I SPEAK KID
By ELAINE DONG
I broke my no-travel pledge last month.
I used to travel a lot for work, and was away at least once a month. I left my first daughter when she was four months old on a week-long trip to Paris. Fun, right?
Not so much. And there were many more trips that followed. When my second daughter was born, I decided to put a stop to all that. For the last three years, save for the odd overnight trips to Singapore, I’m proud to say that I’ve been home to tuck them in bed almost every night.
Last month, I decided it was time I ventured out into the world again. My girls are older, and I felt sure they would be all right without me for a few days. I left on an 11-day trip to Milan. It coincided with my husband’s work trip, and we planned a little holiday on the side. It was all good; we finally get our trip to Italy, which was supposed to be our honeymoon destination. It would be a chance to rekindle the romance, spend time with each other, blah blah blah.
The day the trip dawned, there was a lot of sobbing (me!). So much so that my kids themselves forgot to cry. I told my husband, in between heaves and gasps, that it was my strategy. See? It worked, they saw me bawling like a baby, so they decided to be the adults in the relationship and told me it was fine, it was only 11 days, I would see them again soon. It was all about the planning, I tell you.
So off we went on our Italian sojourn. We went to the Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan and immersed ourselves in the world of furniture design. We were awed by the Duomo and ate Milanese fare, which surprisingly had very little to do with pastas and pizzas. We were hobnobbing with the creme de la creme of the design industry and felt very grown-up.
Every day, we Skyped with the kids relentlessly, until they got sick of us. They told us to go out, have fun, and not to worry about them. Five days into the trip, I started to have severe separation anxiety. I shall edit out more sobbing.
Perhaps we should go back early, I told my husband, who sheepishly nodded. But of course we couldn’t. We owed this trip to ourselves, and there was work to do. The kids were fine. We were the ones in bad shape. For the next half of the journey, we found ourselves checking out places that the kids would like, looking for parks and playgrounds to bring them to on the next trip, sussing out menus in restaurants and making note of the ones that served food our picky-eaters would approve of.
Everywhere we went, we kept an eye out for kid-friendly options. We had become parents-on-the-hunt. That’s a term I made up for guilt-ridden parents on a trip without the kids who tell themselves the reason they took the trip in the first place is to hunt out places to bring the kids to the next time. The guiltier they are, the more extensive the list of places will be, as is the amount of toys the kids get at the end of the trip.
It turns out the guilt wasn’t necessary after all. The kids had a swell time with their grandparents while we were away. They got countless trips to the mall, were allowed to stay up way past their bedtimes and watched Spongebob Squarepants a lot!
I felt a pang of loss at the days of their lives that I had missed while I was away on my trip. Yes, I am prone to melodrama. But I’m glad that we made the trip. It proved to us that we were not complete “wusses,” and we were capable of surviving a few days without the kids. At the risk of sounding cliched, it made me more appreciative of the little moments.
Sometimes, when you’re in the thick of parenting, you miss these moments. You may brush them off as annoyances as you struggle to get through each day. So this little break gave me a lot of perspective. The old me would get home from work and escape to my studio for some alone time. The new me waits eagerly for the sun the go down and the evening cool to set in so I can take the kids on an hour-long bike ride.
Last week, I taught my youngest how to get on and off a bike by herself.
I also discovered that while I was gone, she had learnt to ride down steep slopes so fast that she thought her hair would fly off her head!
All right then, in addition to my renewed no-travel pledge, I shall add a no-grump pledge. Life is too short to spend it being grumpy with the kids, when there are more hilly slopes to conquer!
Elaine Dong is in no hurry to go on another trip, and blogs at www.angelolli.com.