Photo: Courtesy of Jennifer Chen
My twin girls were born in February 2016, and all I wanted for my 37th birthday two months later was a hotel room by myself for one night. For previous birthdays, pre-kids, there had been drinks with friends, raucous karaoke nights and long dinners at fancy restaurants. But with two-month-old twins attached to my breast, the ultimate birthday gift was a party of one in a quiet hotel with a rooftop pool in Pasadena, California. I told my husband what I wanted, and he arranged for his mom to come out from New York for a few days and spend the night at our house to help with night feedings. As I pumped and froze my breastmilk in preparation for my solo night, I fantasized about sleeping in and lying in the sun by the pool with a magazine.
By the time my birthday arrived, I felt nervous about being away from my daughters, but I was so exhausted that the first thing I did when I got into my hotel room was nap. It was the most glorious nap because I didn’t have to listen for crying. I took a leisurely stroll to pick up dinner, listened to a podcast and enjoyed walking without lugging a cumbersome diaper bag. I ate my dinner in my hotel room, appreciating the silence around me. I FaceTimed my family before the girls’ bedtime, and while I missed their cute baby faces, it was also a relief to curl up in a king-sized bed and read a celebrity magazine with nobody needing anything from me. I woke up at 4 a.m. to pump because that was my routine at home.
I woke up again at 8 a.m., but instead of the hustle of a morning with infants, I stayed in bed and watched something on Netflix. When the sun came out, I went to the rooftop pool and scrolled through countless magazines, basking in warm sunlight. I snapped an Instagram shot of myself, lounging alone. For less than 24 hours, I was rested, calm and rejuvenated.
Fast-forward to my 39th birthday, and instead of one night away, I wanted two. We did the same routine, but this time, my daughters were two years old and were done with breastfeeding. I had dealt with separation anxiety when they started daycare at 18 months old, but I was way more nervous now. Now, Chloe and Claire were talking. The guilt and anxiety I felt about leaving was next level because they could tell me they didn’t want me to go. My first morning at the hotel, I woke up to find a text from my husband saying Claire had puked. My first reaction was to tell him I’d come home. I texted a mom friend and a childless friend. “Am I selfish for staying at my hotel?” I asked. My mom friend reassured me that kids vomit all the time and are usually OK, and my other friend reminded me that Claire had her dad and grandmother there to take care of her. I paced my hotel room and started to pack up my things until my husband, Brendan, called me and said, “Stay. Everything is fine. Claire is with her grandma and me. We’re good.”
“I’m her mom. I should take care of her when she’s sick,” I said. My husband begged me to stay. “Trust us,” he implored. I stayed, still feeling like the world’s most self-centred mama, only relaxing a few hours later when Brendan texted that Claire was happily playing at home with my mother-in-law while Chloe was at daycare.
With my anxiety waning, I treated myself to a decadent brunch at 10 a.m. and enjoyed eating without two toddlers begging for bites. This time, when I luxuriated by the hotel pool, I appreciated every single minute I was solo. Time morphs when you become a parent. My two nights and three days alone meant I could work on a novel I had started before my girls were born. I mastered the art of writing in short chunks of time. Post-kids, I wrote like the wind because my mom brain told my inner critic to shut up and keep working. The freedom of my three days alone was the best gift I could ever have been given.
In September 2018, I planned my longest trip away: four nights in British Columbia for a media tour. When I arrived at the Douglas hotel in Vancouver, I was beyond excited for the ginormous king bed, the pristine marble shower and upscale toiletries. My bathroom at home was crowded with two potty seats, Disney hooded towels and kid-friendly bubble bath. I didn’t have to share this bathroom or have a toddler hover over me while I peed. Hours later, when I FaceTimed my twins, Chloe, who is particularly attached to me, said, “Mom, I want you to come home.” The guilt overwhelmed me and doubled when Brendan said they were cranky before bed, rolling out tantrum after tantrum. I sat on the fluffy bed and video-messaged my mom friends. Their response: “It’s OK if they’re upset. They miss you. They will have feelings about you being gone, and that’s normal.”
I met another mom on the trip, whose daughter was around my kids’ age, and we talked about the beauty of room service, sleeping in and having an entire hotel room to ourselves. During a dinner, a hotel manager (who didn’t have kids) asked me how I could possibly leave my daughters. Instead of feeling like a terrible mom, I responded that my husband was incredibly capable and we were lucky to have babysitters who could help. This time, I believed it. My baby steps away from my daughters gave me a window into how I could carve out much-needed time for myself. To the outside world, my mom vacations might seem indulgent, but I know that when I return home, I’m calmer and happier. When I’m tired, overworked and sleep-deprived, I snap at my kids, get annoyed with their tantrums and lose my patience in seconds. A few nights away doesn’t eliminate all my frustrations as a parent, but it allows me to come back to my children with a sense of peace that is good for our family because it’s good for me.