Every few months, I take what I call a Solo Self Care Retreat. Others may call it a mom getaway, a mom break, or a break from reality. Whatever you call it, it’s become an essential part of my introvert self care routine. I leave my partner and child for several nights and head to Lansing, where I hole up in an AirBnB with some basic groceries, my computer, and streaming television. Sometimes I don’t have to see another human being for three days (besides a very brief exchange with a food delivery person once a day, and I can handle that).
And it is glorious.
I binge-watch my favorite shows, or sit in absolute silence. I write, and work on the blog. I read, for information or pure amusement. I stay up late and sleep in later. And ever so slowly, the built-up tension drains from my body. My mind clears with the gift of rest and uninterrupted creativity. By the time my retreat is over, I actually feel somewhat ready to face my responsibilities again.
But how do I deal with the guilt of leaving my family?
Every time I drive north, I feel like I’m running away.
This time even more so in a lot of ways. The Medic was gone for a two week military training, my chronic fatigue symptoms flared, and I ended up with some not-the-flu-but-still-freaking-awful virus thing. Little Bit started daycare, which brought a whole new set of anxieties with it (including, probably, the not-flu). And the combination of stressors had her up every night, either screaming or wanting to play. I’m honestly not sure which is worse at 3am.
I was sick, sleep deprived, and run down. The pain in my hip and hands flared sharply, and I felt weak and shaky. My limbs were filled with lead, and it took so much more energy to move. I couldn’t concentrate on much of anything, and all I wanted to do was sleep.
I had an amazing amount of help over those two weeks, and I know I coped better than I would have a year ago. But it was still a massive relief when the Medic finally came home. We had planned a day to recover and spend time as a family, and then I’d be able to leave for five glorious days by myself.
And then the Medic got sick.
It’s hard to describe the feeling that comes with facing this kind of loss. It’s an aching panic that settles into your stomach like a stone. A burning tension that crawls up your spine, and a dull anger with no particular target to fall on. This is how I felt as I contemplated cancelling my plans. I could have stomped my foot in a huff, but I was too weighted down by fatigue and emotion.
I admit to these feelings, despite knowing that many who read this will probably see it as selfish. Childish. Detestable. I admit to these feelings because I find the social expectation of martyrdom tiring. As womxn, and more specifically as mothers, we are expected to sacrifice. To give, and to give, even when there is nothing left of us to offer, and to do it all without complaint. That is apparently our duty, our obligation for being female.
And I’m here to call bullshit.
Now, let me make something very clear. I would give my life for my kid. In a zombie apocalypse, I would absolutely sacrifice myself to ensure her safety.
But zombies aren’t currently a concern, and this isn’t a life or death situation. So the fact that I would give anything is based on the idea that I have anything left to give. As they say, you can’t pour from an empty cup.
So I reserve the right to be upset when one more fraking thing gets piled on a plate I’m expected to clean. Yes, I later apologized for the death stare I gave the Medic when he told me he wasn’t feeling well. But I didn’t frolick off to cancel my plans and fluff up his pillow. I sat with my panic and tension and anger and raging guilt, and waited for the Medic to tell me what he needed.
I went because he told me to, and because I really wanted to.
I don’t want you to get the idea that this was a straightforward decision. He told me to go. I scowled and huffed because I didn’t really believe him when he said he would be okay. I contemplated all the ways in which leaving my baby with her sick father made me a horrible mother and wife. He reassured me that his mom was already planning to come over soon after I left, and that I should go for at least one night. I chewed on the guilt of expecting my poor husband to pull night baby duty while sick, then STOMPED ALL OVER IT because I had just done the exact same thing every night for over a week.
In the end I packed up and went. And you know what? Everything was just fine. Little Bit survived the night, and the Medic was feeling better by the next day. And I was able to enjoy the rest of my time away.
The guilt never completely goes away.
Especially since Little Bit doesn’t sleep all that well when I’m gone, and our neighbors might be cooking meth. But it’s absolutely essential for me to take my guilt and get away on my own every once in a while.
With that time I’m able to recharge, so that I have more to give to the people I love. I rediscover my sense of creativity and purpose. I remember why I enjoy the work I do when I have the space and time to actually do it. I rest enough that when I go home I can more fully engage with my whirling dervish of a kid. I regain my sense of patience and calm. And I get to experience what it feels like to miss my family.
On the drive back south then, I no longer feel like I’m running away. I feel like I’m running home.