The Recharge

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Not long ago I spent a weekend in Brussels. Eurostar was having a sale and I could glide to Belgium for less than it costs to get to the piss-reeking alleyways of Brighton. I did a quick check-in with C, then bought a ticket. A single ticket. When I told my friends I was going to Brussels for the weekend without the rest of the family, often the response was, "Wow, how do you do that?" My answer, though not always what came out of my mouth was, "How can you not?"

I think any person in a long term relationship owes it to their partner and family to leave them completely for at least two full days on a bi-annual basis.  How else can we appreciate who we are without them? That could mean you reconnect with the things you may have forgone for awhile, and/or you realize how much that family of yours really means to you. Going away also fosters appreciation from the other partner for the time and effort it takes to manage a family 24/7. 

The first time I went away on my own after having Z, he was 13 months old. I weaned him on New Year's Eve at midnight, watched him dozily come off my breast for the last time by the light of the moon coming through our windows. A few weeks later I was booked at Sleeping Lady Resort (they say it's called this because the hillside behind the resort resembles the profile of a recumbent woman. I like to think it's because sleeping is all we mothers want to do when we get there). I dropped Z off at a girlfriend's house on a Friday afternoon and left so quickly I forgot to give her a diaper and a change of clothing. Of course, that evening he decided to produce one of his creeping poos, the kind that reach the neckline before you smell it. Oh well. That was for C to deal with when he got off work.  I was driving like hell to the other side of the mountains so as not to miss the buffet dinner. Then I was going to curl up in a cozy cabin with half a year of New Yorkers.  For two days.

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I haven't done this as often as I advocate, but I'm reviving the practice. Going to Brussels, the train ride alone for two hours was nearly worth the ticket price. I took a bunch of rough draft stories to edit and before I was finished with those we were pulling into the main station. The sun was shining. Everyone else's conversations passed through my ears as unintelligible white noise. When I tried to buy a tram ticket to my specific destination the man behind the window simply shook his head and raised his palm to my face when he heard my mangled French.  So I just said "ticket" and we sorted that out.  I was renting the ground floor bedroom in the home of my Air B&B hosts  Elsa and Isli.  They took me on a walking tour of the downtown and treated me to my first Belgian beer in Belgium (where the beer really does taste better). Then I was on my own.

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It's an interesting exercise to be ones own company in a city heaving with beautiful people drinking and eating at outdoor cafes.  I didn't have the guts to wedge my single self into the middle of a crowd of paired up people, though if you don't have my inhibitions, Brussels would be a great place to make new friends. I made a meal the first evening of a pile of fried potatoes with a side of peri peri mayonnaise at a culinary institution called Frittland. The man behind the counter asked me three times if I was sure I could handle the spicy condiment until I told him I was from America which was close to Mexico and struck him as legitimate proof that I could take the heat. The second night I ate lemon pesto spaghetti and drank half a liter of wine at a dark little cafe with a good view of the street. I was still tipsy when I got home and relieved that I wouldn't have to read Captain Underpants.  Have you ever tried pronouncing Reverse-Somgobulating Tracto-McFractionalizer while under the influence?

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The three things I did over my weekend that I haven't done since Z was born were to go to the movie theater by myself (Gone Girl, which some people say isn't a date night movie by I contend it makes even the most strained marriage look spectacular), wander through a museum without someone whining about how boring it was, and write for hours without having to check the clock. And then something interesting happened. I started to miss my family.  There was a gathering of fire trucks and rescue vehicles in the Grand Plas that I wished Z could see.  There was a string of seafood restaurants that my tentacle and shellfish loving husband would have enjoyed. There was no one to laugh with over the portrait of the little girl holding a stranged bird in her tiny hands. Or the famous fountain of the peeing infant.

So it's not just about doing exactly what you want for a few days without resentment that you had to compromise. You have time to think, perhaps re-evaluate the use of your time and priorities.  It recharges your batteries which, in my experience, reduces irritability and reactivity. And let's not discount that even though the other parent is having to be the only caregiver for a few days, that person is bonding with your kid(s) in ways impossible when you're both around. And not least, you appreciate everything you've taken a break from.

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Even when we don't have Z to take care of anymore I'm sure we'll take our time to be alone. Time that's away from work, away from home, preferably someplace unfamiliar to help keep those learning synapses limber and practice our inadequate second languages. When I pulled into St Pancres station on Monday morning I bought a coffee and a florentine and watched people walking by, not wanting my solitude to end. Then it got boring. I was ready to see Z's face, talk to C again and sleep in my own bed. I was ready for the routine, the responsibilities, I was even ready again for Captain Underpants.  But I'm still planning my next recharge.