Can a Mama Get a Break? Send Them (Back)Packing!

Are you an overworked mom that could use a brief, 24 hour break from your family?  Is your partner an introvert who loves camping but doesn’t ever go because YOU prefer glamping, and going camping alone with a kid doesn’t sound appealing to him/her?  Well, find a few other families like you, get those dudes together, and sit back and watch the magic happen.

This past weekend, I enjoyed a blissful day and evening to myself, while my husband Joel teamed up with a few other camp-happy parents and took their broods out into the wild.  The non-camping-friendly mamas stayed behind, getting mani-pedis, cleaning our houses without anyone coming behind us and screwing it all up again, and going out dancing like it was 2008.

Hours of uninterrupted communication meant that I found out more about my friends than I’d heard in possibly 2 years.  Previous engagements were outlined, pieces of writing were read aloud in their entirety, and family histories were regaled.  These are the kinds of discussions you can’t have crammed between snack time and another turn on the swing.  We luxuriated in them, as we pre-gamed with my favorite easy and delicious home cooked meal and a pitcher of margaritas.

In a truly serendipitious turn of events for me this week, the awesome style blogger who put me on her Playground Chic page a few months ago contacted me and asked me if I wanted the stack of Betsey Johnson vintage dresses she had that didn’t work on her anymore.  My answer of course was “can I come over right now?”, and soon enough I was toting my granny cart full of flowered, lacy frocks through the Mission.

It was a truly karmic gesture, as I’d sent some nice clothes to my sister recently that I don’t wear anymore.  I didn’t even have time during the week to try on my new treasures, but with my day of freedom, I turned on some good tunes and had a good ol’ fashioned dress-up party.  That night, I outfitted my girls with dresses from the bounty, as well as some old going-out sparkly lovelies that never get any wear anymore.

Amanda, Michelle and I, all decked out to paint the town.

Our first stop was Beauty Bar, which always had kind of a weird vibe, but has now turned downright scary.  We should have gotten wise when the guy checking IDs warned us to watch out for our belongings, looking worried for us as he ushered us in.  The reason we started there is because they begin their music early, and we wanted to pace ourselves.  Almost instantly we had that terrible feeling of “I’m WAY too old for this sh*t.”  It wasn’t that we felt uncool, it was more like we were scared for the future.  No one was dressed up, sporting ripped T-shirts and skinny jeans in drab colors instead.

The music was a little demoralizing (Big Sean & Nikki Minaj really do have a song that just yells A$$ A$$ A$$ A$$ over and over at you), but we were still getting down, and the young kids were trying to dance with us.  The problem was, they were all ROYALLY messed up.  And they must have all had fake IDs, because they didn’t look a day over 19.  Michelle turned to me and said, “It’s only 9:30!  What the heck is this place going to look like in 3 hours?!”  A moment later, one of the dudes yelled to his girlfriend, “I’m gonna rip your tits off!” and we packed our things and left.  On our walk to the next spot, I laughed with my friends about how I used to dance there when my former priest would DJ mash-ups, and how light and fun it all was.  Now it’s the kind of place you’re lucky to leave without seeing something traumatic.

At Little Baobab, they hadn’t started the dancing yet, but we instantly felt at ease.  The drinks were delicious, the people were friendly, and no one was threatening to rip body parts off of their date.  Once the music started, we found our groove, dancing to African beats combined with popular songs, in a charming playlist that had everyone on their feet.  I have been going there to dance for the better part of a decade, and it has never disappointed.  It was reassuring to know that some good things never change.

Comically, Michelle got hit on by a young brother who asked her to go to Beauty Bar with him, as that was “really more his scene”.  She told him no thank you, she’s married with two kids.  He proceeded to give her some parenting advice, exhorting her “raise them up right”, among other suggestions.  Soon after, we escaped unwanted male attention by cloistering ourselves in the Mission’s great dyke bar, The Lexington, which was having it’s annual, infamous Uniform Party.  Ladies and Men-Who-Used-To-Ladies were decked out as sailors, wrestlers, school girls, and pilots.  There were a lot of folks not in costume as well, as the place was packed tighter than a revival tent in Alabama.  The music was bumping and we ran into some friends, proceeding to dance until our feet begged for rest.

When I finally walked those dead limbs home, the first time staying out after midnight in 3 years, I starfished in the bed that I usually share with 2 people before the night is through.  I actually love sharing my bed with my husband (gratefully – what a bummer if I didn’t!) and I even like waking up next to Olive, who usually starts off the day saying such things as “We’re funny” and “Let’s play noses!”  However, I got the best sleep of remembered history that night, even though I still had to wake up relatively early to get to work.  It didn’t matter – I only had to get one person out of the door on time, so the morning felt languid and peaceful.

An hour away, my husband was waking up from a not-so-restful night’s sleep in a tent with our two year old.  She had been having a great time playing in the dirt with her friends, learning to play baseball and badminton from one of the other dads (we are more the soccer sort, so she was never going to learn from us!), and going on hikes.  Here’s what I missed out on, while I was living the single city life:

Tent time!

Proof that Olive will make a drum out of any surface, even in the wild.

Getting down and dirty with her BFF, Ophie.

Perhaps the best part of the experience is that Olive got some great one-on-one time with her dad.  She has a very hands-on father, but as she spends 90% of her days with me alone, he doesn’t get that same quantity of solo time with her.  Here’s his favorite moment from the trip, in his own words:

“I could tell you about all of the amazing times rolling in the dirt and hanging out in the tent with her bestie Ophie. Or about the absolute ease of spending time with parents who just ‘got it’ (we parents have our own language of shared experience and truths).

However, there were really just two moments that I’ll cherish forever.

Both were very ordinary and unbelievably moving.

First was waiting in traffic on Van Ness. I turned my head and Olive was completely passed out with a half eaten PB&J in her hand. I soaked it in, completely present and started to weep at the beauty of the sun on her face.

Parenthood is a blessing.

It is also a challenge and a burden, but when I stopped worrying about getting to the campsite on time, I was able to witness how every moment, the good and bad, is an invitation to soak it all in.

The next moment happened as we were driving back. We were listening to some tunes on the ipod and a song from my band, Ellul, came up. Without really noticing, I sang out, unaware that Olive had been paying attention to my every move. As I looked back she had been mouthing the refrain, ‘Everything is alright.’

When the song finished, she gently asked, ‘One more?’  So I played it again and we sang along together.

It’s one thing to sing Old MacDonald with your daughter, but to sing a song that I wrote was overwhelmingly meaningful to me. Again, how important in our world of chaotic divisiveness was this?

It was everything, all things to me in that moment.

Riding over the Golden Gate Bridge the fog touched its brass beam. Olive asleep behind me with Sigur Ros as our soundtrack, the tears came again to visit me. It was one of the purest moments of happiness I’ve ever experienced.”

So, Papa Joel had moments of transcendence in the midst of the challenge of taking our little gal on an overnight trip.  Sometimes, you need what our family calls a “habit breaker” — you take a risk, do something different, and create a memory with your loved ones.  Joel is saying he wants to make this an annual occurrence.  And to that I say, “HELL YES.”

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16 thoughts on “Can a Mama Get a Break? Send Them (Back)Packing!

  1. sounds like you need more of these kinds of nights if you haven’t been out past midnight in 3 years!

    i remember when i came out to san fran 2+ years ago Caleb was 20 months old and it was the first time i was away from him for a lengthy period of time. you were pregnant at the time and said something encouraging about being a parent who can go away and do adult things and that you hope to be that way when you have your baby. i do realize i am lucky to have loving, attentive parents whom i trust, who live close enough by to use them for things like this. i have also realized over the course of doing this job for the past 4 years that although my urges may tell me to be the center of my kids universe i do have to resist that pull. i don’t know if it’s something about our culture or what, but i have come to accept that there is something fear-based about that (innate?) urge to be your kids everything. i think we parents who are trying to be such GOOD parents, forget that we ARE our children’s everything, whether we intentionally construct it that way or not (think of all those neglected/abused kids we’ve worked with). seeing it this way and accepting that responsibility for what it is, and then encouraging my child to attach and bond with other healthy, loving, attachable people is a big part of what my job is as a parent…i think…!

    • Holly, I totally agree with you — I’ve written several blog posts about how parents having their own lives is the best thing they can do for their kids. The reason I haven’t been out past midnight in 3 years is not because I don’t go out, but because I’m an old lady now who gets tired at 10:30 and likes to be home by 11! But going out dancing is something I really enjoy, and it doesn’t get really good until then, so I made an exception. I don’t have family here but my chosen family has been really awesome about showing up for Olive, and babysitting for us regularly, free of charge. That feels really important and beautiful to me, to foster those relationships for her, while going out and doing things that feed my soul and make me feel “young and wild and free”, even if just for one night.

  2. I LOVE that you got a break, at the same time as Joel got a Love infusion! Wonderful, awesome and a sweet and important example of excellent self care along with attentive, loving, full-time parenting!

  3. Hell yeah to an annual occurrence! It was so fun reliving that night through your post! I’m also so touched by what a meaningful trip it was for Joel and Olive!!! Our kids are so lucky to have very present dads! Here’s to more mommy nights out and more family camping trips (with and without mamas)!!

  4. So sorry I only got around to reading this now!! Sounds like you mamas had a blast! I totally didn’t know that that dark bar around the corner from us was a crazy date rape scene. Glad you guys were safe and sound. Maybe we should do a mama’s night out even with the kids here in SF one of these days. (I mean, why wait for the guys to go camping for a ladies night to happen?)

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