Losing Yourself (and Travel) to Life

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When people talk about binge-watching Netflix shows I can’t relate. I don’t even have my own shows that I watch, not to mention no concept of how you can come up with hours to lay around and watch a show. I mean, it sounds absolutely glorious, I just can’t relate. I can, however, tell you all about shows on Nick Jr. and Disney, or even branch into discussing a few kid-appropriate shows that don’t involve cartoon characters, but I don’t have a single show of my very own that I occasionally watch, much less binge-watch. Until school got a comfortable rhythm and our routine finally stabilized a bit this week after the summer break and then the hurricane and ensuing flood, I hadn’t found 30 minutes to go on a walk by myself in months. MONTHS. Forget getting to a gym or workout class, I hadn’t even gone on a walk that wasn’t solely focused on getting the dog to pee in two blocks or less since longer than I can remember.

I think the last time I saw friends for more than five minutes without the kids or a work or school related function forcing the event was back in May? Or February? Or maybe it was in 2016. I really don’t know. My hobbies include shopping for things for my girls, taking my kids to activities, watching Blaze and the Monster Machines with them, making two-year-old and seven-year-old appropriate lunches free of peanuts, GMOs, HMOs, artificial colors. and whatever else isn’t supposed to be in there. My dog plays with her friends at doggy daycare many times more frequently than I see any of mine. Even if I was somehow able to see them, they are pretty much all at least equally as busy as me so it isn’t nearly as easy as it is to take my dog for a $12 playday at Camp Bow Wow. I’d happily pay $12 for my own playdate.

I’m truly beyond fortunate in so many ways, and I don’t mean to sound like I am taking that for granted, but today is one of those days that I am sure others can (hopefully) relate to where you lift your head up, look around, and wonder what the heck is going on. You are busy as can be, the calendar is crammed, you are exhausted, but at the end of the day you know you have run as hard as you can on the hamster wheel, but you aren’t exactly sure why or where to. All you know is you get to do the same thing again tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. The PTA meetings, 8-year-old birthday parties, toddler gymnastics, school field trip days, doctors appointments, home repair consultations, and litany of other agenda items are all special in their own way, but they add up to a collective time-suck that can literally suck the life, or at least the light, out of you.

And that’s where I find myself today, without much of me hanging around at the moment. I don’t mean that literally (see the above-referenced lack of time to workout), but without the opportunity to decompress or do any of the things that make you who you are, you really do just become a glorified butt-wiper-chauffer-cartoon-channel-changer-schedule-keeper-lunch-maker-tangle-fighter-extraordinaire.

This may seem a little tangential to travel, but for me, it isn’t. Rewind back to a few days ago when I wrote about the final United 747 flight that will happen in November. This flight sold out in about an hour or so with folks happily paying full fare to hop on board, and with many more would-be-travelers very sad they missed out on the chance. I opened the post on that flight with a throw-away line that said “It has been a while since I took a flight that was sort of ridiculous just to do it, but I may have just found my return to taking “ridiculous” flights just to experience them in the newly announced United 747’s farewell flight to Hawaii!”

I paid a few bucks to put the flight on hold for a week while I tried to figure out if I could really go or not. Josh travels for work, so it is just the girls and me here many weeks and it isn’t that easy to arrange to just leave on a jet plane for the heck of it. I mean, it isn’t even easy to go for a 30-minute walk most days, so of course being gone for a few days isn’t simple. 

However, while that line was included really as just an introductory throw-away thought, I realized a few days later that it isn’t really a throw-away thought. And it isn’t “ridiculous” flights I am missing, it is simply the ones that are for myself that I am longing for. I am missing traveling just to travel, experience, and explore. Yes, we still are lucky enough to be traveling, but while I am excited for the girls to have fun on an upcoming weekend of splashing in the pools, beaches, and water slides of the Bahamas (if a hurricane doesn’t get in the way), that isn’t the sort of trip that refills this part of my soul. Neither is the trip to Grandma’s house, or the local resort, or to a work conference. I am sure I have now officially entered “spoiled brat” territory for some, but as a 36-year-old married mother of two, I am officially missing the pieces of what makes me, me, and traveling and exploring are very high on that list.

I think if we hadn’t lost our adults-only San Diego trip due Hurricane Harvey, my adventure coffers wouldn’t be quite as low, but as it stands the fumes are shooting out and polluting my house. I need a “ridiculous” trip, a selfish trip, a trip that isn’t designed for anyone else’s enjoyment or needs but my own. I can do okay without my own Netflix show that I binge-watch on the couch, but I can only do okay for so long without real travel. It’s just who I am.

I’m not sure yet if the “selfish” trip I get to take will be the final 747 United flight or something else entirely, but I’ve at least identified that I am really missing that part of my life. Having the miles to travel is only half the battle, the other (more challenging) half, once you get to a certain stage of life, is finding the time to make it happen. I don’t have the solutions to the grind of an otherwise very blessed modern-day suburban family life, but I feel at least a tiny bit better understanding a bit more about what I am missing.

I think/hope I’m not alone in this, so I’d love to hear your stories if you have experienced something similar!

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  1. Keep on grinding! My wife and I are expecting a baby in the next month or so, and couldn’t be more thrilled. Truly overjoyed. But I realize (at least I THINK I do) that it’s really going to have an impact on our lifestyle and ability to travel. But it will be worth it. Great job on the blog and keep up the great work!

  2. Lovely, real thoughts. I’m probably close to the opposite of your core demographic, but your honesty and wanderlust have always kept me checking back on your site.

    Too many folks have trouble being honest with themselves about the demands that parenthood makes, either because of social pressure or not wanting to feel like their decisions had downsides. Not just the financial, but particularly the loss of self you discuss, and the greater emotional distance from spouse/family/friends. It is clearly a sacrifice. It (typically) comes with deep love to/from kids.

    But in my own experience, the large majority do become largely so-and-so’s mom. Not themselves. Which should clearly not happen to a vibrant person like you.

  3. I identify with this 5000%, and I feel the same kind of guilt and need to apologize when I attempt to articulate it to anyone.
    Two working parents (with quite different PTO policies!), busy kid schedule, a house to manage, and all the attendant “stuff” that comes along with it all leaves … just about no time these days for anything else. We have a trip coming up next week (booked many months ago when a crazy fare popped up) that I’m looking forward to (in the abstract) but that also feels strangely alien, because I’ve had so little time to anticipate or even prep for it. So yeah, I feel ya.

  4. I can relate in so many ways. I have 2 under 28 months. I have not been on a plane since before I was pregnant with the first (my fertility dr recommended cancelling a trip to Europe when I got pregnant.) this weekend we are taking our first trip as a family to NYC which I am very excited about but will not be relaxing with the 2 kids. Hopefully hurricane María will not be headed for NYC. We had a weekend trip planned for Epcot food and wine fest ( which would have been my first night without both my kids,) which was cancelled due to hurricane Irma. It is truly hard to find “me time” while also working full time and almost impossible travel “me time.”

  5. Find a way to do a trip that’s just for yourself. I finally did a solo trip a few months ago to Portland. It was just a few days, but I was able to explore so much of the city and surrounding nature, eat where I wanted, talk to new people, all on my own schedule. It was lovely, and I came back feeling genuinely refreshed. Your statement about how you “can only do okay for so long without real travel” really rings true for me. I feel most like my authentic self when traveling, and I’m not going to feel guilty about making trips like that happen.

  6. This time of year has become harder and harder because of school. We used to take a trip mid-Oct around my birthday, but now we can’t as the kids can’t take a week off of school then. I’m actually considering a career change due to the number of months I can’t take ANY time off (Dec – May). That’s a huge chuck of time that I can’t satisfy my travel needs each year. I hear your frustration and no it isn’t just you.

  7. Two very very busy working parents here with two very active and healthy 11 and 9 year old boys. From the day my first one was born I looked at my wife full of joy and said to her: from now until he gets out of college (and even beyond that) it is all about him. Same when the second one was born. My kids do travel sports so it means we don’t have weekends at home and we are always driving them somewhere. Yes, you get tired, you don’t have time to yourself but hey I see them growing TOO fast and hope they were babies again. Also, we are fortunate the kids behave extremely well, eat everything and enjoy every moment they spend with us, thus family travels happen twice a year and they are always part of it. Maybe it is just me but I struggle to see that sooner than later they will go to college and I will sure miss the busy times we spent together.

    • Take the trip! Just yesterday, I told my husband I thought I was experiencing parental burnout. With four kids and a demanding job, I have also been wondering where the rest of me has gone. Maybe because these feelings have been so strong, I sort of spontaneously booked a nine-day trip to Europe next summer with a friend. I feel slightly guilty leaving everyone here, but just booking the trip made me feel some relief. Thanks for sharing.

  8. 1 MILLION % agree! And I write this while sitting in a hotel room in France (poor me, right?!). But it’s so true. We have a 20 month old and being the adventure seekers we are, we still *try* to travel like we used to and it’s becoming just. too. exhausting. I think the idea of an adults only (or me only!) trip sounds fantastic. But I too feel that mom guilt I wish I could just overcome. I find it especially difficult to find likeminded moms who are into the whole miles/points/travel thing, so thank you for sharing!

  9. We don’t even have kids, but I can relate.

    We both took epic trips this summer – me to Asia for 3 weeks with the friend I traveled with at 30 now that we’re 40, and him on Safari in Africa with some of his best friends. The fall is taken up by weddings in NYC and Cabo.

    This has resulted in a serious depletion of miles and money. We’re trying desperately to make a Spain/Portugal trip happen in May, and all I can think is, “Wow, I don’t know how we’re going to make it that long without an “us” trip. I feel guilty thinking it – first world problems.

  10. Super interesting article and I can really relate to it. We have two girls and our youngest is a senior in high school. For so many years we have been walking in your shoes, both in a personal and as a couple basis. Once you choose the family route you get all those rewards, with all those commitments and time crunches. Throw in there the career burden (you got to pay the bills) and it gets down right difficult. I can’t tell you how many cool trips I’ve canceled. Yet, we’re still known as the travelers among our friends and so it can be a little relative.

    As your girls get older you do free up some time for a while until they’re teenagers and then you regress backwards again (for a while). Your trips get replaced with college tours, sporting activities and the things you do for older kids. I know it’s all worth it, but I still want MY trips to go on – and many times that doesn’t happen. I’m also in this type of rut currently, so I feel your pain.

    I am trying desperately to break away for a week in the beginning of October for one of those crazy me trips. It probably won’t happen, but I’ll still plan it until something in life absolutely cancels it. And that point denial gives way to acceptance and we move on to the next day. In the end the girls are healthy and the bills are paid. Life is good.

    And eventually you’ll get that trip.

  11. Hang in there Summer. My son is now 15 (which comes with it’s own challenges) but I clearly remember when he was your girls’ ages. I devoted every ounce of me to him and not only did I suffer but my marriage did as well. I promise you, things will get better! In the meantime, I second Alice’s suggestion. A short solo trip. Anything to replenish yourself from time to time. Thanks for all you do; I learn so much from your blog.

  12. I definitely get where you are coming from, but it also makes me wonder about our generation (We are a decade older than you but I think would be a similar generation) and the one we are raising. For our generation, I look back at my parents and they never took a vacation without us kids until their 25th anniversary, when us kids sent them to Hawaii. I bet your parents were similar. They never, so far as I know, complained about not having time for themselves, they just did what needed to be done.
    And for our children (we have four, ranging in age from 11-17 now), I question whether so much attention from us is helping them. Again, my parents did not drive me to anything, did not attend anything with me. Somehow, I managed to play a couple of sports and be involved in a few clubs without my parents being involved, not to mention all the time that I just hung out with friends (yes, even at preschool age). They really don’t need us to watch cartoons with them or be part of them playing with each other or with neighbor kids, but we seem to need to. I think we might be addicted to the little twerps! I wonder if this need of our generation to be involved with and “helping” our children in everything they do is leading to our need to get the heck away from them.
    I am a work at home dad (who drove all of his kids to school up until this year, even though they were in easy walking distance) so I really do get what you are saying, but I really wonder if we are doing it wrong.

  13. Thanks to all that have weighed in. While of course having two young kids is very tied to the lack of time and the plethora of commitments, I do think that the issue goes beyond just those with young kids as life as we have created it is in some ways too easy, and in other ways too complicated and time-consuming. I do think that we (or at least I) must be doing some things wrong, though I know I am also doing some things right.

    I’m not at all wishing away these days with littles away, but I do think that some balance is missing. It would also be missing if they were grown with little to no contact or I didn’t have kids and just focused on myself all the time. It’s not that the grass is always greener over at the neighbor’s house, it is that too much or too little of anything can kill the lawn.

    Previous generations largely didn’t have many of the luxuries we do now, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t suffer in the same ways at times. Maybe silently at times, but you don’t have to look too deeply into many families or even societal history to find evidence of folks basically going crazy, or abusing substances, or other people, or whatever to cope with life. Now I am nowhere near that, of course, but I don’t think that the problem of losing time for yourself is new, nor do I think that previous generations were immune from the impact it can have if it goes too far and you no longer are the person you hope to be.

  14. Didn’t you just fly on a private jet a few weeks ago? I would think that counts as a “ridiculous” flight!

    But here is what I would do to start:

    1. Turn off all social media – Twitter, Facebook, Instragram… all of it. It’s nonsense, filler, a massive time suck and causes depression

    2. Stop obsessing about “getting deals”. The amount of effort I see people going to (often on many of these blogs) to save $3 or 4 is astonishing. No wonder people have no time and are stressed.

    You would be amazed how much time those alone free up…

  15. Super job in justifying taking “United 747’s farewell flight to Hawaii!” solo. Hope when all is said and done, it doesn’t negatively manifest to a post-trip guilt trip. Just a thought —–

  16. Thanks for posting this! It’s one of those things about the internet and public posting – we so often paint this photo of just how amazing and fabulous life is, but the nitty gritty doesn’t get published.

    My husband and I both work full time outside of the house so it’s a lot of juggling for us. But, I am fortunate that because I have a full time outside the house job, I have full day childcare which means, I can occasionally take a mental health day to relax or grab lunch or coffee with some similarly minded coworkers. I often wonder how stay at home moms do it without ANY outside help at all and no built in friends (coworkers).

    My husband and I recently hired a baby sitter to come every Saturday morning for a few hours. Even if we just spent the time cleaning the garage or take the dog for a walk, at least it’s time for us to be together and get things done. We had too many weekends of starting off on the wrong foot to not do something. I think taking a “selfish” trip is just what you need. My husband likes to say, no one is happy when mom’s not happy. When you’re feeling empty, you need something to recharge and if that’s a solo flight – do it! You’ll be a happier/better mom for it.

  17. Totally hear you. Took an 11 day trip to Europe with just the wife 2 years ago, when the kids were 4 and 7 and both finally in school. Did it in mid-May so the family/friends watching them wouldn’t have too much of a time commitment. It was a lot of help from those who watched them, but the trip was AMAZING and still fuels great memories over 2 years later. The day your youngest one starts full-day school will be a big change, promise.

  18. I am just not born to stay home, something my mom saw at an early age and now my DW has taken the baton to occasionally remind me. Well, with recent changes in our employment situation, I simply got to a point where I needed and got a chance to get away to the mountains all by my lonely self last month for three nights, and I took it, like with absolutely no hesitation. This was a surprise as this works be the first time my DW and I did not do a trip together since we’ve been together (a long time), but I was just ready to get-out-of-Dodge – and I at first thought I would feel guilty about enjoying some nice mountain air as the kids struggle through their first week in school and DW facing her first interview (and a panel one, to boot) for a full time job in over 10 years, but nope, no such remorse came my way! As it turned out, my ‘travel coffer’ was refilled a little during that trip, I got a little needed work done, my kids survived without a hitch, and DW aced her interview and starting the very next morning bright and early – basically, all went as well as can be. Bottom line is, if you see a need, just do what you can to fill it…life will be ok with your going AWOL for a couple of days – JUST DO IT !

  19. First, sending all the good thoughts to you so you can find a way forward that works for you. Second, your post is what I’m worried about now that I have a just-rolling-over little dude. I feel right now that we’ve been scheduling trips before each new barrier or difficulty happens. Like the last big trip before pregnancy. Then the last trip while I was pregnant. Trip on maternity leave before going back to work (my husband was tweeting you about baby jet lag a few weeks ago). Now we feel this urgency staring down the clock until he starts school in a few years and we’re married to the school calendar.

    • Depending on your comfort level, we took our kids out of school (public) one week up to two weeks per year until they got into 6th & 7th grade (they are one grade apart), mainly because school work picked up noticeably by the 7th grade. We arranged for homework packages with the teachers well ahead of time and never received any pushback from them; as a matter of fact, a few of them were actually supportive of what we were doing. Most of these trips coincided with weekly holidays such as Spring break or Thanksgiving, which meant we usually got at least two weeks away from home during these getaways. As a matter fact, once we got two and half weeks out of it on a Kauai trip when we plan a time around the Thanksgiving week holiday.

  20. Older folks reflecting on their lives NEVER say “I wish I’d worked more” or “I wish I’d put the kids into more activities”‘.

    Instead they talk about wishing they’d had more time, with nothing on the agenda, with family and friends. They wish they’d travelled more. They wish they hadn’t always been so, so busy.

    You, and many other commenters, are making the mistake of filling up your lives chasing $$, and filling up your kids’ lives with activities instead of what they want and need–lazy time with mom and dad.

    Be a gullible sucker chasing what the Man tells you that you HAVE to have…or…be a human.

  21. A 64 year old grandma chiming in on this discussion. Summer, all of your thoughts and feelings are real and many of us in previous generations felt the same way. The age old question is how do you embrace and love your children as a mom without loosing a sense of who you are as an individual. My mom, who just passed away this month at the age of 92, gave us the best present ever after my first child was born. She said that she and daddy had never gotten away together alone and that had been a big mistake. She wanted more for me, so she flew down to St. Louis once a year for 9 days and stayed with my kiddos so hubby and I could get away. This lasted for 16 years and we loved every single vacation we took (I still remember what my husband said to me on the first vacation when our baby girl was only 6 months old -“I forgot how funny you are” – as there is no time to be funny when you have been sleep deprived for 6 months) and is probably one of the reasons why we are still so happily married after 42 years. And it is also when I fell in love with traveling. And now that we are grandparents, guess what we are passing on to the next generation? Yep, a week of watching the grand kiddos. My oldest just spent a week in New York with her hubby at the fabulous Park Hyatt New York (my hubby’s Globalist status came in handy and I have you to thank for that) where they were upgraded to a suite and received a welcome gift of chocolate covered strawberries and champagne which she ate and drank while taking a 2 hour bath. This once a year vacation with hubby is important, but I also figured out that I needed a little something once a week. So I took a couple of hours each week to eat lunch by myself (somewhere cheap as money was tight) and then go to a bookstore as I love reading. Knowing I had this time waiting for me got me through those days when I felt that I had lost all sense of me. We scheduled this in, just as we started scheduling/planning time for intimacy and it really worked. We just decided that for the ‘season’ we were in these things couldn’t be spontaneous or they would never happen. And as an encouragement to all of you young moms, it really is only a season and at 64 I have been enjoying freedom and travel for the last 16 years. And thanks to you and your blog, Summer, I am doing it for pennies on the dollar.

  22. I am the opposite of you. I am 73, retired and a travelholic. I saw you 2 times a few years back at the Chicago Do. You were heavier and not nearly as fit looking as you have been in the latest photos. I hope you find time for this hobby to which you contribute so much to us. It sounds like you have a wonderful family and you take great care of them.

    • Oh Lord, unless I was pregnant I doubt it! Photos are a little easier to be selective about than real life. Pretty sure I’ve never had less time for working out, cooking, etc as now. That’s okay though, my best is all I can do. Thank you and I’m glad you are getting a chance to travel!

    • Nope. Not that simple. Having children was one of my best decisions ever. Having children doesn’t have to mean you lose yourself. It does mean that finding time and balance is much harder, but probably even more important.

  23. You nailed the whole Mommy 24/7 feeling. I’m just on the other side of it. It gets better but not as soon as I thought it would (the High School years were way more demanding on my time than I had anticipated).
    I encourage you to take that flight or some other ‘me’ trip. Call in all your chips if you have to. Impose on others (or call it leaning on others). Find a way. Those few ‘selfish’ me moments are what allows us to be selfless the rest of the time. Our kids benefit from having a parent that isn’t running on empty. It also provides an object lesson in self care. So you are both a better parent and a better role model because you take some me time.

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