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February 21, 2024

I Took a Week Away from my Child. Here’s What I Discovered.

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“The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of its parents.” ~ Carl Jung

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In my four years of parenting, I’ve taken several trips with and without my son, Leo.

None of them have been more than a week, and my typical threshold for missing him so much I must return to see him immediately is about four days.

When two upcoming trips converged to become one elongated journey, I wondered if being away from my toddler for a full week, nine days including travel, was going to be too long for us. Would my daily absence affect him? Would he understand that although I’m gone long, I’m not long gone? Would I miss something important?

I remember a week feeling like an eternity as a child. When I reflect on the thoughts, emotions, discords, and discoveries that were mirrored by my parents’ presence in a week’s time, say from one Tuesday night dance class or one Saturday soccer practice to another, they seem overwhelmingly abundant.

But then I also think about the long weekends my grandmother would stay over when my parents did travel, the softness of her skin beside me as we slept side-by-side, the excitement of a schedule now run on Grandmothertime, which inevitably included long afternoons of bread baking and homemade noodles. There was an excitement in shaking up the normal schedule, showing her wise storytelling off to all my friends, being reminded to clean my ears and tuck my bed in just right, and being called “chickadee” all weekend long.

Fast-forward (can we stay just a little longer?) to life at 31 and as a solo mama, the schedule-manager, the tender of big feelings, the cook, the bread-winner, and all the other subroles that fall under the category of “parent,” I find myself seeking to sink back into Grandmothertime from time to time and receive the adventures awaiting not only within but also outside the role of Motherhood.

Shifting from role of provider to role of receiver can feel foreign when I’ve been deep in the groove of parenthood. I grapple with mom guilt and wondering if the time my son really needs me for something might be the exact time I’m away.

And knowing I could hold these feelings while also responding to the call of my adventurous spirit, I called up my mom, Leo’s grandmother (Mimi), to arrange for the quality Mimi-Leo time, packed many layers for my Winter-wanderings, and took the leap toward my ventures ahead.

My journey started in the snowy hills of Halifax, Canada, meeting up with my sweet partner and his dear mother. I loved hearing her own stories of being a single parent and the ways in which she merged single motherhood and soulfulness by infusing poetry, literature, activism, and adventure into their lives. I loved being shown my sweetie’s home-away-from-home and giving each other thoughtful writings and gifts and discovering new things about each other.

Then, I joined a group of 17 women, many mothers themselves, for a retreat in coastal Rhode Island, where we shared stories and examined Homeric Hymn to Demeter, a poem about climate grief, service, intergenerational community, and the individuation process. Ah, the Grandmother rhythm. Slow. Centered around food, Earth, home, fun, stories, Exquisite Tenderness (as was the retreat title).

I let the little inner Kelsey frolic and read aloud with friends and collect red, blue, and seafoam-colored rocks on the beach and lose track of time. I let her bike while looking up not down and adventure for vegan food and with a best friend and lover and partner.

I was Mother Kelsey the whole time, but perhaps more importantly, I was just Kelsey.

So what did I discover during my trip? There are parts of me that need space to breathe, dance, write, paint, evolve, not only as a mother, but also as an individual. Immersing myself in art, adventure, storytelling, and play for a week helped me refocus my awareness on what is most important to me: a fully lived life, including the full, rich, messy experience of motherhood.

It reminds me a bit of one of the key ideas from Paul Coelho’s The AlchemistThe young shepherd, Santiago, goes on an adventure for hidden treasure. After a series of experiences that strengthen his confidence and bring him into deeper union with the “Soul of the World,” he reaches the end of his quest only to discover the treasure is buried at the starting place of his quest.

There is a unique occurrence when we step out of the day-to-day and get a bird’s-eye-view of just where the gold lives in our lives. It’s like shaking up a snow globe to see the pieces of our lives more clearly, observe the unique shapes dance, and let them gently rearrange themselves.

Taking this time to myself and diving deeper into the woman beneath the “Motherhood” hat gave me permission to embody the fullness of my individuality. For my son to witness me return rested, enlivened, and supported is a gift for us both. And, he got his sweet sweet Grandmothertime.

It’s like any relationship with a loved one where diversifying our relational resources can widen the web of support in our lives. For a child, attachment to a stable parental figure is important, but if we as parents think we’re the one all-important, all-providing source, we’re getting into unlived-life territory.

It’s healthy to individuate as a parent, too.

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