Somehow, since returning to work over a year ago I’ve managed to avoid any overseas trips. That’s about to end in dramatic style with a ten day trip. Without my son. I did try to mastermind some scheme where I could take him with me, but I’ll be working such long days even if he was there I wouldn’t really see him and then there’s all the childcare issues and costs involved so, long story short, that plan got scrapped. If I’m honest, I was kind of looking forward to it. I couldn’t really help but think about how I wouldn’t have to deal with a cot escapee climbing into my bed in the middle of the night or sneaking into the bathroom and attempting to flood it. I might even get some mental respite from being responsible for a little one every second of the day. What’s there not to like?
Well, quite a lot as it turns out.
Now the reality has sunk in I’m really not too sure about it all. Like, really, not too sure about it. I can start to feel those jitters coming on, those ‘I can’t do this’, jitters. I mean, seriously, leave my son for over a week? We’ve been inseparable since his birth (well OK, since his inception). And as much as I moan about the isolation and relentlessness of it, I do also kind of like it. I mean, he’s pretty much my favourite person to snuggle up with. And he’s got a wicked laugh. What’s more he shows me he loves me every single day and that’s what’s got me thought the last couple of years. I’m not too sure I can do it without him. Living I mean.
The countdown has begun now and it’s unnerving. At today’s bedtime feed I couldn’t help but get nostalgic about how this will be one of the last breastfeeds for a while, in fact there’s a chance that it will be one of the last breastfeeds he ever has (and one of the last I ever do). I’m not too sure he will still be feeding when I return and although part of me is more than ready to get my body back, another part of me will miss that close connection and a big part of me feels guilty to bring the breastfeeding to an end in such an abrupt manner when I’m not there to comfort my son.
I’m not even sure the wonderful break I’m hoping for will materialise. I’ll be out and about a lot, working 7am-11pm and sharing a room. It almost sounds more restful to be at home with my son (I did say almost!). I can imagine I’ll end up waking up when he usually comes in to my room, my sub-conscious not realising he’s thousands of miles away. And boy will I miss those snuggles and cuddles.
I’m starting to get that mummy guilt too. Although it’s hard being the only one who cares for my son, I also appreciate the bond we’ve created and it means I feel extra guilty about not being there. In two parent families when one parent travels (for work) the other parent is usually around. Assuming both parents are consistent in the child’s life, as hard as it is for the child and travelling parent (and tiring for the one left behind!) there is the reassurance of the connection and familiarity of the second parent. My son doesn’t have that. He has me. Sure, he has other people he’s close to, but no one who resembles a second parent relationship.
What I find hardest to admit though is that whilst I’m worried my son may struggle without me. I’m also worried he won’t struggle without me. Not that I want him to struggle of course. What I’m scared of is endangering the bond we have built. Single parenting is relentless and one of the (few) benefits is that our bond is second to none. To risk that all for a work trip seems kind of careless. I don’t want him to stop trusting me or worrying I may just disappear. He’s too young to understand the passing of time, I hope that means he doesn’t realise how long ten days are. But I’m scared it will actually mean he doesn’t realise how short ten days are. My son has struggled with separation issues before (connected to his father) and I’m really nervous that this trip will trigger it again and prove his insecurities right (in his mind anyway), especially as he has been pretty clingy of late.
The thought of going away without my son, almost makes me feel bad for complaining about travelling with him. Now I can hear the voice inside my head repeating all the others out there who tell me I should be grateful for my son, despite the challenges of (single) parenting. I hate that I don’t make the most of parenting my son everyday, but often I’m just too exhausted.
In amongst all this emotion I’m also trying to actually get ready for the trip. I’ve been working on my packing list. Top of the pile is the breastpump (let’s hope I have the right adaptor for their sockets or this could get messy). My ‘to do before I go’ list has also been a little more weighty than the usual, ‘let the bank know you’re going overseas’. Task one is find a guardian for my son (living with his father is not an option). Friends have mentioned it lately and I think I’ve always put it off because I can’t bear the thought of what would happen to him if I wasn’t here. I can’t think of anyone who could love him like I do and give him the same upbringing. I guess there isn’t such a person. In the past I’ve just avoided it because it’s felt like too difficult a decision to make but this trip has kicked me up the butt to finally sort it.
I’m also trying to spend the week having quality time with my son, making the most of our final feeds (in other words, not excessively scrolling through facebook whilst he suckles away). Today we went dancing, read books, played with his baby dolly, made train tracks, built wonky castles, did painting (mainly on my son’s clothes and arms, but still), we did a jigsaw and cooked tea together. That’s more than we usually do in a week. Our time in the house is more normally peppered with tears and screaming (mine and his), as well as frustration and exhaustion (mainly mine). I’ve talked about it before – It’s Not You, It’s Me – but today showed me how the more time I spend engaging with him ‘properly’, the less ‘demanding’ he is. This does not bode well for my return, but for this week it’s been lovely.