My husband and I have taken a handful of trips away from our kids since we became parents, but none so far as when we jet-setted off to Sydney, Australia for my younger brother’s wedding. In truth, the anxiety about being so far away from my babies kind of overshadowed the excitement of actually traveling to an incredible new country I could have never dreamed I’d visit. It might’ve also overshadowed having some much needed one-on-one time with my husband that I was very much looking forward to.
As much as we all need a break from parenting once in a while, halfway around the world is about as far away as you can get from your children, and I wasn’t sure I was ready. Here’s what I did to best mitigate my anxiety and maximize my time away.
Choose the Right Caregivers
For such a long time away, you need someone who loves your children nearly as much as you do. For us, we were lucky enough to have my husband’s sister and my mother-in-law alternate the weeklong childcare duties. We left a packet of memberships, activity ideas, and all crucial information in a six-page Google doc with a calendar of activities, time differences, the WiFi info, diagrammed instructions for the TV remotes, and a list of where to find each digitally purchased Disney movie (essentials, right?). We wanted to make it as easy as possible for our caregivers, fully knowing it was going to be a chaotic week and we’d owe them big time.
Make Plans for the Unexpected
I wasn’t too worried about the care my mother and sister-in-law would take with our kids, but I was worried about the unexpected. What if one of the kids got sick? Broke a bone? Went to the hospital? There was no way we could quickly get back to them. So we also alerted friends and neighbors and had multiple emergency contacts.
Plus, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own mortality flying halfway around the world, so I made sure our guardian paperwork was in order and took the time to write a personal note to each of my daughters (please tell me I’m not the only one who does this?).
Even though the exercise felt a bit morbid, it calmed my heart knowing they’d have those notes from their mother, whether the worst happened or whether the letters would just become a special gift I’d give them as young women someday.
Enjoy the Journey
Once we were on the plane with 24 hours of travel time stretched out before us, I snuggled into my seat, perused the entertainment selection, and finally started to relax. At that point, we were airborne, it was happening, and the kids were going to have to be fine.
A friend of mine had flown to India a year earlier and mentioned that the flight “wasn’t so bad.” As a mom of two herself, having 14+ uninterrupted hours of “me time” was close to absolute bliss. When it was my turn to fly, I found she was absolutely right. A fortuitous empty seat between me and my husband on the flights both to Australia and home meant we were able to stretch out a bit and sleep for some of the 16-hour long leg of the flight from Dallas to Sydney.
As soon as we arrived at our hotel, we dropped off our bags and were soon off exploring without wrangling strollers, adjusting for naptimes, or packing snacks (well, actually we did need a snack). It felt weird and wonderful to be so unencumbered.
Resist the Urge to Facetime Too Much
We learned this the hard way. Our older daughter was happy to see us, but our youngest was only 18 months old and she didn’t understand what happened when we had to hang up, so we said goodbye to a wailing toddler clamoring for the phone.
When babies are under two, it’s probably best that they forget that you’re gone, even if you miss them. For this international trip, we set up our own WhatsApp channel, so at least we could scroll through photos and videos when we missed them and got a glimpse into their days without us. (Pro-tip: also resist your own urge to scroll through them too much.)
Stay Calm When the Unexpected Happens
A few days into our trip, right after my brother said his wedding vows, we got a call. It was 3am back at home and my sister-in-law, the caregiver for our kids, had just come down with the stomach flu. Like the retching, can’t move, can’t eat, much less care for our kids, stomach flu. And so did her daughter. And so did our daughter. We had to direct her where to find spare sheets and puke buckets. We had our neighbors run to the store for Pedialyte.
We called in ALL of our emergency contacts and did come home a day early. But we learned a lot. Even large companies are all human to an extent, and by telling them our story, we were able to rebook our travel home for minimal fees. We also were able to cancel a pre-booked hot-air balloon ride with a documented “no refunds” policy.
When you are halfway around the world and can only do so much, acknowledgment and acceptance sets in and you realize (with an enormous amount of gratitude) that the people you put in charge are perfectly capable of caring for your kids – and scrubbing puke off your bedroom carpet.
The trip was still amazing. And any vacation we take in the future will be a piece of cake because we’ll never be as far away from our kids as we were on that trip.
Although, we can never, EVER, ask my in-laws to babysit. We owe them big time as is.