last week, smiled, pursed his lips and said ‘Mama’ so I was there for the most important first!