I left Michael and the kids for a week. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Let’s start with this. I LOVE my family. Michael and my kiddos (currently 2 and 4) are what bring me the greatest joy. They are fun, funny, loving, and the most fulfilling part of this life of mine. They are also incredibly draining. They all need attention, food, supplies, and a structure to proceed through each day. Yes, to a certain extent, this includes Michael. Obviously, he is a fully functioning and self-sufficient adult, but I still take the lead on all of the above for our family as a whole.
It’s exhausting. And I KNOW I have a situation that is much easier than most. I am not employed and can fully focus my energy on my family. Michael is not employed full time and even when he is working, he’s in the house and available to help as needed.
Michael and I have also already put a lot of thought into planning out what our ideal day to day looks like. This includes alone time carved out for each of us to choose how to spend our time. So, for all intents and purposes, I have more opportunities to “fill my cup” than most.
But it just isn’t enough.
I’ve finally decided that it’s okay for me to feel that way. And if I do, I bet sooo many other people do too.
So about 6 months ago when our good friends in Portland shared that they would be having twins this summer, I instantly said I’d fly out to help them after they were born. Michael and I had already talked about including yearly solo trips into our ideal day, week, month, year plan. So, I was quick to make the offer and he was right there with a smile fully supporting the suggestion.
My Portland Me Time
My friends have a separate apartment in their basement that they rent out on Airbnb, so I knew that my accommodations would be covered. I would have access to their car while there, so really I just needed to get myself a flight and pay for food when there. (I’m sure they would have happily fed me, but the whole point of me flying out there was to help them, which included preparing meals and extras to freeze).
When I told others about my upcoming trip without my family, I first said how excited I was to see my friends and snuggle their little babies. Which I was. But I was also really looking forward to the two hour flight when I would be alone with no one to care for but myself. Just me, a book, and no squiggly bodies.
I guess Michael heard me share this enough times that he realized my solo trip was going to be great, but maybe not rejuvenating. After all, besides holding cute babies, I planned only to cook, clean, and do yard work for my friends. Happily so. Doing other people’s work usually feels less like work when it’s done in the spirit of service. But still.
So after at least a week of Michael encouraging me to extend my trip, I finally looked into Airbnb options within a two hour drive of Portland. I found a cute little cabin along a creek just west of Corvallis, and extended my stay by three nights (thanks, Southwest, for not charging change fees!).
It doesn’t escape me that Michael is a super supportive and loving husband. He’s awesome.
I had such a great time with my friends and their sweet little babies in Portland. They already had a routine established that had them upstairs from about 9pm – 9am each day. That left me with time to do a little clean up from the day, but otherwise, I’d head down to the basement apartment and completely chill. That usually looked like some Coconut Bliss ice cream and episodes of The Good Doctor.
My days with them included holding/feeding babies, preparing meals, organizing kitchen cabinets, moving mulch, and joining them for their daily evening walk around the neighborhood. We even managed to squeeze in a beer at the local pub in between feedings.
After those lovely days with them, I picked up a rental car and drove to my cabin. It was basically perfect. Small and cozy, but with a giant deck overlooking moss-covered trees above the sound of a creek running just below.
I had two full days to myself. I used one of them to do a 3 hour hike just a couple miles up the road at a place called Mary’s Peak. For over an hour, I made the steady uphill climb through stands of huge Douglas Fir completely alone with nothing but my breath and thoughts. That, and the whirring of what must have been hundreds of thousands of insect wings. The forest was completely abuzz on that warm, sunny day.
The next day I drove approximately 45 minutes through stunning scenery until I arrived at the town of Waldport on the coast. From there, I drove north along the 101 and ultimately hunkered down on the beach at Seal Rock state park.
Evenings back at the cabin included a glass of wine (a bottle was kindly provided by the Airbnb owners), and FaceTime with my sweet family.
Back at home throughout all of this, Michael had fully embraced the opportunity to focus on his kids. Each day with them was filled with some sort of fun activity like a walk to the park or fun in the splash pad followed by some Ben & Jerry’s. He even took on the task of potty training our two year old, taking her to buy her first “big girl” underwear. That was sort of like the cherry on top of what was already a truly delicious sundae.
I came home feeling completely renewed, full (figuratively and literally… I ate a lot of ice cream), and incredibly grateful for my life and family.
So I now officially feel this is something EVERYONE should do. Everyone should get some real, honest to goodness, ME TIME — uninterrupted by daily responsibilities and expectations.
It should be as mandatory as paying taxes. And I’m not thinking this should just be for parents. Single people and couples without kids deserve it too.
This is what I think this mandatory (but affordable) yearly Me Retreat (MeTreat?) can and should look like:
1. Leave your home
It does not need to include a flight. It could be an hour or two down the road from where you live. It could be camping, a sweet little rental, or a suite-type hotel room. Look for off season (middle of the week) deals to make it more affordable. Honestly, it could be in the same town, if you’re a one car household like we are and you don’t have a way to get somewhere without leaving your partner without a vehicle.
It’s key to actually leave your house. Otherwise, your “retreat” will likely look like a household project (or guilt for not working on the endless to-do list we all harbor). There’s nothing wrong with concentrated times to work on those things, but that is notthe purpose of this particular alone time.
2. Prepare your own meals
Don’t use the retreat as an excuse to eat out for every meal. Just get yourself some simple groceries and eat those. Going out for every meal gets really expensive (and usually pretty unhealthy). The cabin I stayed at only had a fridge, sink, hot plate, microwave, and outdoor grill, but no stove. I had a veggie burger and microwaved potato one night, pasta marinara with fresh spinach and grilled cauliflower the next.
The last night I had leftover pasta and a veggie burger.In the mornings, I just microwaved some rolled oats and added fresh blueberries. For lunch, I had a sandwich, fresh fruit, and used granola bars and fruit as snacks. The hosts provided the coffee, which was really essential to my lazy morning contentment.
3. Choose a place that is beautiful
This may not seem as crucial to someone who doesn’t think of themselves as a “nature lover”, but I still think it is. There has to be a beautiful view from where you’re staying or it needs to be easily accessed.
I used to work for an organization that built outdoor classrooms for low-income, urban schools. The research is out there. Nature is good for the brain. The cabin I stayed at was encompassed in green. Time spent sitting out there was nourishing – even if I was just reading the newsfeed on my phone.
4. Do whatever you want
If you want to sleep until 11am., go for it. If you want to spend hours staring at a t.v. screen, do it. If a pint of ice cream is on your list of priorities, umm, yep. Don’t judge yourself. When else do you get to do whatever you want whenever you want? With that said, I think it would help to do things that are authentically good for your mind and body as long as you enjoy doing them.
5. Release any guilt
It might be hard to feel okay about setting your normal life aside for a bit. As a mother of two small children, this was huge for me. Honestly, what helped was reminding myself how many times Michael has been able to leave over the past 5 years since we started the process of having children.
He has taken more business and personal interest (FinCon) trips over the years than I can count. Parenting aside, I wish I had considered this idea of a yearly me retreat long before we even had kids. And, even though Michael has taken more trips away from home than I have, I still think he needs some yearly solo time as much as I do.
If you’ve already done something like this, tell me about it… I’m looking for ideas for next year! If you haven’t, go for it!