Within minutes of being child-free we were joking and making each other laugh. We listened to the music we wanted to, we ate sweets without having to hide them from ears that can hear the rustle of a toffee wrapper, but not, "stop hitting your brother." I even managed to snooze for a while, made much simpler without the shrill demands from the back of the car for different tunes, a snack, a drink or a toilet stop.
I had bought tickets for us to see Bjork at the Eden Project and we decided to make a weekend away of it. Blue Bear stayed with Grandparents and Brown Bear had a boys' weekend with Hubbie's brother. We went to a place we love and saw an amazing gig together almost 2 years to the day we did it last. Brown Bear went swimming, had Subway for lunch (which he loves), pizza for dinner and watched the World Cup games with his equally football-loving uncle. Blue Bear had his grandparents all to himself and when I called on the phone I could hardly believe how chatty he was. The weather was gorgeous, everyone got to do something they wanted to - even Grandpa who escaped to play golf - he loves his grandkids, but only for short periods of time and preferably only one at a time.
It was a year ago that I went away to Brighton on my own and went to a show and stayed in a nice hotel. I had been looking after the boys full time for so long I was feeling resentful, tired and fed up. The room was fancy, I went shopping, had a nice dinner and went to bed in a huge double bed all by myself. I got up early to go for a run and felt amazing. I ate breakfast - which I often don't get to do - and went back to bed after a shower and watched TV. It was blissful and relaxing.
A lot of people passed comment about my choice to be away from my kids - which was interesting as I didn't see them there when I was struggling to keep myself together. People often say the words "me-time" with a sneer, as if it's self-indulgent or somehow spoiled. I know it's not possible for everyone who needs a break to do that and I am fortunate that I can take time for myself if I want to. It's taken me years to value myself enough to do it though. For so long after we adopted Blue Bear it was difficult and emotionally overwhelming. I was trying to love and care for two boys who were in the throes of complete meltdown and I was left completely empty. I didn't want to admit that I wasn't coping as I was terrified that if I did they would take Blue Bear away from us. I'd be deemed an unfit parent - that might even affect Brown Bear. I started to believe that my incapacity was detrimental to my kids. I asked other parents at school to help me, but very few were willing or able to. I chose to be absent from taking Brown Bear to school so they wouldn't see how terrible a parent I was. As soon as Hubbie came home from work I would go out of the house to get away from the demands of my two little boys.
Then my lovely friend Pippa advertised a Mama's retreat in Cornwall and I mentioned it to Hubbie. He said if I wanted to go he'd be happy to take care of the boys. I booked a ticket and took the car for the weekend. The long drive was wonderful. It reminded me of the days when I travelled all over the UK and delivered talks at schools and then later at Rotary meetings. I spent two days away from my boys, in a beautiful house in Cornwall with sea views and no internet. It was wonderful. I promised myself that I would take better care of myself and not let it get to the stage where I was that broken again.
Self care can be a little thing we do every day. It might be drinking a cup of coffee on your own before anyone else wakes up. Going for a walk instead of sitting at your desk all day. Listening to music you love and singing loudly along with it (in privacy mind - don't destroy someone else's peace in order to enjoy yours). Having some nice chocolate instead of a rice cake. I take a cup of tea in a thermos mug with me in the morning. I drink it on the tram, then the train and by the time I get to work I am halfway human. It's the one I have after that which enables me to actually function.
If I ever doubt the benefits of taking care of myself I cast my mind back to one afternoon in the summer holidays when Blue Bear first came to live with us. He was screaming at me for my attention and Brown Bear was doing the same thing. I was in the hallway with one child on the stairs who I was trying to protect from falling and the other was in the front room swinging the door which made me fear he would hurt himself on it. If I turned to help one the other would alert me to the imminent danger he was in and vice versa. It felt like I was being torn in two by these children who I love and want to protect with all my heart. The old saying about putting on your oxygen mask applies here. How on earth could I take care of my boys if I wasn't even taking care of myself ?
When anyone makes comments about how I spend time away from my children I smile sweetly and say, "I've earned it - I've done my time." This parenting malarky isn't meant to be an endurance test. There are no prizes for suffering the most or for martyrdom. If there were I know plenty who'd compete for the trinkets. I taught Brown Bear how to make a cup of tea for Mummy at the weekend. Not pouring the boiling water you understand, but the practicalities of adding a little milk at a time and taking his time to get it right. I praised him for doing a great job and Blue Bear told me he wanted to do it next time. I explained that he is too young.
"Mummy I'm nearly five !"
Fair point, well made.
Part of taking time for self care is also about knowing I've done enough to let go of the reins sometimes. After all, I'm not going to picking up boy socks my entire life am I ?
Seriously, am I ?