June 27, 2014
By Ekta R. Garg
A few months ago my husband and I talked casually about me taking the kids to the east coast to visit the maternal grandparents for two weeks in June. Pretty normal stuff. Because of his vacation schedule and commitments he’s made for other trips, though, my husband said that I should take the kids on my own.
This was a twist for us, although it may not sound it for some families. For me to travel with the kids alone would certainly give me an interesting exercise in sheer willpower, if nothing else.
I guess I have to preface all this by saying that I love to travel, but I hate to fly. Planes and I have long had this relationship. In my younger years I regularly vomited on them, leading to a great deal of embarrassment for me and a lifelong loathing of that mixed stale coffee/recycled air smell. Although I’ve figured out how to stave off the barfing, even today when I enter a plane I feel some low-level stress and a shadow of that embarrassment from my childhood. So traveling by air for me is as much about a mind game—convincing myself that I will not, in fact, lose my (very light) lunch. That I will survive the takeoff, any turbulence, and the landing. It’s a conversation in my head that does—not—stop.
When I gave birth to both girls I prayed hard that they wouldn’t have to fight this ailment. It’s not a fun way to fly, believe me. So I’m incredibly grateful for the fact that they can travel with only their final destination in mind.
I thought that the plane ride would be my biggest challenge—that is, me getting through it. I didn’t know that I also had to get through two weeks of solo parenting. Silly me.
For the most part the kids behaved really well. But I didn’t realize just how draining it would be, how every time the kids needed something they would turn to me. Big things, small things, imaginary boo boos and real-life tiffs. No matter what they wanted to ask, do, eat, discuss, or maybe even think, they came to me.
Ironically, visiting my parents provided me with a relaxing venue. My mom worried about cooking, laundry, even arranging playdates for the kids. I had the freedom to watch TV or not, sleep in, read late at night, and everything else a girl could want to do on vacation. So I got my time off, but a good chunk of that got devoted to dealing with the children and nothing else.
In the end I gained a deeper sympathy for single parents. I felt their frustration when the kids fought for the tenth time about what movie to watch, and then an hour later I would feel a smidgen—a smidge, even—of pride when Eight would help her little sister with something. I had those emotions and experiences to myself, a unique experience but one I knew my husband would have wanted to share. I missed him keenly when I wanted to take a breather by enjoying a long shower but couldn’t because the kids wanted me to help them with something. And I felt a tinge of loneliness when we would go out to dinner with local friends and I couldn’t share with my husband how cute the kids looked when they helped each other butter their pre-dinner rolls.
I knew we would come back to Illinois and the kids would share many of these things with their father. I would have the opportunity to come home to let him know how the vacation progressed. But single parents don’t have a “him” or “her” when they come home. They enjoy or agonize over those experiences alone.
I’m grateful for the balance my husband brings to my parenting. I’m even more grateful for the chance to go to my parents’ home with the kids, as much for them getting to spend time with their grandparents as for the glimpse into the life of a single parent. I also deeply appreciated the time off; I got a little bit of rejuvenation in not having to worry about household duties. And like all good vacations, I came away wishing it would have lasted at least another week or two.
Now, if only I could I could enjoy flying as much as I do the rest of the vacation.