Photo Credit: Courtesy of Serena Kappes
Since the day my 4-year-old daughter Aria was born, I’d never spent a night away from her. She was born prematurely, at 32 weeks and 2 lbs. 10 oz., and her first six weeks were spent in the NICU. Those early weeks were frightening, and I would only go home for a few hours each night to catch a little bit of sleep and then race back to the hospital. When I finally got to take her home, it was such a gift not to have to be apart from her every night.
So, I've always been reluctant about the prospect of leaving her -- even for a weekend. I’ve had countless friends say how important it was to have uninterrupted time together as a couple. But after returning to work full-time when she was a year old, the thought of going away for even a couple of days made me feel unbearably guilty. And somehow, I think it was a source of pride that I’d never spent the night away from her since I"d brought her home.
Yet as my eight-year wedding anniversary neared last month, my husband David suggested that we go away for a weekend. Honestly, I felt queasy about it. My sister, whose kids we’d watched when she and her husband went away a few months ago, agreed to watch Aria. Besides spending time with us, Aria’s favorite place to be is with her cousins. So I had no excuse -- here was family to watch her and I knew she'd have an amazing time.
The arrangements were made, and a few weeks later we left Aria with my sister and headed up to New Paltz, N.Y., to stay at the same resort where we were married. Yet after we arrived and sat down to dinner the first night, I was suddenly panic-stricken that I had nothing to talk about with my husband. This was it -- what couples complain about: We’d been exclusively focused on Aria so long we'd completely run out of things to discuss -- and I was convinced that we had all kinds of awkward lulls in our conversation.
But as the night went on and we walked along the lake and (awww) went to a campfire and roasted s’mores, suddenly something strange happened: We weren't just Mommy and Daddy. We were Serena and David again. It was weird to feel this way I hadn't felt in over four years. I was oddly and unexpectedly liberated. I wasn’t coaxing Aria to eat two more bites of chicken. I wasn’t asking David why he hadn’t made Aria wear her glasses. We were laughing, being silly and enjoying each other’s company -- and it wasn't all about being parents. I can’t explain it any other way than to say I felt a little lighter, a little more optimistic about our relationship as a couple that weekend.
Funnily, posting my concerns about my first weekend away without Aria on Facebook before I left and getting all kinds of positive feedback from friends really made me feel good -- like I had a community cheering me on. It also helped that my brother-in-law texted us photos of Aria doing all kinds of things with her cousins: Here she was having a picnic. Here she was on a carousel at the park. Here she was napping at the town pool. That reassured me that she was just fine -- and so were we. And though I thought I’d be checking in constantly, I restrained myself and called just a couple of times each day in the midst of going to yoga with David, getting a couples’ massage, eating wayyy too much food, swimming in the lake and reconnecting.
I really had no clue how important it was to spend uninterrupted time with my husband. It made me see David in a different light, cleared a little of the fog I’d been having for some time about how I felt about him 15 years into our relationship. It also made me realize that I could leave her for a few days and she wouldn’t fall apart -- and neither would I.
And though we don’t have another trip away without Aria planned anytime soon, I know we’re going to do it. And it’ll be great. And she’ll be fine. And -- imagine that! -- so will I.