Without my men for the first time

Up until a week ago, I’d never been away from my son William for more than a day. For two years and three months, I’d always woken up in the morning and found him there, either next to me or in the other room, as he got “older.”

This probably wouldn’t have been the case if it weren’t for Covid. William was born four months before Covid started, so his two years of life have been affected by the changes. I’d have gone to several conferences already, but they all got canceled. I didn’t go on any non-family trips, and when we visited Bulgaria (twice for the last two years), William came with me, so we were always together.

Shall we travel to South Africa?

Recently, the restrictions for traveling to and from South Africa were lifted. Jacob is from South Africa and his family lives there, so he was enthusiastic to go there after not having visited them for four years. It would also be a great experience for William to visit his grandma and grandpa, aunt and uncle, and to meet his cousin. Also, it’s summer right now in South Africa, giving him the opportunity to soak up the sun, play in the little pool, and eat exotic (for me) fruit – what a dream!

My heart tightened as I realized I wouldn’t be able to go with them. For visa-related reasons, I wouldn’t be able to travel with them. Could I really let William go so far away from me for ten days? I wanted to let them go in order to have this amazing experience. Yet, I didn’t know if I could bear missing them so much.

Saying goodbye

We bought their plane tickets one week before their departure date (crazy!), and we packed their bags. The anticipation was the worst part for me. I was wondering how the flight would go and how William would adjust to being there. At the same time, I know he’s crazy about his dad (in fact, papa is currently the preferred parent, and mama is taken for granted a bit, but I’m okay with that and I’m taking it as a sign of secure attachment), so he’d be happy to be with his dad all day for ten days. And Jacob’s family in South Africa would be overjoyed to have William there and would take care of him all the time. Thus, I wasn’t too worried about them.

Saying goodbye was tough. I drove with them to the airport and went with them to the check-in desk to help with William and with the luggage. When they were ready to head to the gate, we said goodbye, and that was the hardest moment for me. William didn’t quite understand why I was saying bye bye to him, and he had a confused look on his face as they walked away, Jacob holding him in his arms. He didn’t cry, but he just kept looking at me over his father’s shoulder until they disappeared from view into the crowd.

I walked back to where we had parked the car. It was strange, almost eerie. I was now a single woman walking down the airport hallways, just as I had been ten years ago traveling back and forth to the US two-three times per year. Almost every time I traveled to or from Bulgaria to the US, I flew via Amsterdam, so I knew Schiphol airport so well. It was a weird throwback to be walking here again now first with my husband and son and then without them. Ten years ago, I had been a young woman walking down those corridors full of ambition, enthusiasm, and a desire to prove myself, while also full of fear. Today, I was there again, more confident and secure in myself, my husband, and my son, but also felt sad to have let them go and felt emptiness in the place of enthusiasm.

Fun, but strange

The first few days were tough. I missed them terribly–there’s no other way to put it. But I was also really excited about having time for myself! It had been forever since I had ten days for myself, and I was going to make the most out of them. I allowed myself to be sad when I felt sad, but I also did lots of fun things.

During that first weekend by myself, I went out to dinner with a friend, I did a tutorial for no-heat overnight curls (totally didn’t work for me, my hair was straight again within 2 hours), went for a hike in the sunny forest, and even went to the sauna (spa center) for a day! How cool is that?! I was supposed to go with a friend, but she got ill the night before (so unfortunate!). I still ended up having an amazing time! I spent eight hours going into saunas and swimming pools, attending meditation “classes” in the sauna, having an amazing dinner there, and reading my book in the relax area. I have to say it was a little bit lonely because Jacob and I used to go to saunas together and I missed him, but it was still wonderful.

As nice as my fun experiences were, I felt a bit lost. I felt like I was constantly forgetting something important, or that something was not quite right. I think it was an adjustment, and I needed some time to get used to the new situation.

Weekdays by myself

Monday came along, and I focused on work. Now that we’re allowed to physically go to work, I used the opportunity to be there in person. I got myself to get up on time, promptly get ready, and be at work by 9:00. This gave me a good three hours of focused work where I read papers and wrote parts of my PhD thesis. Frankly, I was amazed at the progress I was able to make in a week.

I realized why I was able to make this happen. When William is around, I get him dressed, give him breakfast, and bring him to daycare. As much as I love my time with him, this simply takes time: time that I was now able to use to write. Simple, but I’m glad I was able to harness this to make the most out of my time by myself.

Then, I had lunch with colleagues every workday. I’d forgotten how much fun that was! When working from home, I’d just keep reading papers or answering emails while I ate lunch. Now, I actually went down to the canteen and talked to people. Ah, the perks of ordinary life!

After some more work in the afternoon, I’d go home and exercise or cook–whatever was on the schedule for that day. Then, at the time when I’d usually pick up William from daycare, I went for a walk to the Goffert park. Luckily, the weather was gorgeous this past week, so these walks were lovely. I did feel a pang of sadness when I saw parents pushing their children in a stroller, but at that moment I was doing my own thing and enjoying it.

In the evenings, I’d have dinner, watch a TV series (how decadent!), shower, and read. Watching an episode of a series felt super luxurious to me because I don’t often do that. It was just something fun I did because I wanted to. I usually spend time with William in the evenings, playing with his cars, building puzzles, reading to him, and putting him to bed. I will be happy when he’s back and we can do those things together, but I also enjoyed the me-time I had now.

It was also nice to take uninterrupted showers. Usually, William comes in five times while I’m showering because he can open and close the door now, and he loves doing it. Then, we end up playing peek-a-boo since he thinks I’m hiding behind the shower curtain. That’s adorable, and I miss his little face! But it is also meditative to be able to take a shower uninterrupted, all by myself.

I should also say that I spoke to the men several times every day. They were doing excellent, and it was great to see how much fun they were having. I didn’t have to worry about them at all, and my mind was at ease.

It’s funny that this combination of simple routine and decadent me-time (watching Netflix) worked so well for me. A weekend packed with fun and relaxation was nice, but it was so out of the ordinary that I didn’t feel grounded and felt like I was forgetting something important the entire time. While on the days when I combined work, fun, and self-care, I felt the best. This just goes to say that we don’t need our days to be extraordinary; we just need them to contain the right ingredients to create the lives that we want to live according to our own design.

The last few days

I have my last weekend alone now (the men are coming back on Sunday morning). I have four social activities planned in three days, and I’m very much looking forward to them! At the same time, I’m looking forward to the arrival of my men. I can’t wait to drive to the airport on Sunday morning and pick them up! I’ll enjoy my me-time now, and then I’ll enjoy being with them when they’re here. And then I’ll get interrupted the whole time by “mama, mama, mama,” but that’s quite alright.