I’m in heaven. There’s no other way to describe it. I’m on the vacation of a lifetime, on a megayacht sailing around the French Riviera—Naples, Nice, Puerto Cervo, Capri, Portofino, Antibes, Saint Tropez, and Cannes. My days consist of sleeping in, frolicking in the sun, exploring the wonders of this clear, luring water, flirting with a certain handsome 36-year-old, sightseeing charming ruins, eating amazing food most of which is prepared by a personal chef, binge watching movies or getting caught up on some series, hiking through scenic trails along various ports, and anything else my heart desires. Did I mention that yesterday I took a 4-hour nap and that I’m vacationing without my kids? This is the type of trip that, as the young folk say, gives you life.
I know what you’re thinking–I’m on a vacation of a lifetime, it should give me life! The Siren is a 230-foot-long yacht with six guest cabins and a crew of 18. I’d have to be crazy not to feel super relaxed and like the weight of the mommy world isn’t so heavy. On the Siren, I have discovered some amazing things but they aren’t specific to this fabulous boat or trip, even though the first-class, picturesque voyage doesn’t hurt. I am just blessed to learn these few golden gems here, in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, and they are important lessons every mom should consider.
Lesson #1: It’s okay.
This trip took me away, and I mean mentally away, from my life at home. Because of the 9-hour time change and without the constant interruption of little, well-meaning people who like to say, “mom, mom, mom,” I have completely disconnected from the mommy load. We all know it’s important to disconnect and recharge from time to time, without kids and without the guilt of not being with kids. That guilt part, however, is difficult.
To me, a great mom unapologetically puts herself first and a benefitting byproduct is that her children are better adjusted and grow up understanding the value of self-care. It’s just not always easy to find the time, let alone meaningful time without kids. When a mom does get to that point and even thinks of saying the word vacation, a bevy of questions come up that almost steal the joy of even going away. Who will watch the kids? How long will we stay away? What if the kids are miserable? Can I plan their time while I’m away so that all goes smoothly? It’s as if the moment a mom knows she’s going to be away, the mental load doubles in preparation for the time “off.”
Then there’s the big question people like to ask while you’re on vacation that has the power to send any mom of young children spiraling–where are the kids? This one question brings a mom back to reality quickly and raises a lot of subconscious notions about why she left the kids, how that’s possible and/or if it’s the “right” thing. Even though the question is innocently asked in many cases, moms can feel very shamed by it and the guilt thrives in that shame.
Or, there are moms like me who simply struggle with balancing being a mom and making time for myself in general. Don’t misunderstand, I take time here and there to grab coffee with a friend, exercise, enjoy a “girl’s night out.” I’ve even been away from them for long weekends on occasion, which has been great. These things are valuable but they don’t give me the type of quality me time I need to really experience a meaningful break from thinking, planning, and doing for two, dependent children. It took me traveling 9 hours away for me to truly disconnect from them. Am I going to have to change time zones anytime I want to enjoy a real break? Maybe I just require more time for myself than other moms might need? Perhaps. We are all different, at different stages of understanding who we are as moms and what we respectively need to feel recharged. No one person can tell any mom what will work for her, there is no secret answer, and it may just always be a work in progress.
I hear the mommy load just changes as your children age and it’s less about the physical demands of being on call and doing, and more about the mental worry. Either way, the load is there and the work required to find healthy balance may never end. This trip helped me stop just long enough to remember managing a healthy balance with the mommy load becomes a life-long process. For me, this often looks like a cycle of starting over, again and again, because life happens or sometimes you just require something more or greater distance. Whatever it is, that’s okay.
If you’re trying to find this balance, like me, for however long it might take, even if it takes a lifetime, you’re doing something right. Keep at it, it’s okay. You’re not a bad mom, you’re just human and your honest struggle shows your children that everything takes work, even self-care.
Lesson #2: It’s not too late.
We have sailed to places where time almost feels as if it’s standing still—the tiny alleys and shops along the neighborhoods of Antibes, the cobblestone streets and majestic views at the top of Capri, the vibrant colors along the Portofino port, the richness of the local food everywhere, and so much more. The pace of life feels tremendously slower and that’s a stark contrast to my life at home, which often feels chaotic and too fast.
My life is so different from what it was like before kids and it’s even different from how I envisioned my life would be with kids. I was naïve and like so many kid-free adults, I thought being a parent would be much easier but the reality is, it’s often grueling, thankless, mundane, nonstop work. It’s also amazing and the greatest gift you can ever give yourself. But being a mom is mostly hard, selfless work and it’s easy to lose perspective and yourself in the mayhem. That said, this trip gave me tremendous perspective and reminded me, it’s not too late for me.
I was reminded that when things happen, they can happen fast, and life can forever be changed, in myriad ways, by that one simple thing that happened. Before you know it, one day you look up and your life is totally different. I was reminded of my mom, who waited ten years after having children to go back to graduate school to get her Ph.D. She found a way to raise three kids, be married, and make time for her career and hobbies. I’m sure she would volunteer that it wasn’t always easy to do these things. I’m sure she had times where it felt like she would never have one second alone or that there just wasn’t enough time or energy to do some things. But she found her way.
Being a mom has been a significant part of my life for the past eight years but it’s certainly not going to be the only part of my life. In the throes of mommyhood and the frenetic pace of life, it’s easy to forget that today is just a great moment on the larger journey and not the entire journey. It’s not too late for me to do anything (maybe I can’t become a go-go dancer in Las Vegas anymore but you get the gist). The current pace of life, the demands on time and energy, the mommy load in general, will transform in time. It’s not too late for me to have a second and third act.
Lesson #3: Keep it moving.
Being a mom is many things but it is especially a plan killer. Moms physically put life on pause to share their bodies while pregnant and once born, we often must put countless ideas, hopes, dreams, to do’s, on hold. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made plans, have an idea of how my day will go, or set some goals, and then bam, everything goes down the drain because something comes up with a kid that changes things. This happens a lot. When it happens too often, you can easily get derailed and stuck, at least I do.
Sailing has been a great lesson in getting unstuck. Everything is a planned endeavor but ultimately, our course is guided by weather, at least on our trip. This means that one day we go to sleep in one place, and the next day we may awake in another. These ports are all on our itinerary but ultimately, our captain and host determine where we will travel. This uncertainty is just something you accept. It’s for the best and although you go to sleep with an idea of what you might enjoy the next day, it may change. The name of the game is to keep the yacht moving in the direction of smooth seas to ensure a wonderful trip. And it works.
As a mom, we adapt and accept that plans will need to change, almost daily, like sailing. We adjust our sails and figure out how to move forward for ourselves and our children. Getting stuck, then procrastinating in keeping things moving, which is what I often do, isn’t helpful. I’m notorious for planning to get back to something, in hopes of changing courses and keeping something moving, only to get derailed by some other mommy-related responsibility. The ability to turn the page and quickly refocus on movement in a specific direction doesn’t just make sense when sailing.
I started this blog post on my third day of vacation when the experience was first-hand and magical. Today is my second day home and it still feels magical. But when the post-vacation high leaves me, and I fully return to the land of chaos with a heavy mommy load, I think I’ll have a greater perspective. This vacation of a lifetime taught me that it’s okay to be where I am in life, that it’s not too late for me, and the importance of getting unstuck and refocused when life happens. Thankfully, I’m once again now truly at the helm of my own boat.