Two nights without the baby. Did I feel guilty? Nope

The break was glorious. We remembered, for the first time in a while, who we are

  Tanya   Sweeney at home in Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Tanya Sweeney at home in Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Sex is great and all, but have you ever had a family member say to you, “we’ll take the baby off you if you want to go away for the weekend”?

B’s sister Anita must have noticed the thousand-yard stare, the lethargic gait, the absolute bang of “this one needs a breather” off me. Of course, Isola doesn’t have a passport yet, mainly because neither B nor I have had a moment of late to bless ourselves. Besides, I’m not sure I’m able for an airplane trip with a six-month-old.

The idea of the two of us spending a couple of nights relaxing in a Wexford hotel felt too good to pass up

More power to you and all that if your infant has been round the world twice over, but the thoughts of security control and a baby make me want to have a lie down. I can barely fold the Bugaboo in my own sittingroom, in front of a YouTube tutorial – could you imagine doing it in public, with a hundred irritated holidaymakers gawping at you?

A couple of weeks ago, the three of us repaired to Westport for our first “leisurely” trip with the little one. At a rough estimate, it aged me by about seven years. Trains, taxis, restaurants, sleep training, being away from the reassuring tri-state area of the cot, changing table and nursing chair . . . honestly, I left the West more exhausted than I’d arrived.

In any case, Anita had suggested that we leave Isola with her, and take some time as a couple to regroup, draw breath, gather, reconnect, sleep. Anita is a nurse and mum of three grown children, so suffice to say the baby probably gets better care (and has more fun) in her house than in ours. The idea of the two of us spending a couple of nights relaxing in a Wexford hotel felt too good to pass up. Did I feel guilty about it? Nope.

Contrary to long-held belief, mothers are entitled to a break. They make us better parents, in fact. But it wasn’t about seeking respite from parental duties, or “treating” myself. It was about taking a moment to feel like a human being again. It was about the two of us feeling like a couple again for a little bit; to give some of our love and energy to each other, where usually we pour it into our little girl.

We had no qualms about sending the baby down to Anita’s fabulously huge house in Kildare, where she would be cuddled all weekend, enjoy plenty of fresh air and be passed around the family like a rugby ball.

Or so I thought.

The days before our trip to Wexford felt like the final few yards of a marathon. I was officially burnt out, and the thoughts of a spa massage and a full night’s sleep helped me wheeze over the finish line. I turned on the Out Of Office and packed a bottle of Pinot Noir that we’d been saving.

Anita looked as excited as us to be welcoming her little weekend visitor, and she warned us good-naturedly that we might not get her back. “Keep her!” we joked, as we set about packing outfits, meals, bottles, night lights, nappies. We strapped Isola into her car seat and readied ourselves for goodbyes. The baby looked up at me quizzically, as if to say, “are you not coming?”

We spent two days talking to each other about everything, reading, swimming, walking, mooching, tossing whole hours out the window doing nothing, like idiots

I knew that separation anxiety wasn’t due to kick in for a few months yet, but still. “Oooh, I think I feel oddly emotional about this,” I started, before the tears came. Anita gave me a reassuring hug as I sniffed back the sobs, but got into the driving seat and drove away before I could change my mind.

Every so often, we murmured the uneasy truth, “we miss our girl”

And then there were two. It felt odd.

It’s only when you are alone, really alone, that you realise how being a parent keeps you constantly on their toes. You are on high alert the whole time. You work yourself to the bone to keep your child happy, fed, and safe.

B and I made our way to Wexford in silence, feeling oddly unencumbered by buggies or schedules or searches for a high chair. We spent two days talking to each other about everything, reading, swimming, walking, mooching, tossing whole hours out the window doing nothing, like idiots. It was glorious. It helped. We remembered, for the first time in a while, who we are.

Every so often, we murmured the uneasy truth, “we miss our girl”. Anita sent us regular photos of the baby having the time of her life, getting more attention and affection than any child frankly has a right to.

Come the end of the weekend, we reunited with Isola, and she slotted right into her usual life – the bath splashing and the giggles and the pulling on her dad’s beard – as though she’d never been away. But B and I felt renewed and ready to go back into the fray.

Because absence doesn’t just make the heart grow fonder.

It somehow makes us stronger, too.

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