When my grandmother-in-law died in March, it made perfect sense for my husband to travel to San Diego to be with his family. He spent nine days with them planning her joyful, food-filled memorial service, while enjoying the warm spring weather and a desert flower super bloom.
I stayed home, solo parenting my almost-2-year-old, Penrose. The day my husband left, we got hit with some late season snow and school was canceled for both of us (I’m a teacher). I was daunted by the yawning chasm of the day—with no plans and a snow-covered driveway, we would be house bound—but we passed the time playing in the snow, shoveling, painting, eating popcorn, and watching “My Neighbor Totoro” for the millionth time.
The nine days passed more quickly than I anticipated, but the logistics of parenting alone, which so many mothers and fathers deal with as their everyday lives, eluded me. I ran a play rehearsal in my living room, with Penrose playing the piano and singing, delighting and distracting the actors. I let her watch “Sesame Street,” “Curious George,” and “Reading Rainbow” more often than usual for the sake of getting meals on the table and trimester grades completed.
I was late for meetings before school because I needed to drop her off at daycare. I canceled a presentation at a conference that I had been excited about because it would necessitate an overnight trip, and I couldn’t fathom bringing her with me to stay in a hotel and somehow attend a conference for English teachers. I had the support of her daycare, and our wonderful afternoon babysitter, but no family in the area to help out where my husband would have.
We had a family trip planned for April vacation to visit friends and family in Boston and Philadelphia. When my husband returned, the reality of nine days away from work overwhelmed him, and he realized it would be too much to leave again. I was disproportionately devastated. I felt entitled to a vacation, to eating delicious food and shopping and museums and parks. I wanted the three of us to reconnect away from work. But if it couldn’t happen that way, I was going to find a way to go alone.
My mother had been asking to have Penrose come spend the night with her, although she wasn’t free when I was parenting alone. I had planned an overnight trip to Portland with some female friends as an early birthday present to myself, to do yoga and walk around the city. I realized that I could add the rest of my travel onto that trip and Penrose could visit her grandparents for a few nights. My husband could catch up on his missing work and enjoy a few days in a spotless house without Penrose and I throwing it into chaos.
Plans fell into place. I was ecstatic. And I was wracked with guilt.
Why was I so insistent that I deserved a vacation? I hadn’t done anything that millions of people don’t do all the time. Parents give things up for their children as a rule. Travel plans change with the whims of the weather, let alone family emergencies like my husband’s. But I wanted to go with every cell of my being, and so on Saturday morning Penrose and I got on the ferry with a bag for each of us. My parents met us on the other side, and as I kissed and hugged Penrose ferociously, she said, “Mom, go.” I put her in her carseat, kissed her again, and walked away to wait for my friend in a coffee shop.
The trip was wonderful. I napped on the bus. I was light and streamlined as I walked quickly through Logan Airport to my flight to Philadelphia with my small backpack. I got a haircut. I had a cocktail. I went record shopping. I went to the Uniqlo store without anyone pulling clothes off the shelves and tried on 12 items just for fun.
At the same time, I felt self-indulgent and everything seemed too easy. I didn’t have a routine to stick to or anyone else to worry about, and even for a few days, it made me feel purposeless.
I was relieved to get back on the bus and, after a four-hour trip from the airport, meet my parents and Penrose, who had a wonderful time with her Ahma and Papa, at the ferry terminal again. She touched the ends of my hair, which touched my shoulders when I left her and now curled up around my ears. “My mom got haircut,” she said. “My mom on big bus. My mom came back.”