About fifteen years ago, when I lived in London, a weekend trip abroad wouldn't have been that out of the ordinary. Travel back then was easy, frequent, and carefree. It was what I loved most in the world, in fact.
Now, life is very different. And so am I.
As a mom of three, travel is complicated, whether with or without kids. Since this trip, precipitated by a conference my husband was attending, was going to be without kids, the childcare factor was the issue of the day. And who knew that once we had that third child people wouldn't be jumping up and down to come and play mom for a few days? After much stress, I ultimately secured a team of 3 to care for my 15 month old, 4 year old, and 6 year old, for four days. The manifesto I left for all of them was 12 pages long.
Notwithstanding the complications, I was dead set on taking this trip. I believe when my husband came home and told me about the conference, my response was: No way in hell are you going to London without me! London is my city. Having lived there for three years, I know its streets, its restaurants, its cheesy touristy bars, and a handful of incredibly awesome people that inhabit it. This may have been my husband's work trip, but it was my homecoming. And I wouldn't miss it for anything.
I booked the ticket, did a little ankle click celebration, and then something weird happened.
I got scared.
I was actually scared to go through with this trip to London. Which is preposterous on its face - I have been yearning for a trip away, and have been meaning to go to London forever. But the kids.... what is it about leaving the kids that seems so unsettling? I am not one of those parents that refuses to leave my children with babysitters, and my husband and I have taken weekend trips away before. But the general notion of being far - very far - away was unnerving. The idea of them falling and needing a hug, or doing something incredibly cute, or waking at night crying - and I being so far away left me feeling anxious.
But that wasn't the whole picture. The truth is, I wondered who I would be in London without them.
When I lived in London, I was a completely different person. And it's not that I don't appreciate the person I am now, but I love the person I was at age 22 living abroad. I was fun. Energetic. I was outgoing and the life of the party and I wasn't afraid to walk up to a random person and just start chatting. I was spontaneous. I was well travelled. I was open minded. I was brave. I was as independent as hell and not really scared of anything. And I was ambitious - part of my time there was spent working in the House of Commons, the other completing my Master's degree at the London School of Economics, preparing to go to Penn Law School. The world was my oyster. I was young and free - so incredibly free.
In some ways, I barely recognize that person now. It's not that I'm not outgoing or open minded or fun anymore - it's that I don't often have the chance to exercise those skills. I can count on one hand the number of real "nights out" I have had in the last year, and even at that, I would generally prefer to be on my couch with friends chatting over a bottle of wine. I rarely meet new people anymore, apart from parents at my kids' respective schools, who would never guess there's much more to me than preschool pick ups and small talk. My husband and I do take the occasional trip, but I don't think that multiple trips to Disney World count towards being well travelled. My so-called ambition has taken a back seat to days spent at home in my pajamas with my three young boys. And don't get me started on the energy factor. That's gone. I'm exhausted all the time and am in bed by 9pm every night. Free? I feel the farthest thing from free. I can't even go to a doctor's appointment without securing childcare, and the idea of an hour to myself at the gym or in the car is heaven. And brave? Well, my fear of the London trip itself answered that question. I was scared to be away from my kids. And scared of London smacking me in the face with who I was, and who I have become.
I left for London last Wednesday night. After a few glasses of champagne, a touchdown at Heathrow, and a step outside into the sunny (!) London streets, my anxiety quickly waned. I needed this trip. Badly. And I was going to allow London to reinvigorate me, if it was willing.
I walked the familiar streets and marveled at how little things had changed. I spent time with one of my best friends in the world (whom my youngest son is named after), as well as his ex-boyfriend whom I adore. I saw a former co-worker, who has turned into a life-long friend. I saw my former boss and his wife, who have become like family and attended both my and my sister's wedding here in the states. I had the world's best Thai food at my favorite London pub. I went through the "Inventing Impressionism" exhibit at the National Gallery, and maybe it's maturity that comes with age, but I have never found an art exhibit so fascinating. I spent a morning on the steps of Trafalgar Square, all on my own with a cup of coffee, for a good hour. It's perhaps the closest thing to meditating I have ever done - I didn't look at my phone once, except to snap some pictures.
I felt so incredibly free, for three whole days - with people I love and who love me even though I'm not the rock star 22 year old I once was.
Sometimes this motherhood thing makes you forget that you are actually your own person. It's not that you don't know who you are, it's just that you don't have much opportunity to express it in the day to day. After 6+ years of this, I still struggle to maintain some kind of identity other than as a mom.
It took some reflection - some hard thinking on the steps of Trafalgar square - but I think I'm a better person today than I was during my days as a London resident. I am more mature, more empathetic, more insightful, more reasoned, more comfortable in my own skin. And more than that, I am happy - happier than I ever have been. My life is full. Busy, crazy, exhausting... but full. I still am that person that I was in London so long ago. But I'm much more than that too.
We arrived back home on Sunday evening, and life resumed as normal almost immediately - hungry kids, sporadic tantrums, struggles at bedtime. I fell right back into it like I had never left. I almost had to remind myself that I had been in London that very morning.
It was a world away, literally and figuratively.
My time in London was temporary, but so is this. There will come a day when this 24-7 motherhood phase will pass, and I will once again be free, to go to London or do whatever I please. But ironically, at that point, freedom will probably be the last thing I want. This is the time of my life. Would I trade it for my London carefree days?
No way. Ambition, energy, spontaneity, travel.... that all can wait.
But that doesn't mean I don't need these time outs every once in a while. London, until next time...
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