By Farah Naz Shaikh
Kahlil Gibran once said, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.” But did he ask life to whack the little minion who forgets his sweater at school just two days into a cold spell?
Mummies run the ship amigos, with some help from dads for sure. But the burden of parenting and running a home, merge into one fireball of juggling that all women who opt for this life, eventually get adept at. But it’s tough love. Love because the gummy smiles and awkward teen hugs do warm the cockles of your heart, but the tough is for the unspoken times: the meltdowns, the tears and fears. Like any machine that suffers wear and tear, the mechanism of ‘mommying’ needs to be serviced at regular intervals. Unplugged and unavailable, that’s what you need to be dear mommies. That is, if you want to do an even better job doing what you do best: loving home and hearth.
While my kids were going through stages of their early life (one’s baby-hood overlapping with the other’s toddler-hood) I had a dream. The dream of flying solo. The dream of picking up my bag, grabbing a plane ticket and flying out to a new city or town. It’s not like I was raising them up all by myself. I had financial, emotional and even physical support in the form of domestic help. And to be honest it wasn’t even them. Them I enjoyed…it was the monotony and grind of the routine that was itching for a break. The boredom of managing a hectic career, of wanting to be there for them, of controlling, monitoring and supervising -that was burning just a little bit of my concentration. But during this phase, what kept me alive was the dream: that one day, when the kids are old enough and my husband can handle my not being around for more than a day, I will venture out again. There is a history to this dream by the way: I have always had a traveller’s soul. Long before I got married, I used to treat myself to one such vacation every year. Kathmandu, Koh Samui, San Fransisco, Bali, New York – my bucket list had ticked them off long ago. So, the travel bug has always been part of the system and it was satiated now with child-friendly holidays, but ever so often munching on yet another cheese pizza or Mcdonalds – because that’s what you do when vacationing with little people. But, eventually one day I got the opportunity I had been longing for so long. The wiping of chocolaty hands, the bottle warming, the squatting down to fit plump squishy feet into socks and the rocking to sleep had finally come to an end. The little people could brush their teeth, feed themselves, run around and have conversations with us! And that’s when I knew it was time.
I chose Barcelona because well—Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara had happened by then and what better way to live the ‘Yolo’ mantra than to walk the ground Farhan Akhtar might have! So, with a visa in hand, ticket booked, an elaborate play date timetable organized, spouse on board and grandmothers on standby, I boarded the plane with 12 whole days to myself.
The next few days were a flurry of activities as I visited all the milestones: Gazing at the Sagrada for hours, making the trip to Parc Gueill, sitting in piazzas and soaking in the vibe of the incredible tapas bars, braving the railway station to buy a ticket to Figueres, where Dali’s museum is. I lounged for hours in beautiful bookshops, talked to strangers in coffee shops, stuffed myself with churros and paellas, and mastered the subway station with all it’s Spanish signage. Me, who had forgotten what an adventure really is, was now missing stations in a strange city, shrugging and going around in circles quite happily. I walked miles and developed a crick in my neck just by looking at all those amazing buildings and balustrades. I savoured cups of coffee everyday at the QuatreCats, which was once Picasso’s favourite haunt, visualizing an era gone by, I stumbled upon a flea market and spent the day pottering around, getting my haul of Spanish kitsch. I watched the buskers outside my hotel play the most amazing music and found myself a great table at this amazing Flamenco performance. Karachi blurred into the sidelines as the clear blue skies of Barcelona shone on me.
But by the 5th day, I woke up and was conscious of something heavy in the air. Staring at the ceiling I felt the oddest sensation. I felt empty. Not brimming with joy at all the fun and excitement, but curiously missing the shrieks and laughs, the rough and tumble of life back home. The sound of the room’s silence sat on me and weighed me down. I told myself to shut up. I knew this was the work of anxiety and panic – my bffs for the past ten years – who loved to rain on my parade, had probably been lurking around the corner waiting to pounce on me. But I shrugged them off. This was my dream vacation and nothing or no one was going to take that away from me.
And that’s exactly why I went ahead to watch a cultural show outside the Grand Cathedral. It was beautiful. But the sight of a 10-year-old boy holding his mother’s hand had me in tears. As another day went by, I was conscious of a little cloud of sadness above me. By the end of the evening, I had to sit myself down and accept the reality that I was done. It was over. This was no longer a dream vacation. The idea that being away from ‘it all’ will be bliss was no longer holding true. My mommy heart was no longer having fun. And I bowed to that realization.
Happy that I took the trip, impressed with myself for ticking most of the stuff on my list, I made the call home and packed my bags with a big smile!
It was great to know I still had it in me to take a solo trip and it was interesting to see how what I thought I wanted was very different from what I actually needed. And just for that discovery, this trip was the most important one I made in my life. Granada still remains to be explored and someday, perhaps when I’m faced with an empty nest, I will venture forth again. But for now, I’m happy taking a two-hour break at the salon and coming back to the grind.