You’d be well within your rights to call me crazy. I’ve done a lot of wild things in my life: skydiving, rock climbing, amateur wrestling (yes, really!). But strangely enough, I do not consider among my looniest acts spending five days alone on the streets of New York City with two small children.
The inspiration for the trip came when I looked at the long expanse of summer vacation and realized we had an entire unscheduled week. I pictured whining and pool trips and whining and TV and more whining and I decided to take fate into my own hands. “Road trip!” I declared.
I packed my 4- and 6-year-old boys into my Mazda 5, and with little more than the GPS program on my phone I headed north. I figured our adventure could go one of two ways: Absolutely bananas, ape-crap amazing, or Titanic-level disaster. I crossed my fingers and hoped for the former.
The first hitch came when, listening to Judy Blume’s Superfudge on audiobook, the author dropped the news that there is no Santa Claus. I swore to myself and fielded a barrage of questions about maybe-mythical creatures from the backseat. I’m not too proud to share that I bought their distraction with milkshakes. A cowardly move, yes. But on solo-parent vacation anything goes.
We arrived in the greater New York City-area around 6 pm, having spent 9 hours straight in the car. Everyone wanted to poop, eat. run very fast, and sleep. Possibly concurrently. Like the good road-trippers we are, we couch surfed at a former coworker’s house in New Jersey.
The next day on the train into the city, we plotted our goals for the trip. We wanted to ride every type of public transit, go to the top of a skyscraper, see a lot of Central Park, and eat the best bagels in the world.
This right here, I believe, was the key to our success. Instead of hyper-scheduled days packed full of rushing and stress, we had goals and preferences. We looked up bagel stores on Yelp, then explored for nearby museums. We headed to the West Village for the world’s best candy store, but made sure to take a bendy bus to get there.
We had no agenda other than fun, and this kept us on the same team. Practically speaking, whenever the 4-year-old started to fade, I took him on long, pointless (air conditioned!) subway rides and let him sleep against my shoulder while the 6-year-old marveled at the transit maps.
Being the only grownup was hard; sometimes I talked a little too long to the clerk at the store or the server in a restaurant because I was hard up for adult conversation. But the reality was, it was delightful to be the sole decision maker and relaxing not to have to take another human being’s needs into account. All I had to do was care for my kids– something I’m an expert at– and after that I could just follow my vacation bliss.
This summer the kids and I are scheduling a handful of mini-vacations to follow on the success of that first one. Last week the three of us rented an Air BnB at the coast and got our beach bum on. Once again, it was surprisingly relaxing, even without other adults to share the load.
So I dare you: take your kids away by yourself sometime soon. If you are partnered, your partner will love you for the time off (and may even return the favor!). If you’re single, there’s no time like the present to get your legs under you and take your show on the road.