As a parent, you learn to make the most out of the rare moments of alone (or at least “child is distracted”) time.
You can turn a 30-minute episode of Paw Patrol for them into a completed blog post for you. You figure out how long it takes the toddler to eat a snack and in those six minutes and 43 seconds, you have answered 20 emails because you get good at stuff like this.
And a two-hour nap? Well, it feels like you could resolve the Stonehenge mystery, though you will probably end up folding laundry and eating Nutella.
The point is, you take these moments where you can get them and you make them work for you.
I’ve just returned from an extended moment where my twin boys couldn’t reach me unless they somehow found their way across the globe to Prague and Budapest (which I did not rule out, they are crafty). While no one wanted to hear me complain about it, being in Europe on a 10-day work trip was not something I was looking forward to. I was grateful for the chance to tour these beautiful cities, but no matter how much I might crave a break, 10 days is a long time to be away from home, especially for a non-traveler like myself. I worried I might show up on the evening news shouting “I quit!” over and over at the airport to avoid boarding the plane.
As expected, saying goodbye to the boys and actually leaving the house was the hardest part. A 12-hour travel day (I watched three movies!) was exactly what I needed to shift my focus and have the clarity and appreciation to take in this:
And later, this:
With all this time to myself (outside of taking care of 22 college students), I had visions of writing in a European sidewalk cafe drinking cappuccino. But despite the breathtaking backdrops, the motivation wasn’t there. So when I had free time in the evenings, I ate. I read (currently reading). I went to the opera. I didn’t try to force my writing because I have learned that nothing worth reading or sharing comes from that. This was no Eat, Pray, Love trip.
So I just walked on the Charles Bridge in the early morning instead.
One morning at breakfast in the hotel, I said hello to a group of my students and then found a table for one to enjoy some quiet time before our long day of exploring. One of my sweet students came by and said, “Caryn! You are sitting by yourself eating… and reading!”
It’s hard to convey tone in copy, but trust me when I say this was said out of pity. She felt badly that I was sitting alone, reading a book, and eating my meal as leisurely as I wanted to and without interruption.
I nonchalantly assured her I was fine. I didn’t think at her stage of life she could fully grasp why the fact I was drinking my SECOND cup of HOT coffee was such a big deal, so I didn’t bother explaining.
I know everyone from teenagers to college students to retirees crave time to themselves. You don’t have to be a parent to young children to feel the stresses of everyday life sit heavy on your shoulder. We all need a break.
This trip was my longest break since my boys were born. It neither broke me nor made me miss the times when I could schedule alone time whenever I wanted. Now that I am home, it is easy to look back and appreciate this opportunity for what it provided me, both personally and professionally.
On the last day of the trip, my students forced me to be in a picture to prove I was actually there. That is me smiling below, my hair in a ponytail for the 10th day in a row because my straightener broke on the flight over (this may have been the most stressful part of the trip). I’m happy because the most beautiful building I have ever seen stood behind me like a painting.
And also because it was the last day and I was going home soon. I couldn’t wait to see my sons and my husband. I was ready for my break to end. Eventually, alone time just becomes… lonely.