T, my partner, left me recently to attend a wedding in the US and then spend a few days working on the east coast before returning home. It was a fairly stressful week caring for a newborn as a single parent so I comforted myself by booking a four night trip to Disneyland Paris with friends. I justified it by explaining that, since we both work full time (him running his business and me doing childcare), we were both entitled to annual leave. He had taken a couple of days to fly out for the wedding and so I was taking a few days to head over to the continent. It’s hard to know how to equalise childcare when one parent is working and one parent is at home: what is ‘fair’ seems to be a hot topic of debate in our house at present. However, the more I present childcare as a full time position complete with a salary (T and I both get equal sums of spending money from the joint account so effectively our salary is even), benefits and time off, the easier it seems to be to feel like we’re equal partners in all respects.
It just so happened that my weekend away fell over Mother’s Day. A number of people who I told that I was going on a mini-break were surprised to hear that I would be apart from my child on my first ever Mother’s Day. ‘That’s my present!’ I explained. And it’s true. Having time away from the Baba, which included four nights of eight hours sleep (except for the one where we danced till 2am), felt like my gift in return for three months of hard graft. Why we chose my babyfree weekend to visit Disneyland, a place at which every other child from both France and England was, I’m not certain. It was a great lesson in parenting though. There were the cool, fun parents who were running around as excited as their children; the parents whose children outnumbered them and were constantly under siege; the parents who had to act as mediators between two wild animals desperate to attack one another and parents who managed to avoid all of the drama by burying themselves deep in their phones whilst their children caused havoc. I’m sure there were parents who were doing good parenting well, but they were no where to be seen. Probably because they had their children at a family meditation weekend at a Buddhist retreat centre rather than Disneyland Paris.
When I arrived home this morning from the boozy weekend, I was greeted by the biggest smile Whoopsy has ever given me. It was a genuinely delighted ‘Hey, I know you! You give me food..! I’m glad you’re here as I rather like food. Speaking of food…‘ At that point my love of him gushed out of me from a place that it had been hiding over the previous four days. Not hiding perhaps. Just resting. It’s not that I didn’t miss him. I missed him in a sort of ‘I’m looking forward to seeing you in a few days time and not an hour sooner’ sort of way. Before I left I felt anxious, worried that it was too long too soon and that I would struggle to be apart from him at just three months old. I needn’t have worried. By the time the front door slammed behind me, all thoughts were on the copious amounts of French food and wine I was intending to consume. I briefly worried about how easy it was to leave him for four nights (with his capable father, I might add). Am I an awful mother, I wondered. Why am I not more attached to him?
Finally it dawned on me that being with Whoopsy was probably more unnatural to me at this point that being without him. I’ve been 1 person for 28 years and 9 months. I’ve been half of two people for 29 years and 9 months. I’ve only been a third of 3 people for 3 months. How can I feel disconnected from the trio when I’m so used to being an uno? Whoopsy has been here for such a very short time in the context of my life that I can fall immediately back into being me, young, free and a little bit wild, perhaps more easily than I fall into the role of a mother; responsible, unselfish and reliable (Case in point: when we were out dancing till the early hours, and I was several Long Island Iced Teas down, apparently I was swinging around with on a column whilst squealing ‘Can you beliiiiiiiiiieve I’m a mother!’ much to my friend’s amusement. I think that, in moments like that, no, they really can’t believe it).
I think what is good for me is also good for Whoopsy and T. After ten minutes of ‘I’ve missed you so much’ snuggles, the baby started his standard overtired moaning. ‘He’s overtired’ said T to me. ‘I know’, I reminded him, ‘I do this most days’. There was something wonderful about T being the primary parent for a few days… and it really showed in their relationship. Daddy was completely clued in to what Whoopsy needed, and when, fussing over him with total adoration having spent a long weekend emotionally and physically connected to him. It also reminded T of how hard parenting is (‘his sleeping was awful!’ he huffed at me) reminding him of the value of my role as stay at home mum and the enabler to his growing business.
It’s great to snuggle Whoopsy again, and see how he’s developed over the four days (it really is ridiculous what a difference even that short time makes…), but I’m already planning my next babyfree break. A long weekend in the country perhaps. A few days in the sun. Maybe a city break. And if T is very, very good, I might even take him with me.