As a parent of a young child, it’s hard for me to relate to my past self that took a two-month-long sabbatical in fall 2017 and went on a one-way trip to Iceland to see the aurora borealis. That feels like a lifetime ago, precisely because it was.
My son Oliver was born the following year, and everything changed.
When Oliver was three months old, I was invited to Seattle to give a talk at a very prestigious tech conference. The draw from seeing my colleagues, leaving alone the temptation of warm food and uninterrupted sleep, was so alluring. I had to say yes.
The logistics of shipping breast milk sounds tedious and expensive. It was also just for two days, and our son was used as a supplementary formula, so I took it easy with pumping. By the time I returned, my supply had mostly dwindled. My son didn’t care, he was happy, healthy, and content with the formula, but I felt the first sting of guilt.
A few months later, I was attending a team dinner when I got a text message from my husband that said our son was crawling for the first time. My guilt was growing deep roots.
By the time I was offered an opportunity of a lifetime at an extremely successful tech startup, I turned it down. I didn’t think I could straddle the low work/life balance that startups often required with the growing needs of an infant.
As someone who abstracts and compartmentalizes things, I assumed that my life would have four big quadrants: Parenting, marital relationship, work, and self.
In reality, parenting became a beautiful black hole with a mass and gravitational pull so strong that all other elements of life just revolved around it. If they veered off course and collided, the black hole would suck them into oblivion.
I’m exaggerating a bit—but it’s not far from the truth.
The pandemic and its aftermath, with prolonged daycare closures combined with no support system, hideously expedited the inevitable. Work became a means to an end, marital relationships devolved into a semi-useful setup to share responsibilities (and endlessly bicker), and as for self-care, I had none.
My husband and I had several full date nights that seemed forced. During one such attempt, I remember no matter how hard we tried, our conversations always circled back to day cares and chores.
“What happened to us?” I blurted.
He looked blank, then sad, and eventually said that he didn’t know how to talk about “other” things anymore.
As the pandemic eased, we slowly ventured into vacationing beyond a quick weekend getaway. That’s when I realized that doing this in the “parent mode” is a whole different ball game.
Instead of throwing a couple of t-shirts and jeans in a backpack, I was now going through and diligently checking off a list of travel necessities. Children’s Tylenol, check. Melatonin, check. J&J tear-free shampoo, check. Assortment of books and toys for the plane ride, check.
Heading to the airport, I felt more like a mule than a person going on a care-free vacation—spontaneously died without a peep to a litany of “what ifs”.
When we went to Puerto Vallarta, we abandoned all attempts to assimilate with the locals, which we would have done in the pre-parenting era, and instead stayed in a chain resort that offered “family-friendly fun”.
Don’t get me wrong, this is still way better than attending meetings, doing chores, and watching over a child, sometimes all at the same time.
The conversations with my husband were still stifled.
“Did you hear about the James Webb space telescope launch?”
“Yes. Talking about space, should we clear out the boxes in the garage full of Oliver’s old clothes and shoes?”
The gravitational pull of the black hole was too strong.
Eventually, it dawned on me that the only way to reclaim the lost part of me was to get away from orbit. So I called my girlfriend and spontaneously made travel arrangements to meet her in Amsterdam.
As I bid goodbye to my son I felt the familiar twinge of guilt.
The first night in Amsterdam, as I was walking around the canal streets eating the best éclair I had in ages, I was beginning to feel renewed.
I didn’t have to worry about cooking dinner, cleaning up, or dealing with bedtime routines. It felt great not being a parent for a week and enjoying life in the moment with zero responsibility for other beings.
My friend and I visited museums, gawked at buildings, ate too much food, chatted non-stop, and just enjoyed life. I even tried magic truffles and thought I was hallucinating when I saw an endangered hare hop around me, which turned out to be very real.
Although it was a short trip, it gave me a glimpse of that laid-back goofy self that got lost in the pandemic and parenting vortex.
I came back with a renewed interest to keep that part of me alive. It was also a great opportunity for my son to bond with his father and do things their way. With the house not burned down and both of them still alive, I would say they did an exceptional job.
My husband is now planning a trip of his own to visit his friends and family. After all, there is still hope for us to someday engage in a long and stimulating conversation that does not involve taking out the trash or doing laundry.
Jasmine Jaksic is a co-founder of a tech start-up and lives in Mountain View, California. Her personal essays have appeared in The New York Times, Wired, NPR, and Huffington Post.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
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