Breathing Space

A couple of months ago I packed my bag, met my friend at the airport, hopped on a plane and spent 3 nights by a beach, drinking wine and eating copious amounts of patatas bravas. It was pretty amazing. My friend and I had full conversations (you know the ones where you start at the beginning and end when you’ve both finished what you are talking about, rather than when a toddler demands your attention); we woke up at whatever time we wanted; left our apartment within 15 minutes of waking up with nothing more than a towel and a book; ate whole meals, sitting down with no sharing (except the tapas); and we enjoyed day time drinking with very little to worry about except where to head for dinner that evening. It was a treat, for both of us, but I’d like to think more for me as it was the first time I had been away from my 18 month old son for more than one night.

I obviously agreed it with my husband before we booked the trip. He was, after all, going to be in charge that weekend. And as the weekend crept closer I had to battle the feeling of being incredibly excited against a feeling of apprehension about whether I was doing the right thing. A full long weekend away is a luxury not every parent gets, especially not in the first few years, and my friends and I have had many many conversations about what the right age is to spend a night (or two or three) away from our children.

I knew my son would be absolutely fine, my husband is as capable as I am to look after him for a weekend, and I was pretty sure he wouldn’t even notice me not being there as long as he was being fed and someone was paying him attention (my son that is, not my husband!) But that still didn’t allow me to go into full blown excitement mode on the run up to the weekend, like I would have done a few years ago. Excited? Yes. Worried I would miss my son too much? Yes. Sad that I couldn’t explain to him (or more, he wouldn’t understand) that I would be back on Monday and I hadn’t just disappeared? A little. Concerned what others thought of me? Unfortunately, yes.

But, here is my revelation.. it was amazing! And I don’t feel too bad about it! So, the run up to the weekend was not what I was used to; instead of just pure excitement to be away for a few days, I also had a nagging feeling of whether I was doing the right thing. My son seemed to get increasingly more clingy (I’m not sure if he really did or if it just felt that way) and I had to suppress some of my joy as my husband kept highlighting the fact that it felt like I was excited to be leaving them both behind. The night before my flight, after I packed, I reflected on the fact that my bag was full of dresses, make-up and shoes instead of nappies and snacks and yet was still smaller than the bag I take on some day trips when I’m with my son!

I read a poem a while ago which I thought contained the perfect advice for a new parent. The poem is called Fire by Judy Brown. From what I have read it was not written with parents in mind but, to me, it really emphasises the importance of trying to gain balance between family and you. The poem starts by saying “What makes a fire burn is space between the logs, a breathing space.” The fire is family and the space is your space, your time away. I spend time away from my son almost every day; I work 4 days a week, 3 of those in London, so I have that time on the train, in the office and whilst drinking a coffee or eating lunch, away from family life. But this isn’t breathing space, it’s just time when my head is full of other stuff. The poem goes on to say “…building fires requires attention to the spaces in between” – something I think most are parents pretty terrible at. My mini-break was my space in between. It was my space to be me, and to be a friend (a fully engaged friend!)

My son and I had a FaceTime date every day and my husband sent me photos of what they were up to at home. I wasn’t worried about them, I missed them but not prohibitively so, and I loved my space in between. Whilst I know weekends like this one will be few and far between now, I’ve proven to myself (and my husband) it was absolutely fine and my friend and I have already optimistically pencilled one in for next year! I am a strong advocate of working hard to find the balance between spending time with my son and time apart. I think it’s healthy for both of us and the step up from a day or a night away to a long weekend away was a success!

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