I did it. I flew halfway across the world without my husband or kids and gifted myself a nine-day trip to Israel. It was my first time leaving both kids for more than a night, and it was my first time being outside of a 100 mile radius of them. This was a pretty significant occasion for a mom who spends pretty much all of her time with her kids.
Upon landing in Israel, I missed home and just wanted to reach out to let my family know I had arrived safely. The seven-hour time difference made it a little difficult, as did my lack of skills when it comes to troubleshooting cell phone issues. I was also exhausted from a 27 hour travel day on top of first-trimester tiredness. Once our tour group got to our destination for the evening, I don’t think I even took a moment to get to know my roommates before falling asleep.
The first day or so was strange and unfamiliar and felt oddly similar to those first few days spent living in a college dorm. After a few days of getting used to being generally out of touch with my family, I started to settle in, realizing that I couldn’t control everything anymore. My husband had the kids on a little adventure in New Hampshire, and everyone was happy and safe back at home. I had to focus on myself and experiencing this trip that I had wanted to go on for so long.
Once I had that realization, I started getting to know people better. I wasn’t just seeking out other parents on the trip who were also missing their kids, though I was very relieved every time I met one. I sought out connections that fit in with other parts of my life that were there before having kids: a love of music and the performing arts, interests in language, philosophy, history, and spirituality. I found those bits of myself in the people I met, through conversations we had, and through seeing and experiencing a beautiful country with them.
When I became a mom, it dawned on me that I suddenly had an identity that I never felt in any path I was on previously. I couldn’t ever label myself by a job I held, but when I became a mom, mother suddenly became my identity. However, in that new identity, I also lost touch with who I had been before that point. It took me flying across the world to realize this.
At one point toward the end of the trip, after our only restful day, we had a group discussion. It wasn’t unusual for us to end days with discussions, but this one was different and so much more reflective. We had all experienced an emotional welcome to Jerusalem, followed by a day of rest, and at the end of it, we came together to discuss a piece of poetry. I hadn’t shared much with the group as a whole about myself up until this point. On this evening, though, emotions were running high, and I had to share what was on my heart.
It was this: I shared with them that on the day our trip left Boston, I had myself convinced I would be staying home and that I wasn’t ready to leave my family for this. I told them that it was my 4-year-old daughter who pushed me out the door and told me I had to go. Through the trip up until that point, I was trying to take it all in, but I was still trying to figure out why precisely I needed to do this for myself. For six days, I had been searching for my why. In this emotional, philosophical poetry review, I found my reason. I felt that I had to be in Israel with these people to experience this exact moment of experiencing homesickness while simultaneously feeling so spiritually at home with myself, with this country, and with this new family around me. That moment of sharing my contradictory feelings of sorrow and peace will forever stick with me when I think back on this trip, and I believe it really shaped me as a mother, too.
In coming back home to my family, I had this newfound sense of self, a new identity. I discovered that I could have experiences that didn’t center around my children. I could meet and befriend people who had nothing to do with my children’s lives. I could find joy in the very things that brought me joy before my children did. Most importantly, while taking care of myself, I could trust that everything at home would go just fine without my control of every situation. I came home to a loving husband and children who were so happy to see me, and I was just so happy and relieved to be back in my sense of normal, with a new understanding of my identity as both mother and person.