This past week, Aaron and I took a four day/three night getaway to celebrate our 5 year anniversary. It was the first time we’ve taken a trip like this. We have spent the night away from the kids before, but never this long, never this far away, and never just for the sake of being together. The few times we’ve slept away it was work or wedding related – and often, in my case, both.
[All photos by India Earl]
We intentionally planned to not have plans during our time away. So much of our everyday life at home is planned to the “t” – and that’s how it has to be with so many kids who have so many needs. For these four days, we wanted to enjoy having no agenda – free to dress up and head out or stay in bed all day. It was a m a z i n g. We binged on TV shows and rented Bird Scooters that we rode around the city every day. It was the perfect combination of exploring and relaxing. Our only planned activity was an anniversary session with my favorite photographer, India Earl.
An unexpectedly amazing part of our trip? Not having to meal plan for 8+ people. H e a v e n l y. I really didn’t think twice about how freeing it would feel to not be attached to my kitchen for hours every day, prepping and cooking for all of us. Oh man, this may have been my favorite part – it was just SO NICE. Having the freedom to eat when and where we wanted? Just delightful. And then to not dishes to clean afterward? So, so good. We ate at the most unique, adorable little spots and everything was so delicious. And not just because I didn’t have to cook it!
My overall realization: Being without the kids was both freeing and uncomfortable for me. How do I dress? What should we do? What is my identity outside of our children? What does that even mean? I recognize how ridiculous it may sound, but this was really different for me. Uninterrupted thoughts, time and space to myself – these are luxuries I had nearly forgotten. Honestly, figuring out what to wear was such a challenge. At home, I’m either dressing to be taken seriously as a young mom to teenagers or dressing to blend into the background as I run around taking care of goodness knows what, while not having showered for four days. But for the first time in two and a half years, I wasn’t trying to fit into one of these categories. I could dress and exist to be seen as just me: A 27 year old woman heading to dinner with her husband. I just didn’t know how to do this.
Aaron and I are untraditional parents who entered parenthood in an untraditional way. We didn’t have time to prepare in any sense… and we’re still deep in the trenches of trauma and sacrifice now. I had to say goodbye to nearly everything about my life prior – my hopes and dreams for the future, my career, my relationship with my family and peers, my personal goals and hobbies. All of this suddenly took a backseat to these perfectly imperfect kiddos with immense needs. I stand by our decision to take in the kids 1000%, but we’ve lost pieces of who we used to be before the kids joined us. We’ve aged with hard experience and sorrows, in addition to the joys of watching children you love learn and grow. We’ve grown a lot. And, up until last week, I hadn’t really had the time or space to just sit with that change. It was bittersweet.
I think one of the biggest struggles in parenting children who have experienced significant and chronic trauma is knowing that any break you take, however big or small, comes with a price. Sure, you can take that breather in your room for five minutes, you can go out to dinner, you can spend four days away – but those absences have a cost for those children who are still trying to trust. Still unsure if you’ll return. Still questioning your love and its limits. Children who still believe that it makes more sense for adults to leave them constantly than to cherish and love them on a daily basis. It’s heartbreaking.
Leaving town for an anniversary trip is not the same for us as it is for parents who leave children whom they have always lived with and loved to the fullest. I’m sure these children will also enjoy taking advantage of Grandma and Grandpa being lax on the rules, but they know fully well that you will return and your daily routine will commence unhitched. They know undoubtedly that you love them immensely and will return with as much love for them as you left with – they simply have no reason to believe otherwise: Children of trauma do. Breaks and trips have consequences.
I got stuck here as I was writing about our trip. These realities for our kiddos hurt my heart in ways I can’t explain, but that’s a post for another time. It was a good trip – it just wasn’t simple.