A few weeks ago I traveled to New York by myself — my first solo trip since giving birth to my daughter three years ago.
I thought my trip would be like many other solo trips I had taken before I became a mother: exploring wherever my feet led, wandering down whatever road looked interesting, my only concern being to find my way back in the evening to where I was staying.
But I was wrong. It was anything but that.
What I discovered is that it’s impossible for me to ever travel alone again the way I used to.
Because even though I was alone on this trip, I felt anchored to my home hundreds of miles away in a way that I never had before. My mind was often on my daughter and husband back at home, wondering what they were up to without me.
So instead of traveling alone, I traveled with an almost constant, low-level narrative in my head that was split between thinking about what was happening at home without me and how I would love for my husband and daughter see all the things I was seeing in New York.
Since my daughter was born, we’ve always traveled as a family. There have been occasional trips with just me and my daughter, but most of our traveling has been with the three of us. Until this trip, it was almost inconceivable to me to think about leaving my daughter for a few days.
I think solo travel is going to be an entirely new experience for me now. Whenever I’m away, I’ll always be thinking about the people I’ve left at home and missing them and the important little bits of life happening at home without me.
Because the little bits are mostly what life is made up of, right? The hundreds of tiny moments that happen in a day that we gloss over and take for granted.
Well, as it turns out, I take them for granted until I don’t have them, and then they become pretty much all I think about.
I remember the laughter coming from the back seat of the car when my daughter and I tell silly stories to each other. The quick kiss from my husband as he leaves for work in the morning. The shrieks of joy from my daughter when I watch my husband push her so high on the swings at the playground. My daughter’s tears at the end of a long day when it’s past her bedtime, and she’s exhausted and just can’t keep it together for one second more.
Yep, the good, the bad — all of it. I don’t want to miss out on a second of my family’s life, which is completely and totally unreasonable, I know. But there it is. I don’t want to miss anything and — at the same time — I dream of somehow finding my way back to a version of my old, independent self who loved being on my own.
So, after a lot of thought, I’ve decided that it’s OK for me to miss out occasionally on moments with my family. Maybe it’s more than OK — maybe it’s even important.
After all, my daughter and I have grown so close because of all the time we’ve spent alone together. Isn’t time alone with her dad just as important? If I’m not there, doesn’t it mean that they have the chance to develop their own ways of doing things? My daughter can share inside jokes and rituals and traditions with her dad, just like she does with me.
And maybe the best way to let them forge those bonds is to let them figure things out by themselves sometimes.
I’ve always been amazed at the incredible experience of being the person responsible for introducing the world to a child. I get a front row seat to see my daughter figure out all sorts of things about life.
But sometimes I’m going to have to give up that front row seat to go off and do things on my own, and — more importantly — show my daughter that it’s important to take care of yourself sometimes when you’re taking care of others.
I know I’ll miss them like crazy when I’m away, but I comfort myself with knowing that I’ll be home soon to tell them all about my adventures. And my daughter and husband will fill me in on the adventures they shared while I was gone.
It’s not such a bad tradeoff, I suppose. Maybe my mind will always be tethered to home while I’m away. But it’s also nice to know that there are people I love thinking about me, too, and waiting for me to come back.
What about you? Have you ever felt sad or guilty when leaving your loved ones behind while traveling?