A beep on my phone, a message from my BFF across the the world, and the words that showed just how well she knows me: “So I know it’s an outrageous idea but…”
It was an invitation to join her and three other friends for a girls’ weekend in New York City. An escape from my perfect, beautiful life. A chance to leave responsibility behind and pound the pavements with some of my favourite women, shop at my leisure, drink cocktails on the rooves of tall buildings, laugh til my sides hurt, sleep through the night, and spend three glorious days being required by absolutely nobody.
An outrageous proposition indeed. But that’s exactly what we did.
This was the first time I’ve been away from my girls since the littlest was born, and only the second time I’ve been away at all since becoming “Mummy”. Which is why it was pitched as “an outrageous idea”. My husband’s and my choices not to go away on our own have stemmed partly from the practical – we have no family nearby leave our children with for a weekend – to the primal – I can separate myself from them as easily as I can from my own shadow. But when I got the invitation it was exactly what I knew I needed in that moment, and exactly who I needed to do it with. My response to the text message was, “Yes, yes, a million times yes.” And so it was a done deal.
I’ve written before about the motherly mantle of guilt we all wear like a second skin or a favourite scarf in the winter. We feel it no matter what decision we make about anything, so of course I felt it in the run-up to my little jaunt away from my family. In the week before I left I went into the kitchen every time I had a spare minute and cooked something to put in the freezer. My husband pointed out that I’d be gone for three days, not three weeks, and that he was pretty sure he had feeding our daughters covered. I knew he did, of course, but it was my way of making as smooth an exit as possible, and also of saying thank you – thank you for letting me be selfish, thank you for giving me this time.
And what a time it was.
I stepped on to the plane for a glorious three-hour flight with no toddler on my lap playing drums on the seatback of the poor unfortunate in front of us. My hand luggage consisted of passport, iPad, book and lipstick. No bottles of milk to be tested at security, no endless supply of snacks and colouring books, no nappies, wipes or changes of clothes – just me.
On arrival I took the train and subway down to SoHo where we were staying, rather than the ease of a taxi. I wanted to drink it all in, feel part of the heartbeat of the city from the very first moment. I had no one to think of but myself, and just something as simple as travelling alone to where I needed to be was such a departure from my normal day-to-day, it was like a little holiday in itself.
And then, the girls. There they all were, waiting for me on a hot spring day in the city that never sleeps, and it was like a homecoming. From the first moment the conversation was unstoppable. No matter how many years had come and gone since we saw each other last our shared history and understanding melted the time away and the moment was all that mattered. It was real, honest-to-goodness time travel – back to the girls we used to be, forwards to the women we want to be, back to the now with acceptance of the people we are.
We talked sleep deprivation and pre-schools, but we also talked lipstick, handbags, dream jobs and old friends. We shopped like the pro’s we once were in our twenties and wore new heels to eat in beautiful restaurants without high chairs at the table and our buggies waiting in the corner. We meandered through Central Park, ate eggs benedict three mornings in a row (or some of us did – guilty), and spent two indulgent hours in the Bloomingdales denim section in the company of a miracle maker named Ronald, who memorised all our names and jean sizes and wouldn’t rest until we had each found the perfect pair.
All this, and – hello! – we were in New York! The streets that Alecia Keyes says will make you feel brand new, the big lights that will inspire you. The wonder and magnificence of the place is incomparable to anywhere I’ve ever been, and the truth is that experiencing it fully with kids in tow would have been impossible.
It was a wrinkle in time, a perfect few days which I’ve tucked into my bank of precious memories, and will always look back on and be grateful for. But more importantly, it re-energised me, it refocused me, and gave me a new appreciation for my day job.
Some people are cut out for full-time parenting and some are not. I judge neither camp, but after my temporary release from my responsibilities, it occurs to me that I am. Even as I sat in a blissed-out state of alone-ness in the departure lounge waiting for my flight I couldn’t help jumping a bit at every shout of “Mummy!” around me. Truthfully, I missed my cumbersome little travel companions. The feeling stayed with me all weekend: the dichotomy of contentment in my temporary alone-ness and euphoric, down-to-my-ankles gratitude that my alone-ness was temporary.
I think this was a magnified, time-capsuled snapshot of what we all feel, all the time, everywhere we go: I was glad to be alone, liberated from the pull of responsibility, joyful in my freedom – and yet forever changed, forever missing something that wasn’t with me. Forever belonging to the two little girls who made me “mummy”.
I got home to two daughters who’d had a pretty fabulous weekend with just daddy, but who were nonetheless marginally pleased to see me. I took a little longer putting them to bed that night, squeezed out the minutes and took extra notice of the silkiness of their skin as I slipped them into their pyjamas, the rise and fall of their little chests as their exuberance for the day gave way to the pull of sleep. I will forever treasure the “outrageous” proposition by my darling friend of a girls’ weekend in NYC – for the memories I’ll always have but also for the reinforcement that, actually, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than here.