Tomorrow I am going to Rome. It's a girls' trip for me and a close friend for four days and I cannot wait. I am seriously in need of some r and r and whilst I love my children dearly you can sometimes have too much of a good thing.
Before I had children, I generally managed a week a year in the sun with my girlfriends. It meant leaving my husband behind but he always took it in good spirits. But after I had the first two, I no longer felt that I could leave for a whole week and so my annual breaks were either in UK cities or at a lovely spa hotel that we found in Northumbria. By the time I had child number 4, the chances of me leaving Ilkley started to look impossibly remote and my girly weekends were reduced to the odd afternoon at the Turkish Baths in Harrogate.
Then last year my Roman mate turned 40 and invited a gang of us to accompany her to Palma. My youngest had not yet started school so the plans to cover my absence were many and varied and at various points I did begin to wonder if it was all worth the effort. It so was. Whilst I fretted for weeks beforehand about how they would all cope for four days with out me and formulated innumerable and unnecessarily complicated plans to cover every conceivable eventuality, the moment I stepped on the plane the stress and guilt left me and what was left? Well, me really. The me that I had forgotten about. The one that can sit in a cafe and enjoy a cup of coffee without fear that we are disturbing all the other customers by banging the teaspoon on the table. The me that can walk round shops, leisurely looking at all the merchandise with careful consideration rather than trying to negotiate the escalator with a buggy. The me that can finish not only a sentence but a whole conversation without interruption.
By the time I came home I was so removed from the woman that left, that I'm surprised my family recognised me. "This is something that I must make time to do," I said. "I need it. It's good for my soul." But then time passes, life picks up pace and before you know it, the family planner is too congested with activities to take time out and the guilt for even thinking about time away is suffocating.
Because that's what stops me going far more frequently - the guilt. It's not so much leaving the children. They do miss me a bit I'm sure but their lives continue pretty much along the same lines as normal. No, it's the guilt induced by the team of people that have to step in to cover my absence. For example, in order for me to take four days me time in Rome, I have had to get my husband to work short days and involve my parents and two separate friends to pick up children at various times. That's a lot of favours to call in just so that I can get away. But it will be so worth it. We haven't had a break since our family holiday last August and too much time in my house makes Imogen a dull girl. Actually, it makes her a nightmare to live with so actually my family should treat it as some kind of therapy against the rigours of day to day life. And I shall return refreshed, reinvigorated and ready to face the summer term with verve and vigour.