Every summer I sneak away for a couple nights without my husband and kids to spend time with my best girlfriends. Every. Summer.
We go wherever we can stay for free and cook some meals and just spend time reconnecting without husbands and children. I adore my family, but they tend to monopolize my attention—or at least fracture it—whenever they’re around. That, plus the fact that my friends and I live in different states (and in one case, a different country), makes quality friend time rare.
I travel with the same two friends each year, and each year we invite a fourth who says no. “I’ll come if we can bring families,” she said the first year we asked. “Or at least kids. Otherwise, count me out for the next twelve years.” The three of us talked it over, torn between wanting to include her and losing the “friend focus” of the weekend. I called my mom for advice.
“Should we just bring the kids?” I asked. My entire childhood, my mother only travelled once without my brother and me. It was a business trip with my dad to the Florida Keys, and she speaks of it with an awestruck reverence one might expect from an astronaut recounting time in space.
“If you bring the kids now, they’ll always come,” my mom said. “Don’t do it. Just go, have fun, and ask her again next year.”
So we went. We continued going every year and asking every year. We sent photographs of our margarita-fueled exploits. We’ve even enlisted her mother’s help to pry her away for the weekend with offers to babysit.
It would be easy to say that my friend just doesn’t like us. That we’re not as close as we once were. But I doubt that’s the reason. This same friend will drive HOURS with three children in tow to visit with me and my family every time I’m in Virginia.
Perhaps it’s the expense. But, with a free place to stay from one friend and another willing to foot the cost of driving there, I doubt it.
“It must be the mom guilt,” I told my other friends. As a working mom, I get it. I often worry that after a long day in the office, my kids get a lesser version of me. Any time off should be spent with them, right? I cried with my six-year old when I left for my trip this year. I sniffled in the car a few miles as one of my friends talked about her life in London. And mile by mile, story by story, I felt the guilt ease.
This year, we spent two nights at the beach without my family, who then joined me for a week-long vacation. During those two precious days, we took walks on the beach, drank wine, and talked about our lives. And while I missed my children and my husband, I missed my absent friend more.
The four of us endured middle school together and went on to serve as bridesmaids in each other’s weddings. We’ve celebrated graduate degrees earned, the births of babies, and promotions. We’ve also been there for a divorce, the death of a father, and a few health scares.
“Let me hug you,” my friend said to me on my last trip to Virginia, after she had buckled all her kids into the car. “We’re usually both holding children.”
Because we are. We have five daughters between us who swirl around our feet and fill our days with joy and noise and tension and stress.
So as I walked on the beach and drank wine and talked about my life with our mutual friends, I missed her.
After my family arrived, my oldest friend, who is also my daughter’s godmother, stayed on a few days longer. I was pushing my three-year old in an umbrella stroller with my husband beside me, while my friend held my older daughter’s hand, when a woman shouted to us:
“Enjoy them,” she said, her tone borderline aggressive. “This is what matters. Don’t waste your time with friends. You only have six or seven real ones. Your kids are only little once. You should be doing what you’re doing now.”
Apart from the rudeness of bestowing unsolicited advice on a stranger, this woman’s comment angered me because friends DO matter.
“Actually,” I said pointing to my friend, “She and I have been friends since the third grade.”
“Exactly,” the woman said, nodding her approval.
Ok, so my friend is one of the six or seven REAL friends the woman allowed each of us to have, but I wonder if she would have supported the two days I had just spent without my rapidly-aging offspring.
Yes, childhood is fleeting and precious and should be savored. But sometimes we need a bit of time for self-care and to nurture the relationships we had before becoming someone’s mom or dad.
I know I’m fortunate to have both the means to get away and a partner supportive and capable enough to handle things while I’m gone. But if getting away isn’t an option, I urge you to schedule some time (without kids) with your friends.
Childhood is short. But friendship, true friendship, is worth taking a pause from parenting from time to time. If nothing else, it helps teach children the importance of cultivating relationships that last beyond the time we have with them.
So, next summer I will ask my friend AGAIN to join us, and maybe, just maybe, she’ll say yes.