Every month, my husband spends about 5 nights away from home for work. Sometimes it's much more than that, and very rarely is it less. Sometimes it's five nights in a row, some trips are scattered throughout the weeks. I am grateful for the life he's able to provide for me and our two daughters, ages 2 and 4, but it does make life extra challenging for me at home. Every departure is an unsettling disappointment and every return is a joyous disruption. In an effort to spend more time together as a family, we decided to merge these business trips with family trips. We've had better ideas.
The first trip of this kind was to Maine, where we stayed in a magazine worthy Airbnb with a unique, one room design. The Airy Modern Studio in Rockport is a truly gorgeous space that we all found inspiring. My girls love texture and textiles, and every furry rug, wool blanket, animal print, string of lights, and cozy nook was an invitation to touch and explore. Stools were arranged to make a "school", ladders were climbed, chickens were fed and eggs were gathered. I 100% recommend staying here should you ever have the chance, and the beautiful photos in the listing don't even do it justice. It was an idyllic property whose beauty and tranquility were simply just out of reach to this exhausted, very overextended mom.
I should mention that not even a week before our trip I had been pretty ill and in a lot of pain, suffering from a ruptured ovarian cyst and a bout of colitis (at the same time). I was completely laid out, unable to care for my kids, but still fortunate, as two of my siblings stepped in to help while my husband worked, in this case anxiously, in California.
I absolutely should have canceled the trip to Maine to continue to recover. If my own mother were alive, she would have likely successfully talked me into that decision. It just didn't feel like an option, though, as cancelation fees and disappointed faces were certainly a great expense. Plus, I wasn't in pain anymore, I was just tired, and I've somehow inexplicably adopted some bizarre mindset that issues with female reproductive organs don't warrant life modifications. I demand myself to function fully, regardless of whatever level of pain and discomfort might exist. Not to mention, I wanted to see this beautiful Airbnb, I wanted to smell the ocean, eat all the lobster, and stare at the beautiful sky. We were going to frolic in the frothy waters, check out the local libraries, buy antiques, and eat ice cream every day. And we did a lot of that, but we also did a lot of driving (I made the 4 hour journey alone with the girls and met my husband who was already in Maine for work), awkward roadside diaper changing, panicked chasing (so much chasing), and not much sleeping. My kids slept great....as long as they were touching me. At all times.
Most days I was alone with the kids, feeling lost at sea, unanchored to a routine that offered any kind of predictability and stability. My kids rarely nap, and their committment to wakefulness leads me to believe that they may have been genetically altered by the CIA at birth. I did have C-Sections after all. I don't remember much. And I did send them to the nursery to get some sleep a few times...If they work for the "State Department" as adults, it will not surprise me.
The thing is, I LOVE MAINE, and I really love this specific part of Maine - the Rockport / Camden area is the stuff of New England dreams. Camden is home to one of my all time favorite stores, Jo Ellen Designs, but on this trip, my browsing was cut painfully short to 10 minutes. It's just not a place for small kids, which is probably why it's such a meaningful store for so many mothers.
After Rockport, we spent a day in Freeport, Maine, the final spot on my husbands' sales trip. Freeport is very dear to him, and he was excited to relive his memories of the area, and specifically visits to the L.L. Bean store, with all of us. But because he had left hours earlier than the girls and me that morning (meetings), he was unaware that the simmer that had been slow cooking my blood over the past few days had reached a roaring boil. Packing up the Airbnb while also caring for the girls after a night of repeatedly interrupted sleep obliterated what little patience and energy I had left, and checking in to our 2 star hotel that billed itself as "walking distance" to the village after a 2 hour drive did not help in any way.
After check-in, and believing the clerk at the front desk that a stroller trip to town would be a cinch, the girls and I headed on an adventure. Flanked by a major roadway, complete with endless heavy-haul trucks, whose thunderous clatter rattled my girls and me repeatedly, regret began to creep in. It was over 90 degrees and after 20 minutes of nothing but asphalt and sun, we turned around and had lunch at brewery, the only restaurant we'd come upon on our journey. What couldn't be better for a sweaty, exhausted mom alone with her two young kids than being surrounded by vacationers basking in craft brewed revelry? As I sipped my lemon water, I took a moment to note how grateful I'd be to not be hungover tomorrow, even if this moment was less than stellar.
After lunch, I begged and pleaded for my girls to nap in the microscopic hotel room. They weren't having it, so we got back in the car and headed to Wolfe's Neck Woods hoping a stroll on the beach could recalibrate our collectively off-kilter emotional state. It was almost working, until my 4 year old jumped into the mud. I mean JUMPED IN THE MUD. Her entire backside, legs and all, were coated in mud so thick it look like she had been frosted by a baker from "Nailed It". As she intentionally plopped herself down, she smiled at me, completely unaware of how unhinged I'd now become. I yelled at her. Loud. I yelled at my 4 year old daughter for jumping in the mud at the beach on vacation in Maine. I'm typing this weeks later the the tears still roll down my face, proof that the guilt has yet to, and may never, fully subside. We all stomped our way back to the car where I managed yet another awkward wardrobe change. The blood in my body that at one time pulsed now raced, and I am certain that if someone listened closely, the sound of tires screeching, gripping the pavement for dear life, could be heard just under my skin.
We were supposed to meet my husband out for dinner, but I was done. I texted with enough "personality" so he knew this was serious, and we met at the hotel parking lot, parking next to each other.
Leaving the girls in the car, I stepped out. "I cannot go. I'm going to bed." He knew better than to ask questions and took the keys and off they went. They dined, they shopped, they took pictures at the big boot, they had a blast.
I went to that dreaded hotel room, got on the bed, and cried. I cried for about one minute before falling into a sleep so deep that had a maid come in, 911 would surely have been called. That shitty room had become a glass of water in the middle of the desert, offering hours of rest that weren't even optional at this point. If it hadn't happened in that hotel room, it would have happened on L.L. Bean's dressing room floor.
In the morning, we all had breakfast together. The energy had shifted, and I had hope again. My husband had yet another overnight business trip to make, so he said his goodbyes and the girls and I hopped into the car. We were excited to be home in just two hours, and we planned all the fun ways we'd reconnect to our usual routine. The Children's Museum, the candy store, the Gazebo in the town center, the library, pasta with just the right amount of red sauce, baths, and bedtime were all within reach. I didn't have the usual anxiety that comes with handling it all on my own, and smiles and giggles bounced effortlessly around the house. We slept peacefully, each of us in our own bed, for 12 hours that night.
In case you are wondering, I do feel spoiled writing this. I feel like a jerk for not enjoying this trip more when the surroundings were so beautiful, the food so good, my husband so energetic, and my girls so sweet. There was a moment on the trip where I felt the warmth of another mother enjoying a different season of her life - retirement. She saw me working so hard to feed my kids lunch, in a restaurant, all alone, again. As she strolled by my table she whispered, "This part is really hard. You are doing a great job." At the time, her kindness was appreciated but overshadowed by the chaos of the moment. As I type this today, though, I am deeply moved by the gesture, and my emotions get the better of me. Both my parents passed away before my kids were born and their absence amplifies these moments of exhaustion. Every twinge of frustration and self doubt is a desperate, always unanswered call for their help. Those who step in and offer support, siblings or strangers, are clearly sent from heaven above.
About two weeks after this trip, the mud incident still loomed in my mind, and so I took a few minutes to apologize to my daughter, glad to be far away from the heat of the moment. Her kindness was immeasurable, and she accepted my apology by telling me that I'm the best mom ever. CIA self preservation training? Possibly, but I'll take it.
Because I love Maine so much, I booked another trip for November, this time to Brooks (I have never been before) where I will be participating in a 3 night silent retreat. Alone. That's right - I'm paying for silence (fortunately it's very affordable). I literally think about this upcoming trip every day. EVERY DAY. And you know what? I'll have to drive right through Camden to get there. Looks like I'll see you in eight weeks, Jo Ellen Designs. I truly can't wait.
Have you ever had a vacation where you just couldn't get it together? Share with me and make me feel like less of a monster. Please!
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