It was the kind of invitation that dreams are made of: a weekend in the mountains with an old friend complete with skiing, hiking, good wine and food, wonderful company and no parenting for a full 48 hours.
And it couldn't have come at a better time. I hadn't spent a night on my own for two years, which meant I hadn't slept through the night for two years. I was fast approaching burnout and could think of nothing better than a temporary escape from my current routine. It would be a salve for my exhausted body and mind so I jumped at the chance.
The anticipation was part of the enjoyment. From the very moment I accepted the invitation, I daydreamed about what I would pack, we discussed where we would ski, what we would eat and I craved those two straight nights of uninterrupted sleep.
But as I zipped my suitcase closed on Friday evening and hugged my husband and babies goodbye, I felt a powerful wave of anxiety and an irrational urge to call the whole thing off. Why did I suddenly want to turn back, change into my pajamas for Friday pizza night and spend the weekend where I always did, up to my elbows in toys and squabbles, squarely in my comfort zone?
I drove off into the night, shaking. I had been so excited about this little getaway, but driving away from my house felt so unnatural, so wrong.
It was because where I was going, I wouldn't be able to hear them cry.
It was because for six years I've been programmed to do bath time, to sing silly songs and say, "No, don't splash!" once every 30 seconds.
It was because after bath time, it would be bedtime and I'd be too far away to make the bottle, to read the story and to turn out the light.
It was because I wouldn't know if my littlest was complaining of growing pains or if my eldest drank too much water before bed.
I'm programmed to wake in the night when the youngest cries and to settle her back down, or when the eldest has a nightmare, to assure her there are no monsters lurking in the dark.
I'm programmed to be their mom. Now here I was, driving away from all that, to spend a weekend where I didn't know what was going to happen next. And it was a very strange feeling.
But that feeling melted away as I stepped out of my car in a ski resort at the top of a mountain pass and an old friend wrapped me in her arms. "You're finally here!" Those words meant so much more than what they actually said.
There I was, just me. And it was enough.
The weekend stretched in front of us and I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. As she linked arms with me and led me down the street, I was filled with gratitude that, without even knowing it, she had given me a gift.
She had encouraged me to put myself first for two short days, and even though it felt like an unnatural thing to do, I was glad I had. Nobody would ask anything of me for the next 48 hours, nothing at all would be required of me.
I felt my shoulders relax.
I chose to feel no guilt about enjoying this little break from my life.
I chose to be present in that feeling like a gift offered up from some unexpected place.
A group of us gathered for a 9:30 pm dinner and I was the only mom amongst them. We ate, we sipped wine, we chatted about jobs and the places we'd lived, we talked about politics and about health, we talked about parents and relationships, and yes, I talked about my kids.
As I sat there in the warm glow of the company of interesting strangers, the last of my nervousness about being away from my life disappeared. I was where I needed to be.
That weekend turned out to be more than just a break from my parenting routine. It was a learning experience in every way.
I learned that it's impossible to underestimate the value of an old friendship—someone who shares your memories from long ago, who will tell you when you have something in your teeth and who remembers what you looked like not just before you had babies but before you got your braces off. Someone who thinks the world of you even though they know your faults.
I learned that my children were completely fine without me— in fact, they enjoyed the break from our routine even more than I did. When they came flying to the door to greet me on Sunday night (what a blissful feeling that was, almost worth going away for in itself) there was no resentment that I'd left them behind. In fact, they were tripping over each other's words as they filled me in on how much fun they'd had with their daddy.
Most importantly, as two small girls jostled for position on my lap and I took in the sweet smells of freshly washed hair and clean pajamas, I learned that the weekend away had been a confirmation that there was nowhere else I'd rather be than right here, being their mom. Day in and day out.