Photo: Courtesy of Sunshine Flint
“I want Daddy.” I hear that a lot from Persey, one of my six-year-old twins, for whom whining is pretty much a default mode. In response, her sister, Evie, ends up wanting her mommy most of the time, creating a dynamic that makes me and my partner cringe. When a family trip to Beaches in Turks and Caicos came up and my partner had to work, instead of cancelling, I decided to use the opportunity to spend some honest-to-goodness, one-on-one quality time—four days straight—with Persey, where she’d get nothing but Mommy.
Holidays can advance brain development in children, according to a study by Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist and professor at Washington State University. Having worked as a travel writer for almost two decades, I knew travel was an important thing to expose my kids to, but that didn’t mean my decision to take one kid over the other didn’t come riddled with some serious mom guilt.
The night before we left, Persey’s sister sobbed at bedtime—sad that she wasn’t invited and sad that I was going away—and all my promises of a fun-filled weekend with Daddy made no difference. Later, as I packed the suitcase—grown-up clothes on the left, kid clothes on the right—the guilt really began to sink in. I felt awful about leaving her behind. I also found myself apprehensive about the idea of mothering one child. I’ve spent the past six years wrangling the two of them—I am a twin mom, hear me roar—and the idea of being alone with just one of them was uncharted territory. I realized that I’d never spent more than four hours alone with Persey in her entire life. Did I really know my daughter? Did she know me?
According to research, about “two-thirds of all communication between children [and] is about daily routine, and only one-quarter of the children surveyed said they talked to their parents more than once a week about something that mattered.” Travelling alone with Persey would give me the chance to really get to know her—something I realized I hadn’t had time to make happen over the past six years.
Turns out, Persey is an excellent little traveller. She didn’t whine at the airport or on the plane, and she unpacked her own clothes, shoes and stuffies like a champ—she did this so well that I couldn’t find where she’d put everything! I also discovered that she can be very anxious. She wanted to know where we were going, who we had to meet and when we had to be there, despite my reassurances that her mommy would take care of everything.
As she got more comfortable being away with just me, Persey began to open up. She asked about the trees, buildings, roads and people. But she also just wanted to be in the pool. With me. All day. As I found myself the sole playmate of a tireless six-year-old, casting longing glances at my chaise and iced drink while waist deep in a heated pool, I gained a newfound respect for moms of singletons, including my own mother. When you don’t have siblings, your parents are the be-all and end-all. All I could do was text her dad about the germ soup I was standing in while I pulled her around on an inflatable crocodile. But there were also some great things about being on vacation together. I got to be the fun mom! Far from the stresses of being at home, we didn’t butt heads because our biggest concerns were which restaurant we were going to eat at, when to go to the pool and when to walk on the beach.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I really enjoyed Persey’s company, and I loved getting a peek at her more adventurous side. At the waterpark, I marvelled at her headlong rush up the slide and the joy on her face at the beach as big waves crashed on the shore. I almost didn’t recognize her little body wiggling in the limbo line at the weekly beach party—it made my heart glow. She also impressed me with how easily she made friends at the pool (I even got half an hour on my lounge chair) and at the kids’ club. I found myself picking her up a couple of hours early because I missed her company.
Meanwhile, back at home, I could barely get ahold of my other twin on FaceTime. If she wasn’t at school, she was at swim class or in the bathtub. While I was gone, she went to a robot-building class and constructed a rotating-feather thingy (not the technical term), and she and her dad spent an afternoon making signs and decorating cupcakes they made for my birthday. When Persey and I walked in from the airport after our four-day trip, there was a mini-surprise party waiting for me.
Spending four uninterrupted days with Persey gave me incredible insight into how capable she is and how much fun she has trying new things. I now know that she has a great ability to identify what she is feeling and articulate it, whether it’s jealousy, sadness or homesickness. I’ve learned how to hear “I want Mommy” without her having to say it.
But the biggest surprise from our trip was what I learned about myself. I realized that I’m not the same parent when I’m with both of my twins and that there’s real value in giving them solo mommy time. “Travel can reduce stress and activate warm, generous feelings and a lovely sense that all is well in the world,” explains Panksepp. “With all the anti-stress aspects of these systems firing, family members get to emotionally refuel.” I’ve always believed that travel has made me a better person, and now I’m pretty sure that it’s made me a better mother, too.
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