I’ll be leaving on a jet plane!
I’m off, folks. I’m packing a backpack and a Lonely Planet guide and my camera and taking off! I wish I were heading into the mountains, but the place that I’m heading for is almost as good. Of course, eight nights is much too short a time to spend in Rome and Florence… but it’s better than nothing!
We’ve been to Rome and Florence once before, back in 1999. It was a wonderful, wonderful holiday that I should have turned into a book, but I haven’t managed to yet. Before that, Amit and I hadn’t traveled much together. We were 25 then, and I saw everything with the innocence and naivete of 25. When I look back on that holiday, it seems to have much in common with the movie Roman Holiday, which I hadn’t seen at that time. We’d been married just over a year – so we were still in the honeymoon period and that makes all of life look a lot sweeter. There was a real romantic charm to our shoestring budget, first-ever European vacation.
Now? I’m old and tired at 36. I’m as loaded with responsibility as it is possible to be with work, home, spouse, young kids and aged parents crowding the picture. Now I don’t see this holiday as a romantic thrill so much as a very brief and desperately needed escape from the cumbersome responsibilities of everyday life.
Oh, didn’t I mention? I’m going alone, of course. Well, it wouldn’t be much of a holiday if we took the kids along. I mean, Rome and Florence are not the easiest of places to keep two small, fiddly kids occupied and entertained. They’re not going to be so totally overawed by the crumbling ruins of ancient kingdoms, and museums would only be a new kind of playground for them – and a heartattack for Amit and me!
So this time I’m going alone. It is the ultimate in selfishness and self-indulgence. I won’t have to think about anybody else’s needs for eight whole days. I can do what I want, when I want, and entirely at my own pace. I can sit down at some particularly appealing spot and stare at something (or nothing) for two hours without a break if I want to. Without speaking or being spoken to. Without having to organize food, sleep, or a toilet for the kids. What could be better than that?
Yes, I know, I’m a totally incomprehensible mom, I agree. How can I go off and leave my kids for so long and… so happily? Don’t I have a duty to my family? Shouldn’t I want to spend every moment of the holiday with them? Shouldn’t I at least feel horribly guilty about choosing to go away for so long?
Maybe. And maybe, once I’m there I won’t enjoy it as much as I think I will. And of course I’m sure I’ll miss them all. But right now, I feel neither any guilt nor any misgivings about being away for just eight days. They’ll manage. The kids will be fine and even Amit will survive it. And I think I’ll have fun.
Of course, many people have this subconscious belief that you have no business having fun, least of all not once you’re a mom. Your role in life, people seem to think, is to cater to your family’s needs to the exclusion of all else. And that should be fun. Why do you need any kind of fun that excludes your beloved family?
Even in the past, friends and family alike have looked askance on the occasions when Amit and I have holidayed separately. Amit has suffered a long lecture on morality from his brother and plenty of disapproving questions from the rest of his family. I’ve faced a smaller share of disapproval from my family and, strangely enough, from some friends. Even those who are not openly disapproving are clearly puzzled. Why would anyone want to holiday alone, or separately from their spouse?
I sometimes avoid this question by not exactly enunciating that I’m traveling alone. To the casual acquaintance, it isn’t worth explaining. And perhaps I don’t really have a very good answer. The most honest answer would be: Well, I didn’t really want to travel alone, but at certain times we couldn’t always travel together and now with the kids it’s really impossible to do the kind of rough-and-ready travel that we love and to go to the places that we want to go to… so we opted to travel separately rather than either always doing “family” holidays, or not traveling at all. And, now that I have traveled alone a few times, I’ve found that I quite enjoy it. There are certain experiences, certain perspectives, certain moments that you find when you travel alone that would not happen if you travel with a spouse or anyone else.
Besides, a holiday alone is the ultimate in selfishness precisely because you don’t have to be restricted by what anyone, even your better half, wants.
Of course, you also don’t get to share the experience the way you do when you travel together… and there are the practical issues of safety, convenience etc… but it’s not all bad and it’s certainly better than not going at all. And it’s much better than dragging the kids along and then being frustrated because you want to linger when they want to sleep, or you want to enjoy something in silence when they want to run around, scream, throw things, and generally just be kids.
So if all goes according to plan, two weeks from now I’m off for a completely undeserved break. Maybe, for a few short days, I will walk in the shoes of the person I used to be. For a few short days, that can only be a good thing.