Three weeks ago I found myself crying in a bathroom stall at Boston Logan airport. In my hand was a passport and a ticket to Tel Aviv.
I wasn’t fleeing anywhere. In fact, the circumstances couldn’t have been lovelier.
I was invited to Tel Aviv to participate in an entrepreneurship-focused retreat with some of the most interesting and dynamic Israeli and American entrepreneurs I would ever meet.
I would spend a day exploring a new city, then escape into the mountains for a restful few days of self-reflection. Then, I’d attend one of the most extravagant receptions I’ve been to in my life.
It was a travel entrepreneur’s dream. But I was a mess.
After being a work-from-home mom for the first (and only) 10 months of my daughter’s life, this would be the first night I had ever spent away from her. I wanted to think it wouldn’t be hard, because travel was the thing I loved most in the world. But when the time came to go, I fell apart.
I looked down at the breast pump that I had so carefully tucked into my laptop bag. My only solace and connection to the child I was leaving behind.
I pulled it out and pumped, feeling the milk drain from my breasts. The only thing that would be worse than the pain I was feeling in my heart would be the discomfort of engorgement on the upcoming 12-hour flight.
I stepped out of the stall and rinsed the pump pieces, as busy mothers around me fiddled with the completely burdensome amount of luggage/stroller/children that you only see of moms at an airport, trying to figure out how to fit it all into a crowded restroom.
I took a moment to center myself. You can actually enjoy this, Beth. I thought. For the first time in 19 months, you’re with yourself again.
That moment was when I decided I would make the most of my first true solo trip since becoming pregnant nearly two years ago. I decided that this would be my opportunity to give myself the precious time I deserved to be me.
Coincidentally, that was exactly the person I found in Israel. Myself.
The woman who loved to walk for hours and get lost in busy streets, reading street signs, people-watching, sitting on the beach and digging her toes into the sand.
The woman who took joy talking to the locals at the market, giggling as the man who ran the spice stand insisted on taking her picture.
The woman who stayed up late with new friends while drinking a little too much in a happy bar lit by the orange haze of streetlights.
The woman who lived her life on her own terms. The woman who was fearless.
I had never lost those parts of me. They have always been there.
But becoming a mother also means that you can’t help but think about another person’s needs before your own.
Not every mom has a partner or even the support of a family, and I know I am privileged to be able to leave my child with her father and not worry for a moment if she is being cared for with all the love in the world.
It allowed me to take a moment for myself and find my center. To remember what I love about myself, and focus in on that.
There are many countries I fell in love with the moment I stepped out of the airport.
Israel wasn’t one of those places.
It took a whole nine hours. That was the amount of time it took me to let my anxiety fall to the wayside and embrace the unknown. When I gave myself that moment, I realized I loved it.
I loved the trendy restaurants of Tel Aviv. The beach that extended for miles. The cobbled old city of Jaffa, sprinkled with bright blue accents. The hills and big sky of northern Israel. The fields of poppies.
I also started to feel more confident.
I talked freely with people. I was focused. I wasn’t always thinking five things at once. I put my phone away and watched the world around me. I found commonalities with other parents.
If you know a new mother (or if you are one), help her plan a trip for herself. It could be anything: a hike, a beach retreat, backpacking through Europe, a cruise, whatever is right for her.
The Wanderful community just launched a really transformational women’s trip to India that will happen in March of 2019 if she might like the feeling of solo travel in a curated small group setting.
Then, have her follow these tips:
Limit the cell phone.
I actually found calling home to be more difficult than not calling at all. I would video chat with my daughter and watch as she went crazy trying to figure out why mommy was trapped in a phone. Some people may need to check in for their own comfort, but try not to rely on it. Let yourself enjoy the time away and know you will be back soon.
Bring a journal.
You will have a thousand thoughts on this trip and you won’t want to forget them. Bring a journal and a pen. You may find yourself writing voraciously as the plane takes off, or just before bed, or in a café by yourself, or just about anywhere. Let this be your time to reflect on your life without distractions. Remember the feeling of these moments you’re spending with yourself.
Read a book.
Get a book. An old, musty book that you haven’t picked up yet. One with pages that smell like an aging bookstore, with edges you can fold and stuff in your bag and carry with you like a little friend. Enjoy the time you can lay on a beach or in a park by yourself, alternating between reading and dozing in the sunlight. Bring fiction. Let your mind disappear into a new world.
Buy (or do) something for yourself.
I bought myself a beautiful pocket watch pendant necklace at the market. I loved it – I enjoyed knowing what time it was without opening up the Pandora’s Box that was my phone. For hours I walked through the streets looking for a gift for my daughter, but finally settled on that necklace for myself. I realized that she would likely have it one day anyway, and I would tell her the story of how I bought that necklace for me – on a trip that reminded me of who I was.
If you walk by a nail salon, go in. If you see something that you’d like to purchase, get it for yourself. There are few times you can do that as spontaneously as now.
Listen to your body.
In Israel, there were nights that I stayed up late and woke up early, hungry to see as much as I could. There were other days where I made a commitment to myself to get a restful night’s sleep (something that I was not doing as a nursing mom). Read your body and do what’s right for it. Don’t feel like you have to be or act a certain way on this trip. Focus on listening to yourself.
Taking this trip was one of the best things I could have done for myself. I also found it to be game-changing for my daughter and my husband, who found their own rhythms without me.
Since I returned, I have found that he has been able to step in and soothe her and relieve some of the mental burden I had been shouldering in ways he hadn’t before.
It was also a perfect time to leave, as we were able to introduce formula without the emotional anxiety of weaning.
On this trip I found the parts of myself that had been tucked underneath the cover of motherhood. I found the care-free Beth who didn’t need to think too much or worry about the well-being of another person. It was freeing, and it brought me peace.
I wish for those moments of clarity and stillness for every mother.
This post was originally published at bethsantos.com.