You’re going where? You’re going alone? Without your family? Who’s going to take care of your daughter? You’re not going for work? Is your husband okay with that? Oh, the shade of it all.
For years, I’ve been leaving the country on my own for leisure and prior to being attached to a husband and child, I’d most often get asked, “You’re going alone?” Then all of the projections of their own fears would follow. “Aren’t you scared?” “It’s not safe for a woman to be alone.” “Didn’t you hear about (insert tragedy) going on there?” I didn’t care. I went anyway because their fears and projections had nothing to do with me.
Today, I get more of the same, but it’s more insidious and intertwined with my other identities. Today, I’m a wife and mother. I’ve been married for eighteen years and a mom for fifteen. And my traveling has slowed down since my younger days, but not by much. My first time leaving my family to travel was when my daughter was about nine weeks old. I’d planned and paid for a Caribbean cruise with my sorority sisters a year earlier, before I’d even gotten pregnant. I was obviously exhausted with a new baby who refused to sleep through the night and I was pumping several times a day. Everyone told me that it just wouldn’t be right for me to leave a newborn, everyone except my brilliant family doctor. I had a six-week check-up and told her that I was considering not going on the 3-day cruise because I had just had a baby. My doctor’s response was, “Why not? If you don’t go, I’ll go in your place.” She explained that after a grueling emergency C-section, heading back to a full-time job after a mere six weeks and a life being flipped upside down with a new human to care for, a 3-day break was exactly what I needed, and that a little time to myself was a great opportunity for my husband to grow even closer to his child and for me to get much needed rest. She told me how I could still pump while away and keep the milk on ice. It worked out like a charm and I slept for three days. I don’t even remember what those islands looked like. It was one of the best and most timely gifts I could’ve given to myself. I still thank my doctor for her sage advice.
The next time I left was for six weeks to study Spanish in Guatemala. My daughter was two. The most recent time was two weeks ago and my child is fifteen. However, I get the same reactions every time, so the age of my child doesn’t matter. Their concern is about me as a mother and wife. When I mentioned leaving to some friends and family members, I was met with resistance, stank faces and unsolicited advice (the worst kind). They asked over and over again, “But who will take care of your child? What did Jashed say?” It was so disrespectful and ignorant. All of these folks know I’m married, but the underlying messages from them were, “You have no business leaving your child because you’re a mother. Of course a man isn’t capable of caring for his child, so why would you even put him in that position, you heartless, self-centered wench?” Now, let’s focus on my husband for a second. He’s not average or incapable in any way. Definitely not at marriage or parenting. He knew nothing about parenting just like me before we had a child. He read, cried and learned on the fly just as I did. We figured it out together (not completely) and tried as much as humanly possible to share the parenting load. Here’s the thing. My husband sees me as Tina, not as a single identity. He knew my life before he came along. And he loves that I’m an explorer and lover of life. He marvels at my go-getter personality and my fearlessness. He has never, ever tried to stop me from living my dreams and he never will. He supports me completely and I support him. We don’t ask for permission to do what we do because we are grown and trust and respect each other and each other’s decisions. And that’s why we last, so don’t come for us unless we send for you. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get back to this shade folks have been hurling.
People have taught me about themselves through their responses to my travels without family. One, they value family and togetherness. That’s beautiful. So do I. I spend lots of quality time with both my husband and daughter. They are my center. I also value myself and my needs, wants and interests. I’m not one who has to be tied at the hip with my partner or my children. A little wiggle room doesn’t make us love each other any less or connect any less. I value individuality and being my own person. I try to make sure that I make space for my child and my spouse to have their individual time too. I think we all need it. It helps us grow and continue learning about ourselves.
Maybe I’m this way because I’m an only child or because I’ve been without one or both parents at different times during my upbringing and I turned out resilient and independent, something else I value. I don’t mind being alone. Actually, I crave it, that time to myself. I look forward to it and it’s no slight to anyone else. It doesn’t signal a problem in my relationship or my commitment to my family. Again, it’s about prioritizing myself at times. For some, this sounds selfish, especially for a woman to say. I know because I have that battle within myself and I have to remind my critical self that self-care is not selfish. It’s a radical form of self-love.
I also want my daughter to see that a mother isn’t just that. That’s one important part of the whole, but not the only part that matters. So often we lose our other identities as we grow into motherhood and/or wifedom. And we mourn her. We look up years later, after the kids have gone off into the world or after a divorce and wonder who we are. Part of that is a natural shift because life changes (as do we) and we have to adapt, but another side of that is that we allow ourselves to lose ourselves to claim others. You can do both. However, we opt to become proud sacrificial lambs and privately lament the loss of who we were. And at our worst, we become resentful or jealous of others who make a different choice and try to hold them back too because misery loves company. It happens with a sly glance, a slick word, or asking questions you know the answer to.
Let’s be better. Let’s uplift and support each other, challenge each other and be our own cheerleaders, celebrating when others scribble outside of the lines or actualize a dream or fulfill one of their personal needs. Let’s ask each other new questions like: “Can you tell me how you did it?” “What did you learn this time?” “What are you doing next?” “Would you like to know what I’d like to do?” “Can you help me?”
These types of questions don’t come with your own baggage attached and allow the other person to feel free to be who they are, unencumbered by the limitations you try to place on them. Better yet, ask yourself some questions starting with why you are so bothered by someone else taking time for themselves. The answers will surprise you and, hopefully, motivate you. Find your source to being authentically you. Snatch your full self, edges and all, and don’t let her go for anyone. See, I’ll never be one to clip my own wings. And neither should you. Now go fly!