Of all the curveballs motherhood throws, one that particularly caught me in the gut was my choice of traveling solo. I say choice because that's what it should be but often isn't.
Having been raised in a conservative '90s Indian society, there are not many gratifying luxuries a girl is awarded. I had my first play date at a friend's house in high school, my first sleepover when I was 20. Getting married at 23 and moving to America was my way of breaking free.
I relished my new found zest for life by deciding against having a child until a decade later. Until recently, that was practically unheard of where I come from. So one can imagine the horror when just a few months after my baby arrived, I vocalized my idea of a family-free vacation.
I love traveling. No, it's not just the kind that looks good on my social feed, but also one that awakens me and yet at the same time suspends me in a stupor that can only be brought on by new smells, new tastes and new sounds.
I have traveled with my son, he's been on more flights in one year than I can count on both hands and he has always imbibed the vibe of the land. Like 4 am departures and sleeping through some '80s post-punk at 1 am—all on the same day. I could not ask for a more placid toddler.
But, given a choice, I would still like to travel alone.
I am by no means a helicopter parent. My days are not spent predicting my son's career choice by the way he looks at an inanimate object. My current conscious contributions to rearing him into a responsible adult are limited to cooking as per the latest health fad and keeping him away from smartphones while scrolling stealthily through The Gram.
To mothers whose REM sleep cycle is nightly invaded by thoughts of what-if scenarios based on the latest episode of Law & Order: SVU, this may not be enough. But motherhood is a revelation that can be equivalent to either attaining enlightenment or being hit by a freight train.
There is no one size fits all and you need to mentally get away once in a while from the massive rock of emotional upheavals and mounting responsibilities drowning you.
Everyone needs a life buoy to breathe easier. For some it's wine, for others melatonin—for me it's the first rush of air I inhale in a new city.
When I sought out new adventures without my son, I was met with caustic eye rolling, inaudible sneers and distinct throat clearing that said mountains without uttering a single word.
I went anyway.
The first one was hard; He was 4 months old and it was like a piece of me was left behind. I wanted to be back the moment I left. I called and Facetime-d a dozen times. When I came back, I expected a reunion that would put the Prodigal Son to shame. All I got was a smile and a spit bubble. That's when I knew this temporary separation was way harder on me than him. It made me happy that in his own little world, my son was growing to be independent.
Unfortunately, the onus of childless traveling guilt mostly extends to the mother. I have male friends who don't have a choice but to travel for work almost weekly. I know of many fathers who have had to make the tough decision of being absent for most of their child's first accomplishments, ironically for the sake of preserving their future.
Reverse genders and all of a sudden one is branded incompetent and unfit. When I dropped the idea of a solo vacation, it was a fellow young mother who asked me, "How could you do this to your child? He needs you."
The question made me wonder: Do I cease to exist, just because I gave birth? Did my individuality somehow become relegated to my son and render me into an empty shell that could only be filled with the whims and needs of my child?
Why is it okay for fathers to be absent for the sake of a well-fed bank balance, but not okay for a mother to do the one thing she may need to keep her mental health afloat?
Women do not need to be reminded we are mothers. We know. It's quite literally a part of our existence.
But that's not all that we are.
We are beings, who like others, don't cease to exist as an individual just because societal expectations say otherwise. We have needs, hobbies and passions just like the ones we try to instill in our children.
So, mama, pack your bags, write that novel, paint that masterpiece or whatever it takes to make yourself feel like you. And don't feel the least bit guilty about it.