A trip to the motherland without my children taught all invaluable lessons.
I was two steps out of the door of my hotel in Accra, Ghana when I felt like something was missing. I checked for my purse, insect repellent, and sunscreen.
I paused for a second before it hit me. The thing that was missing—usually attached to my hip, usually buzzing around my feet—was my kids, ages 3 and 7.
Taking a trip to Africa without my two kids was an unforgettable experience, full of wildly beautiful nights hanging out with fascinating adults and difficult mornings missing their morning screams and laughter. During the two and a half weeks I was away visiting Ghana and Tanzania with friends as part of my 40th birthday celebration I learned to let go of guilt, to trust them with my partner, to enjoy myself.
I also learned quite a bit about how to travel without my children.
Plan ahead for both your kids and yourself.
I started planning my trip about six months before I actually hopped on the plane. Sure, at times my planning became obsessive. But this time was necessary to prep both my kids and me for such a long trip away from each other.
I wrote each of them daily notes for the 17 days I was away. I added little sticker surprises for my older son (age 7) to open on some days. I borrowed books from the library about the countries I’d be visiting and we talked about the trip often.
I also needed my own prep. I knew that, as a Black mom visiting Africa, I needed to be prepared for a reevaluation of my racial identity, as well as a deeper understanding of multi-racialism as it pertains to the motherland. I felt this was deeply necessary since the framing of my Blackness had been solely through Caribbean and American lenses.
Don’t make promises about how often you’ll check in.
Wifi in the hotels in Accra was great but there was no walking down the street video-chatting with my kids for me. There was also a 5-hour time difference in Accra and an 8-hour difference in Tanzania. So we talked when we were able to and made it work.
It meant that sometimes I wasn’t able to check in as much as I would’ve liked to and that just had to be okay. I tried to make up for it by sending pictures and videos when I could so they knew I was always thinking about them.
Relish your adult time.
Live in the moment. Remember to not be bogged down by the guilt. My time in Accra was filled with lots of laughter, good food, and joy with the five friends I was traveling with. My best friend and I traveled to Tanzania together and I did wild things like have dinner at 9 p.m. and I even left the house within 15 mins of waking up!
I had to remind myself constantly to live in the moment and enjoy adult time while I had it. I felt guilty often that my partner wasn’t sharing the experience with me and that I had left my kids in favor of late-night balcony chats with my friends. I had to remind myself that the kids would be waiting for me in America and that life is what happens in the here and now. The kids and my partner would be OK and so would I.
Some places you’ll visit are best without kids and that’s OK, too.
We took an hours-long journey from Accra to Cape Coast in Ghana, packed into a tiny truck. There would’ve been no room for car seats or stopping for breaks with cranky kids.
I also needed time to process what I would see for myself without worrying about the nearest bathroom or having a ton of snacks.
In Cape Coast, we visited the Cape Coast Castle, Elmina Castle, and Assin Manso Ancestral Slave River. I wasn’t prepared for my emotional and physical reaction to these places. There, people who were Black, just like me, were enslaved and forced to stay in dungeons, standing in their own human waste for months before being put on ships to be taken to places like Trinidad and America.
I wasn’t prepared to see pictures of multiracial children and hear that biracial kids in the era of slavery were many times a product of rape. I needed to give myself space to process the reality of the ancestral impact of my own kid’s multi-racial identity.
These were deeply moving experiences for me and I couldn’t imagine having to process these feelings while wrangling two small kids. I was grateful for the mental space to sit with these experiences at the pace I needed to.
Missing them doesn’t mean you can’t have a good trip.
I missed everything about my kids and was stalking them a little through the pictures my partner sent me. For some time, I felt like missing them meant I needed to do something about the feeling. But I reminded myself that emotions can occur without action and that it was okay to have a nuanced experience in Africa.
I missed them especially when I did the canopy walks high above the Ghanaian forest in Kakum National Park. When I visited the Du Bois Museum and learned that W.E.B. Du Bois wanted us to live our lives like spiders, focusing on the impact of our work and not our own visibility. I wished my kids were there to see and witness his impact. I missed them when I visited Ngorongoro Crater and saw all manners of wild animals.
And I promised myself that, one day, I’ll bring them back when they’re older and able to appreciate the experience.
Be prepared for big emotions when you return.
My kids loved my daily pictures and videos of wild animals, from elephants who ate with their babies, lions who sauntered in front of our truck, and the leopard who jumped down a tree and made eye contact with us before running away. Seeing animals in their homes instead of in captivity, for the first time, helped me realize how tiny I am in the hierarchy of life.
After this last leg of the trip, coming home felt joyful and complete. I prepared myself to be a container for some difficult times for my family. I was pleasantly surprised that my kids didn’t hold negative feelings about my absence. They joyfully welcomed me home.
But my daughter needed time to process, as she became more whiny and clingy in the days after I came back. I also had big emotions about having less control over my time. With patience and love, together, our family maneuvered this space.
My trip was a necessary lesson: Even though I love being a mom, it’s not all of who I am. I learned that I am capable of having a magnificent time without my kids, even as I missed them.
I learned that I need to make more space for what being Black means to me both as a mom and as a woman. I relished the opportunity to ground myself in my own identity while gleaning lessons to impart to my kids when the time is right.
I’ll be pulling learnings from my time in Africa for a long time. There is so much to share with my kids about their multiracial identity, and their ancestral lineage. I am finding many opportunities for new conversations, and hope to find many more for a long time to come. For now, I’m just happy to have had this experience and to be home to share it with them.