A few weeks ago, I got up at the unholy hour of 4 am to shower and catch a ride share to the airport. I was headed to Boston for three days by myself and when friends and family asked me what I was going for, my answer was simple: for fun.
But, of course, it isn’t that simple, is it? I’m mom to two daughters, four and seven, and traveling for pleasure without kids or my husband is a rare occurrence. In fact, before this past year, it had been nonexistent since my oldest was born. Sure, I had taken time away from my family here or there–a day trip or overnight alone–but I never went far.
Then, this past spring, I visited my sister in Atlanta for five whole days and I learn a few new things about who I am outside of my role as a mom and a wife.
Travel keeps me healthy
There are unending definitions of “self-care” and what it looks like to one person is not what it looks like to the next. Sure, traveling alone seems like it’s on the extreme end of the spectrum when, some days, using the bathroom with the door locked is the greatest amount of self-care we can muster up, but every so often I find a full-battery recharge is necessary.
I am lucky that my girls are old enough for me to leave for a few days, that my husband’s job gives him a flexible schedule, and that we live near family who can step in so that I can step out. Traveling lets me reconnect with myself and the things that are important to me–things that can get lost in my daily life. When I travel alone, I feel my cup fill up again. I reconnect with my creativity–reading and writing without interruption–and making decisions based solely on my preferences.
Moms spend a lot of time making sure we’re investing in everyone else’s happiness; we’re continuously compromising our wants and desires to make sure our family is taken care of. But it’s okay–healthy, even–to invest in ourselves, too. Our personal well-being is worth the effort of investment, whether it’s a glass of wine out with a friend or a plane ticket to a new destination. Preferably both, when the need is there.
Travel lets me be visible
When I was in Boston, I indulged in some truly nerdy things including a few historical tours with other visitors to the city. I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was neither a young student nor a retiree with extra time on my hands. I represented a population that is rarely defined outside of their direct relation to their families: I was a mom in the wild without her children!
Of course, no one knew I was a mom unless I shared that particular part of my identity. I was happy to chat about my kids as I struck up conversations with Lucy, the retired teacher from Brooklyn on my tour of the Boston Public Library, or Megan, the park ranger who walked a small group of us around the gardens of the Longfellow House in Cambridge. I reveled in being visible, in claiming a piece of public space for myself and, as cheesy as it sounds, for all moms.
Moms can be adventurers! Learners! Travelers! Target should not be our only public landmark.
Travel gives me balance
Mothering doesn’t have to mean you know only sacrifice. There are moments when parenting can feel so rewarding that your heart swells and your arm hairs tingle by just stealing a look at your offspring (usually this happens when they’re asleep). At the same time, I don’t think it comes as a surprise to any mama that parenting can be a complete slog. It’s three loads of laundry before noon. It’s wiping faces and hands and behinds. It’s finding missing shoes and throwing tater tots in the oven day after day after day. It’s feigning interest in episode plots of PAW Patrol. It’s checking the temperature of the bath water before you gently settle a cherubic baby into the well of the sink.
These are invisible moments–for now–but when my daughters are older, I want them to look back and remember the loving feel of them. I also want them to remember that I wasn’t just a mom. I was a runner. A traveler. A writer. A woman who had unparalleled love for my kids, yes, but also a woman who had vision and talent and who moved through the world excited to experience new things and meet new people. I want them to know that if they someday choose motherhood, it doesn’t mean they are required to bury the other parts of themselves that make up who they are.
This is what I want for them and their futures, but I want it for myself, too. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Being a mother shouldn’t require a bottomless pit of giving. It requires familial teamwork and a little bit of courage to find a balance that makes everyone feel whole and loved. Mom, included.