Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Restorative Power of Girlfriends

I am one of those moms who never leaves her kid overnight.

Alright, not never. But only three times. Once to attend a conference in NYC and once to attend one of my oldest friend's weddings, held in a location that can be fairly described as geographically challenging from an airport access standpoint. Both junkets entailed two nights away from home, and both times, R. stayed with the Grape. So he had no opportunity to feel orphaned.

The third occasion involved a family wedding ninety minutes away. The Grape stayed with a sitter while R. and I both attended, but we were gone for less than 24 hours.

All of which, when spread over nearly four years, veers me dangerously close to being one of those odd women who never, ever leaves her kid.

Which isn't to say we have no separation. The Grape goes to preschool four days a week. On occasion, I'll bribe him to stay for an hour in the playroom at the gym. Once or sometimes twice a month, R. and I get a babysitter and go out in the evening.

But I very rarely travel for business. And R. and I never vacation without the Grape.

One of my friends, M., a very happy mommy of several, admitted years ago that sometimes she gets jealous of her husband's business trips. "Even if he's working, he gets eight hours to read a book on the plane if he wants... Or he can sleep."

Mind you, she was talking about a wacky and exhausting itinerary, which went as follows: Fly to Frankfurt. Attend lunch meeting. Fly back to Boston.

But we all nodded as we bounced our infants. We understood her envy. Eight hours (each way!) alone in one of those lay flat business class seats sounded like a spa holiday at that moment in our lives. And yes, we all also grasped that we were tossing around a first world problem.

Many of us at that gathering worked part time, but working, even if you're like me and lucky to work for yourself and do what you love, doesn't provided the kind of rejuvenation that true free time does.

Last October, another of my friends, V.,  mentioned that she and a few of her friends from her student days do a girls' weekend almost every year. This past year, they met at a spa in the mountain states.

I was intrigued. I have these girlfriends from my law school days, friends I haven't seen since before I was pregnant with the Grape, but with whom I was, during my DC years, pretty darn close to inseparable. V. had counseled that one friend must take the lead, reach out to the others and insist on nailing down both dates and a destination, if our girls' weekend had any hope of getting off the ground.

So I ran with it. I emailed C. and G., who live in DC and San Francisco. We nailed down dates half a year out, carved them in stone on our calendars, and chose a coast (west, which admittedly made a three day weekend into a five day adventure).

We briefly (seriously, for under five minutes) debated scheduling a vacation for all three families. That could be fun, but it would also cost way more, in terms of cash and time off expenditures, and what I craved most was girl time. The first (annual?) law school girls' weekend was hatched in under a dozen emails.

We secured child care. For me, this meant leaving the Grape with my mom on Wednesday so I could fly out Thursday, first thing. R. picked him up from her on Friday night and manned the weekend. I was home in time to collect him from school on Monday.

We booked accommodations and flights, and settled on Calistoga, in the Napa Valley, as our getaway destination. The website promised pools heated by natural springs, lazy bike rides through wine country, great food and wine, and lots of time to chill and catch up. The weather looked reliably summery. Three kid-free nights in sunny California with two of my favorite people awaited.

The Grape and I packed for his stay at my mom's. As I hoisted his bags to the car, the Grape began to realize something. "Mamma, where's your bag?" he asked, with great alarm.

"Kiddo, we need to talk."

While I can't say the Grape was impressed with the game plan, he was fine. Still, I felt a little guilty as I drove away from my mom's on Wednesday.

Those small pangs of bad feelings dissipated as soon as the plane landed in San Francisco. I was stunned how much ground I could cover, how fast I could move, solo, and how close to relaxing a flight in cattle class could be without  a small person in my lap, demanding entertainment and services, puking, and hosing down the neighbors with his juice box.

Of course I called the Grape from the left coast, indeed I tried several times.

He was pissed. He did not want to talk to me. But my mom assured me they were having a nice time on their first extended solo visit, and that the Grape had his halo firmly affixed to his little head the whole time.

As for me, I cannot believe we didn't do this sooner. Calistoga, and the entire Napa region, is beautiful, with made to order summer weather, and cool, dry, made for good sleep nights. We ate well, tasted bubblies and cabernets, and lounged at the pool. A lot.

We spent hours catching up on the details of each other's lives. The car didn't have a working radio, and it didn't matter, because the conversation kept going without pause. We floated in the pool for hours, until our skin went pruney and the sun started to set. We ate uninterrupted, multi-course meals.

I tried something entirely new and got a mud bath. (Review to follow later.)

Of course I missed the Grape, and by Sunday night, sitting at SFO waiting for the delayed redeye, I was ready to be home, to see him, to tuck him into bed.

But here's the truth: I think our little separation was healthy.

I came home, excited to see my kid, recharged in a way I've never felt before  (perhaps because, even in my single days, my vacations tended towards hyper-active, hyper ambitious adventures, with lots of point to point travel, schlepping and in the moment logistical planning.

I've never just chillaxed (as my younger sister would say) for a whole weekend before. Even on long ago beach trips, I always indulged in intense exercise and/or night life. And when I worked in corporate America, I used to joke that it took me a full week to even begin to relax, which presented a problem when dealing with the standard issue one-week break.

Motherhood has refined my time management skills. By Saturday night, I felt truly relaxed for the first time since before my pregnancy turned into the Pregnancy from Hell, which is to say, it's been at least four years.

I'm not telling you all this to make you jealous. I'm recounting my restorative weekend with my girlfriends, because I think you should all do the same thing. Soon. And the don't let daunting logistics scare you off.

You can do this, in three easy steps:

1. Nail down a date. Accept that this weekend will take place 3-6 months from the date you start planning. Throw out three weekends over email, see what works for your group, and commit. If your first dates don't succeed, do not table the question. Propose more dates until you get a hit. Accept, from the get go, that some/most of you will have to travel.

2. Choose destination and book hotel(s) and flights.

3. Arrange child care, and maybe back up, on call child care, if you're type A like me. Impress upon child care provider(s) that your dates are sacrosanct.

That's it. The rest of the details are easy. My bank account is leaner this month, but I feel energized and (paradoxically) calm in a way I can't recall feeling since before the Grape joined us. It's as if I took some highly social, marathon length yoga class.

To me, the time spent with dear friends, and the serenity, even if it wears off too soon, is priceless. I can always look forward to the Second Annual Girls' Weekend.


  1. As restorative and life affirming as time away from one's children can be for the parent, I think it is even more so for the child. Children learn so much about themselves and their world when they are in someone else's care (I'm not saying all.the.time, but, yes, sometimes). They have other influences, perceive new things, learn that they can be OK without their parent.

    Good job! Do it again.

    1. That is such an important point. Thank you! The little guy is clingy now, but I suspect he had a blast with the break from routine.

  2. I SO get this, Mari. I went away with some college friends in November and I'm STILL feeling the good effects now. It was worth all the coordination required on the home front.