Arizona beauty (Photo: Thinkstock)
I walked out of the air-conditioned Phoenix airport only to be blasted by a surge of sweltering hot air. It burned my eyes and seared my throat. Coughing, I looked down on the weather app on my phone — 113 degrees. “Wow,” I muttered to myself. I’d been up since 3 a.m. Eastern Standard Time and my heart was racing from the heat and too much coffee. What was I doing in Arizona in the middle of the summer?
A decade ago, if you would have told me I would be gladly jumping on a 6 a.m. flight from N.Y.C. to Phoenix on a four-day spa trip, willingly venturing into the desert in the 110-degree-plus summer heat, I would have given you the hairy eyeball. Flash forward 10 years to three young kids aged 7, 6, and 4 and a recent divorce, and you’ve got a single working mom champing on the bit for a solo trip.
The last “vacation” I took — a five day get away to Clearwater Beach this past April over spring break — I spent the entire week frantically chasing small children around the pool, wiping noses and tushies, and schlepping various sand toys and stuffed animals up and down the beach. Still, when the Phoenix tourism board offered me 72 hours of being wined, dined, and pampered, my first instinct was to say no. Too hot, too far, and too long without my kids. But later that night, as I cleaned leftover spaghetti from my kitchen walls and extracted a Barbie sized stiletto from my four year old’s nose (don’t ask), I changed my mind. My mom was available and my regular sitter was done with school, looking for some extra hours. I was ready to bite the bullet and take some me time. And I’m glad I did.
Here’s what I learned spending a few days alone on vacation in the Arizona desert in the dead of summer:
1. The kids will be just fine without you. It’s actually good for them.
The author at home with her kids. (Photo: Hallie Levine)
One of my biggest hesitations about taking the trip was the fact that I’d be gone my kids’ last day of school. Who would be there to take photos of them stepping off the bus in all their Kodak glory? Would they require years of therapy to process the fact that mommy wasn’t there with hugs and plates of cookies to celebrate the end of their school year? It turns out that once Nana showed up — with her presents and homemade spaghetti and meatballs and her new dog, a Boston terrier named FiFi — they could have cared less I was gone. “A lot of women are so fearful of taking a vacation away from their kids, when in fact it does children good to live for a bit by someone else’s rules and learn a slightly different routine,” N.Y.C. psychotherapist Sheenah Hankin reassured me. And in fact, when I Skyped with the kids each evening to say good night and saw, to my absolute amazement that they were fed, bathed, and in PJs reading stories like little angels each night by 7 p.m., I realized that four days under Nana’s slightly stricter thumb was all for the best.
2. It’s important to spend leisure time with adults — sans kids.
Other than work, I rarely talk to adults anymore — most of my conversations revolve around the don’t-hit-your-brother or eat-your-chicken-nuggets-or-you-won’t-get-dessert themes. But my first day in Arizona, after a rejuvenating citrus facial at the Royal Palms Resort’s Alvadora Spa, I was energized enough to make my way over to the jam packed hotel pool. (Apparently lower summer-time rates attract a lot of travels to Arizona despite the oppressive heat.) I began chatting with a woman, who, it turned out, had flown all the way from the Mid-West with a good friend who had just had surgery in Phoenix. “I figured we could stay in a depressing hotel by the hospital, or we could come here and make it more of a spa-cation,” she told me. As we spoke, we learned we had common ground — both divorced, and both with very kid focused lives (I’m a mom, obviously, and she was a principal at a suburban Chicago elementary school). We talked for over an hour, and when I finally waded out of the pool I realized our discussion had left me more energized than even my spa treatment.
3. Doing things for yourself can help you move on.
Ballooning over the desert. (Thinkstock)
The third day of my trip, I was woken up at 3 a.m. to go on a hot air balloon ride. I was apprehensive, not just because of the 100-degree heat, but because the last — and only — time I was on a hot air balloon, my ex-husband proposed to me, at which point I promptly vomited (I was feeling sick from the altitude) and then the pilot narrowly missed crashing us into power lines. Going through my divorce was wretched enough, and this was my first solo vacation as a newly single woman — I didn’t want any unpleasant reminders as I cruised hundreds of feet above the Sonoran desert. But it turned out that this excursion was the do-over I needed. We glided calmly over the desert, amazed by the gorgeous landscape (mountains and cacti and coyote, oh my!) until we descended in the cul-de-sac of a random subdivision street. (Why doesn’t that ever happen in my neighborhood?) I exited the balloon feeling empowered. A previously bitter memory had been replaced by a glorious one.
4. And speaking of your ex…. He won’t always make your life hell for going. Really.
Midway through my divorce, I had to travel to Utah for work, and spent half the time on the phone fighting with my ex and consulting with my attorney. I braced myself for a new round of angry email missives about not being able to Skype with kids or threats to abscond with the family dog as I packed for Arizona. But there was absolute radio silence on his end, other than a pleasant text at the end of the week confirming our sitter would drive the kids to him Friday evening. It was crystal clear to me — less than a year after our divorce had been finalized, we’d both moved on. And I could enjoy my aromatherapy massage and perfect pink pedicure in peace.
5. Even if you’re a divorced mom of three, you still need to challenge yourself and try new things.
Photo: Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort
The truth is, you can find something awesome in the most unexpected places. The last night of my trip, I ended up with on the edge of the lake at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort. It was a toasty 99 degrees, but the hotel was still overflowing with people milling about, the adults sipping wine and listening to live music on the deck, while children raced about on the lawn. I’d been on the fence about a gondola ride, but listening to the drunken laughter of the folks next to me was worse; I jumped on. It was the best decision I could have made: the water shimmered in the moonlight as the female gondolier — clad in the traditional blue and white striped shirt and broad brimmed straw hat — poled around. After the buzz of the courtyard, it was blissfully silent and the air was still. Then suddenly the gondolier tilted back her head and began to sing. Her voice was rich and reverberated across the lake. My spine began to tingle as she launched into an excerpt from the Bellini opera Norma. It turns out she was a classically trained singer who regularly performed with the Phoenix opera. Who knew?
6. “Me time” really is priceless.
Photo: Well & Being Spa
For four days, I was massaged, exfoliated, and soaked in various warm mineral baths. By the end of the trip, I felt like I was oozing Zen, floating around in a giant lavender scented bubble. (My favorite: the Hacienda Retreat at the Well & Being Spa, where I was scrubbed with a yellow corn and lime exfoliant, slathered with a citrus-y shea butter, and then wrapped up like a giant burrito so everything soaked into my skin.) “If you don’t take time for yourself, you get into this cycle where you start feeling sorry for yourself, snap at your children, then feel guilty and even more sorry for yourself,” says Hankin. “Mothering isn’t meant to be a 24/7 job: It used to be that more of us had family around, to give moms a break. But many women live far away from grandparents or aunts or uncles, which means they rarely get time to themselves. That’s why it’s so important to give yourself those moments.” She’s right: the first few weeks after I returned from my trip, I noticed I was much less irritable and able to keep my cool even through fights and meltdowns and bedtime dramas.
It’s not always easy to get away, especially on a family budget. But there are ways. Arizona has some of the best spas in the country, but during peak season (late fall, winter, and early spring) a basic resort room can easily cost you $500 a night. That all changes in the summer, when luxury hotels like the Royal Palms offer rooms at a half or a third of the price, and will even throw in dinner and spa credits. Sure the heat is ghastly, but the reality is I spent most of my time in the spa or outdoor pools anyway, and I made sure I did all my outdoor activities like river kayaking in the early morning when it was cooler.
7. You don’t always have to go away to realize people appreciate you.
My last day of my trip, I was gleefully diving into a giant cheese plate at popular eating spot Postino when my sitter texted me a picture of a dozen pink roses that had magically appeared at my house. There was no card, and I was stumped as to who could have sent them. The mystery was cleared up a few days later after I returned home. I called the florist and learned they’d been sent by a mom friend. “My husband and I were both raised by single moms, and we’re in awe of you,” she told me. “I just wanted you to know you’re loved and not taken for granted.” As I hung up the phone and went back to the daily grind of cleaning up the kitchen and preparing camp lunches, I felt all tingly and glowy. As as exhilarating and healthy as it is to spend four days being thoroughly spoiled and pampered (and to have the shiny skin and gleaming nails to prove it) nothing can beat realizing you’re loved and adored back home.
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