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Why Coming Home to Kids After a Break Is So Hard

Have You Felt the Shock of Reentry?

Two days is all it takes. According to my most recent kid-free experience, 48 hours away from your children is long enough to feel like your prebaby (and, most likely, more selfish) self. You get back your swag, start wearing clothes that would not withstand the perils of baby drool or toddler sticky fingers. You sit down for long periods of time and JUST. DO. NOTHING. and feel no guilt about it. You have an extra glass of wine or two because no one is going to wake you up at 5 a.m. the next morning. You cuddle with your husband because two children haven't left you feeling massively overtouched. You relax, no to-do list in sight, no one asking you for something new every two minutes. It's just long enough to feel like a real break and, spoiler alert, just long enough that you kind of forget how hard taking care of small children really is, which makes your return just a bit traumatic.

My mom and her girlfriends nicknamed it the "shock of reentry." It's that feeling you get after you've had a nice little reprieve from the normal routine. No laundry, no spilled sippy cups, no one to feed three meals and countless snacks a day, no one fighting with you about wearing shoes or sharing toys or taking a bath. And then you come back to it, and shocker, it all begins again. No one's hired a maid or a nanny or gotten old enough to dress and feed themselves while you were gone.

Last weekend, my husband and I left our beloved little ones, ages 4 and 1, with my parents and headed to our old stomping grounds of Chicago. It was my 36th birthday, and all I wanted was two days away from my children, whom I love more than anything on the planet and whom I believe might be plotting to slowly destroy me. Scratch that, they already have destroyed me, the old me, who wore high heels daily, was usually freshly showered, and spent most of her free time shopping, eating long meals at nice restaurants, and whiling away afternoons with friends. Man, she was fun.

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I'm not so sad that that version of me is gone; the new me has more purpose, more patience, and way less foot pain. But sometimes I really need to go visit the old me, and this weekend, she came back in full force. I stayed out too late, I went shopping and didn't buy a single thing for my children, and my husband and I packed in so many delicious meals that I'm still full two days later. Sure, by Saturday afternoon, we were kind of missing our babes, in an "I wish someone would bring by the kids for about 10 minutes and then take them again" kind of way. By Sunday, I was anxious to get back to them. Like, I felt actual anxiety. I was getting a little too used to being the old me. It was time to go home, and I knew the shock of reentry was looming.

It starts the minute you walk through the door and you see the stuff. No matter how wonderfully clean and neat your caregivers are (and my mom is the best), there's no way your house looks like it did when you left. Upstairs toys are down; snacks, toys, and books are everywhere; and your kids are wearing some truly interesting outfits. Sometimes you get a brief reprieve if you're lucky enough to arrive while your little ones are in good moods. Then there's a joyful reunion, your daughter tells you how much she missed you and how much she loves you, the baby gives you real kisses, and you think, "This won't be so bad."

Two minutes later, your bags still in the car, the second wave hits when your kids get real. They remember that you are not just the one they kiss and hug; you are the one who DOES EVERYTHING FOR THEM, and they start putting you to work. Snacks need to be made, favorite toys need to be found, and where, oh where, are their presents?! You were gone two days and surely didn't come home empty handed! Where is the candy?! Laundry needs to be done, special sippy cups need to be washed, school bags and lunches need to be packed, and damn it, you're out of bread, milk, applesauce, and grapes? This is your real life, and it is back with a vengeance.

While the shock of reentry hits hard, the good news is that it also passes pretty quickly. While it takes 48 hours to find your old self, it only takes a few to transition back to your new one . . . and to start daydreaming about your next weekend away. Sure, the shock of reentry sucks, but it's totally worth it.

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