My vision has blurred to resemble a fun house mirror reflection. The small square window beside me has morphed into an hourglass. I can feel my knees digging into the seat-back-pocket in front of me; however, the dog-eared airline magazine is a zigzagging abstract of color. Sweat tickles my armpits as it pools visibly into my shirt. My heartbeat races beyond its normal pace.
I’m on vacation.
I'm meeting my father in British Columbia for a seven-day backpacking adventure in the Monashee Mountains. He's turning 73 this year. It’s our first father-daughter excursion, hopefully a first of many. I left behind my two children, ages six and four, in the über capable hands of my loving husband, which means I’m alone and child-free. Shouldn’t I be doing a happy dance? Instead, I’ve sogged my entire travel-pack of Kleenex with tears and snot.
Am I worried that I didn’t leave enough milk and orange juice for my family to get through a couple of days? Am I concerned that no one will remember to feed the dog, water the flowers, or take the trash out in the morning? Will my husband remember not to put too much soap in the washer, and that the kids actually have to bathe? Will anyone recall that we have fish?
I’m a mom. Naturally, I left a detailed note outlining each day I would be gone, who needs to be where, at what time, and what to bring. I mowed the lawn, scrubbed the house, changed all the sheets, and completed the laundry. I packed playdate bags, laid out three new bottles of sunscreen and bug spray, doled out 1,000 kisses, and stocked the refrigerator and freezer. I even felt like the master bathroom wouldn’t survive my absence without a fresh coat of paint. Somebody stop me!
May I pause to point out that I am keenly aware of the irony. I’ve prepared my family to live and play in a germ-free, dirt-free, lavender-scented, calorie-laden, and relatively chore-free zone. However, I’m supposed to have energy left to carry a heavy backpack, climb mountains, live out of a tent, sleep on the ground, and not shower for a week. I’m exhausted and the wheels of the plane have barely lifted from the ground.
I’m on vacation.
"Once a mom, always a mom." That’s what my mother tells me, with regularity. Yesterday she felt compelled to send a reminder text to pack my passport and extra socks, regardless of the fact that I am her 40-year-old daughter, a mother of two, and separated geographically by like, eight states.
We’re mothers. It’s what we do. We prepare our homes, our nests, for our absence. I wouldn’t want my husband to flounder. He’s not fully uploaded to do my job, nor would I be to do his. He isn’t privy to the day-to-day routines and rituals, locations of special stuffies, sun hats, and picnic baskets. He isn’t readily aware that swim lessons are Tuesdays and our daughter will need help with her goggles. He shouldn’t have to be. And I should probably warn him that neither kid will want to, and both will swear they don’t have to, when he strongly suggests they pee before they enter the pool.
I cry not because I’m worried they won’t make it without me. I fully accept the fact that they can, and will, thrive. They will surely eat way too much sugar, break all the rules at bedtime, and allow spiders to peacefully cohabitate in the house while I’m away. I’m crying because at this moment I don’t feel like a mom. No one’s whining, or fighting, or needing to be somewhere, or desiring a playmate or a snack.
Up here, looking down, I’m reminded that apart from being a mom, I am also a woman, a wife, and a daughter. Today I am opening myself up for an experience that is all my own. This will be a unique and memorable week with my dad, to share with him and to learn from him. It’s a time to get to know him from the perspective of a grown-up daughter, and to gaze in wonder at God’s magnificent creation in nature. It’s a chance to lay down the frenetic pace, to unplug from the demands that tug from all sides, and reconnect with who I am as an individual.
If I consistently pour out my energy into my children, my husband, my home, what happens to me? To who I once was? To who I am still meant to become? I see now how easy it is to forget that.
The farther I go, the hours that pass in travel from one country to another, it seems a sense of peace has come over me. A deep breath. No more tears. Stillness. Peace. Contentment. Quiet.
I whisper a promise to myself: May I challenge my body both physically and emotionally to summit the mountains that await me. May I take the renewed energy, the fresh air, and the experience home with me to share with my family as a woman, as a wife, as a mom. I will benefit from this, and as a result, so will they. My tears have dried.
I’m on vacation.