Most moms go to a spa or the beach for their kid-free mom trips. Maybe some go to an exotic location with a rich history or a city with lots of museums or tourist sites. But I think most just go to relax and laugh and have little umbrellas in their drinks.
For years I had been talking about doing this with my friends. But we’d always had excuses why it wouldn’t work this time or that. Three years ago, when my friend Sarah announced that they were moving to Rwanda I was beyond excited. “I’m coming to see you and the gorillas! Get my room ready,” I joked.
Then every few months I’d reach out to her and ask again about the cost, and the itinerary and what would be the ideal time of year to visit. Then suddenly it was three years later and Sarah and her family were leaving Rwanda in June! Where did the years go?
“You better go do this trip,” my husband said. “You’ll regret it if you don’t.” I knew he was right. So, I reached out to Sarah to see if she was still interested in going gorilla trekking. “Yes! I’ve been saving it for your visit,” she said. That sealed it. I confirmed the dates with her, quickly booked my tickets, gave her the go-ahead to buy our trekking permits, dusted off the good camera, got updates on typhoid, tetanus and yellow fever (I think most moms just get a pedicure and bikini wax for their mom-trips), and told everyone how excited I was to go see the gorillas. But underneath that smile there was some trepidation that I didn’t really reveal to anyone.
Before I had kids, my greatest pleasure was traveling and wildlife photography. I had visited polar bears in Manitoba, bear and moose in Alaska, and even the big five in Tanzania. My list of future visits always included the lemurs in Madagascar, tigers in India, orangutans in Borneo, and the gorillas in Rwanda. So, here I was getting to fulfill a life’s dream. Why was I feeling so sick?
The night before my departure was date night. We had gone to see a movie and on the way home I started to sob. I couldn’t stop. I told my husband how terrified I was to leave him and kids. I wasn’t worried something would happen to them, but rather something would happen to me. I was in full panic mode. I got home and couldn’t stop pacing the house and crying. I asked my husband, through choking sobs, if he would be mad if I didn’t go. He pointed out we’d lose a lot of money and I’d be disappointing Sarah, who would also lose money. I knew that. I also knew that logically I would be fine and would be home in seven days. But logic was getting shoved to the back – panic was taking place front and center.
The day of my departure my children were all home from school. So, I took them to a play area that morning and we had a great time. I was still feeling sick to my stomach. When the taxi came for me, I only cried, I didn’t sob. I considered that a win. Thank god for Valium.
I figured once I was on the plane my anxiety would lesson and I’d calm down. I was sort of right. But only a little. I had a long layover in Dubai so I got to do a video chat with the kids before bedtime. I ended up in the bathroom stall sobbing again.
I was genuinely confused. I had always described myself as a mom, writer, photographer and traveler. Here I was with an amazing opportunity to do three of those things and I was dreading it. I kept trying to focus on the amazing parts, but my mind always wandered back to the missing parts.
Two days later, during the arduous trekking through the rainforest, my thoughts got very dark and I found that I was getting angry at myself for taking this trip. I was putting myself in danger just to fulfill a dream. Was it really worth the risk to myself and my kids? I tried pushing those thoughts away as I huffed and puffed up the mountain, but during the really difficult times they always returned.
In the end, I survived the trekking and saw the gorillas and they were breathtaking. You can read all about the painful hilarities HERE. And while I’m super proud of myself for pushing through – both physically and emotionally – I also came to a rather significant epiphany. I am no longer the woman I used to be.
I am first and foremost a mother to three amazing children, and secondarily a writer, traveler and photographer. The wilds of nature used to feed my soul, but things have changed and now the three little monkeys at home feed my soul. I won’t quit taking wildlife excursions, but soon I’ll be able to do them with my kids. The circle will be complete, and my soul will be overflowing.
I think Dorothy summed up my situation best:
If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with! - Dorothy
As mom-trips go, it ticked all the boxes. We talked until our jaws hurt, we laughed until we cried, we shared husband and children tales. I will consider this trip a huge success. I truly persevered when the chips, and emotions, were down. I came out on the other side with self-awareness and self-discovery and some ridiculous stories.
As the time passes, I can look back and feel grateful - and proud - that I took this opportunity. This was my first mom-trip, but definitely not my last. Though I think future ones will require fewer vaccinations.