As I've mentioned, my kids are in Europe with their dad for more than two weeks. Everyone kept asking what special things I was going to do with all my free time. I had a long list of friends I hoped to see, work and home projects that had gone unattended to, and for the most part I can say I didn't make a dent in any of that.
But I did fixate on getting away for a few days. Recently I've fantasized about a writer's weekend. I envisioned myself in a cabin in the woods where I could escape city noise and filth and lavish in the gruesome loneliness that creative people know fuels great art.
But then that fantasy started to feel like garden-variety loneliness. After all, I spend much of my life writing, alone, and feeling lonely. Doing the same in a prettier location is no vacation!
Enter my recent lover. We started planning a weekend at an inn upstate New York. At the last minute he sprung a fever and took to hibernation, and I considered canceling the getaway all together. But I just could not squander the precious kid-free time away. So at 4 p.m. Friday I booked an AirBnB property – a funky cabin in the woods upstate New York – tossed my hiking boots, swim suit and a going-out dress (you never know) in my overnight bag. Grabbed some croissants at my corner bakery and fruit at the weird Pakistani bodega that sells more or less nothing you would ever need but has fantastic melons and avocados — and I was outta there.
Less than two hours later I pulled up to the cabin, secluded from the road and just big enough for one or two people — and it was all mine for the weekend. I was greeted by my friendly host who invited me to join him for dinner — pasta made with swiss chard pesto from his garden. As we drank cold beer and chatted about work (he's an exhibit designer), and romance (he just wrapped up a two-year affair with a local college boy whose name he does not know) I was brought back to my own many solo travel adventures in my teens and early 20s — the way people and experiences magically unfold when you are on the road.
The next morning I woke up in the windowed sleeping loft surrounded by the vision and smell of green. Took my time enjoying black coffee and figs on a chaise lounge the stone patio (close your eyes and imagine me as Cleopatra – I did) when a flock of eight or nine wild turkeys emerged from the property's many raspberry bushes.
I then jumped in the car and headed to a forest preserve a few miles away. Thrilling in an outing unencumbered by kids and the many accruements they require, I all but leapt out of the car with nothing more than my keys, a tampon and a $20 in my pocket.
The preserve was perfect and empty of any other people. Golden late summer sun shone through the giant trees. A quiet lake where I sat and sat — silver fish intermittently leaping out, here, there (did they sense me?). It felt so good to move my body, climb up mossy hills and over logs, fill my lungs with clean air. It was delightful to be totally, completely alone.
“I'm completely alone,” I thought. “Wait, I'm completely alone.” An edge set in. I wasn't sticking to the marked trails. I had no food or water. I'd left the map in the car. Bears can smell your period, right? I started to think about The Blair Witch Project.
Needless to say I found my way back – and in a way, back into my old self.
This weekend — like those years ago, backpacking around South America and Europe, jetting off for last-minute weekends to see friends — the experience was just being. Just being in the quiet. Just falling asleep looking at the stars through the skylight. Just napping without guilt or a wakeup time. Just sitting in the cool mountain sun and being so grateful that there is time and place and money to luxuriate in the opportunity to recalibrate.
I thought about how in the past bunch of months I have felt a disconnect from my kids. There are parenting tasks I do not enjoy — I do not enjoy playing make believe (hello — I'm a journalist. Real life is really interesting, kids!). I do not enjoy hanging out at the playground or engaging in a game of tag. No. But I do enjoy travel. And exploring, and meeting people and talking and learning about the world. And that is what I plan to do more of with my family — without guilt for my disinterest in the other stuff.
And so, in my ongoing gratitude exercise I am grateful for this time away. Time away all by myself. Because being alone doesn't always have to feel lonely. In fact, it can give you perspective you need to connect with people in your life in new ways.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.