Recently, I went on a 12 day trip to Paris. Alone. That’s right, mother of two young children me (ages 4 and 2 1/2) got on a plane all by herself and said, “au revoir” to her husband and kids for 12 whole days.
Doesn’t it sound amazing? It was. Still, when I went to buy the ticket, months earlier, I froze. Like really froze, in terror. Seriously.
Let’s rewind even further.
Our original intention was to go as a family and meet up with a bunch of my aunts, uncles, and cousins who have homes in France. We were sitting down to buy our tickets one evening (we had our dates all set, everyone was expecting us) when I realized that this trip would mean 13 hours on a plane with a four and two-year-old.
If you don’t know, or can’t remember, this isn’t an age where they can sit and amuse themselves for hours with a book or even crayons. We’ve got (at most) a 20 minute window on each of these things before the activity needs to change. And a tiny butt sitting in one small seat for that many consecutive hours? I think I actually shuddered at the thought. My children are kinetic, both. They don’t naturally sit in one place for extended periods of time. For 13 hours?! Snacks and “Where the Wild Things Are” can only go so far.
I know right now you’re probably thinking about all the inflight movie options and how that could work out for us. My kids don’t watch TV or movies. Even so once on a flight I set my son up with the kid movie– about 1o minutes in he turned to me and said exasperatedly, “Mom, this is going on too long!”
That evening, hovering over the “Click to buy” 4 tickets to Bordeaux, France button I took a big gulp of air and let out a string of expletives starting with “How the-f-are-we-going-to do that!?” Eyes bugging out of my head (and not in a good way) all I could see were the horrors. Plane change in Amsterdam in the middle of the GD night? Carrying crabby over-tired children AND luggage. Oh yeah, that’s sure to be a breeze… (Bug eyes.) Land there at what time and then…
My husband and I took one look at each other and it became clear that we needed to do some serious soul searching straight away: Before “Click to buy.” Were we actually ready and willing to commit to the kind of cartwheeling that even just the trip over would require? It was right about then my husband, good and brilliant soul that he is, and great and wise understander-of-me said, “Honey, you are the only one who truly NEEDS this right now. Why don’t you just go? Alone.”
I’ll admit, I was stunned for a moment. That’s not at all what I had had in mind. It took about 10 seconds to shake the stars out of my eyes and wake up to, “Okay!? Yes. Yes! YES!… Why don’t I!?”
I emailed my family, “We’re not coming.” I knew I did not want to go visit my family without MY family. How depressing that would be!?
And it didn’t take long for me to realize that this was my opportunity to go anywhere and do anything I wanted to do. Can’t you see my hands rubbing together in glee, a sort of ravenously joyful gleam in my eye? That’s how it was.
I knew I wanted to go to France. I’ve lived there before. Europe soothes me. I speak French and being able to do so untethered was a huge part of the appeal for me in the first place. I also knew that bringing my husband (not a city man) and our two small children to Paris would have been about as fun as washing a dog. Going there on my own though, now that was something I felt certain I could enjoy!
Quick call to my mom.
“Mom, can you come out and stay with Jason and the kids while I go to Paris at the beginning of September?”
Then came the time to buy the ticket. Same position, on our same couch, me supposedly ecstatic to have this opportunity, hovering over the “Click to buy” one round-trip ticket to Paris, and I couldn’t. I couldn’t push it.
“What is wrong with you?” my husband asked kind of jokingly. And then, minutes later, when I still couldn’t do it and I’m starting to look like I’m going to cry, “Honey, you don’t have to go!”
Me, “No. No. I’m going. I’m going. I just…” can’t push the button.
It took him looking at me and asking in a very serious tone, “What is going on for you here?” for me to get to the heart of it.
I had never been out of our family pod. Since we created it, actually since my husband and I started dating really, I had never left the shelter of this entity that we belong in together – you know, not in a big way. Not beyond, “I’m going to the grocery store for an hour or into the city for the day,” kind of way. Mini-trips included I had always been plugged into our family matrix. And suddenly my body was panicked. It’s like the 35 years of living and traveling before them suddenly meant nothing.
I didn’t know if I could do it. No, that wasn’t quite it. I knew I could do it, I just…
I tried my husband with, “You know. Don’t you ever feel weird when you go away for the weekend and…”
“No,” he cut me off. “I don’t. I don’t think about it at all! I don’t worry about the kids or you. I enjoy myself where I am. And you should be too!”
That sort of slid it all into home for me. He was so right. What the hell is it about mothers? We think that the world can’t go on without us? That somehow because of all the care and love we put into the scene every day that it might actually implode without our being there? But more than that, in my ineptitude to push the button I realized that this wasn’t even all about them. This was about me. I was the one afraid to be out of our little cocoon. I was the one who didn’t know if I could make it .???
Just this thought alone is so crazy if you know me, especially if you know my traveling history. I’ve been traveling alone since I was in high school. My parents would drive me to the airport and I would get on a plane to go meet a relative or a friend in another state for the weekend. Growing up I used planes like most people used buses. (All thanks to my father whose work for the airlines gave me that privilege.) I’ve been to more countries than I can count on two hands. I’ve lived abroad for several years at different times. I’m about as independent as they come…andI was scared! Totally scared.
It made me realize yet another fundamental shift that can happen when you become a mother. Being consumed with a job like this, as it requires, can have a limiting affect on your psyche. You start to think that this might be all you are. Or that you might not actually be able to exist out of this now very comfortable zone of roles and titles and beings.
I cried when I told my husband what I was afraid of. He just looked at me in a way that told me that women feel it differently. Maybe it’s because our bodies are actually built to create children, once we do, we start to let it define us in a way that can infiltrate the rest of us. Can make us think that now this is all we ever are, or all that we should be.
But it’s not. Oh my god it’s not. And I can say that to you from the other side. Creating a cozy and comfortable nest is best when you know that you can still fly. When you know that you are still free and capable. Perhaps the change is that having this wonderful place to come back to, that you want to come back to, that you are happy to live in—makes this freedom even better. That you have these people that you love so much waiting for you at home is a wonderful thing to feel in your bones as you lift off—and then experience life, and yourself, without them.
Leaving made me realize in a thorough way that I am bigger than this role and these snacks, and this laundry. And that in my case Paris and the ability to navigate the world (which I so covet) lives freely inside of me, the same as it ever did. Despite years of food making and bum wiping, it hardly even needed any dusting off. It’s a part of me in a way that motherhood is now too. It didn’t go anywhere. And it’s time is not over like I feared it might be. I don’t have to leave this vital part of me behind just because I am now a mother and a wife.
But perhaps the most startling revelation of all is that my children are bigger than me too. Even at their young ages. They do not perish for a week or two without my constant touch. Truly they didn’t seem to be any worse for wear even after 12 days away from me. This is such a helpful thing to know. You forget somehow. Being such a cinch pin for tiny beings gives you the illusion that that is all you are and perhaps all that you should be.
In the end I discovered it’s not. And all I can really conclude with is this:
Thank you great big wide world for being there always, ready for me to discover and revel in.
Thank you husband for being so wise, for getting me, for encouraging me to go without guilt or hesitation and for demanding that when I do so I allow myself to enjoy freely.
Thank you me for taking that opportunity, even though it seemed scary at first.
Thank you Paris. Obviously.
I am still so grateful, even now.
P.S. Stay tuned for the inspirational highlights of my trip with pics. And coming soon in another post I’ll also tell you about the tools I used while there and the woman who inspired me to make the most of my trip, artsy style.
Aimée Cartier is an author, psychic, and intuition teacher who believes in inspired living. More about her work can be found at www.SpreadingBlessings.com.