It Took a Girls' Trip With My Daughter to Finally Realize I'm a Good Mom

Nicole Fabian-Weber
Nicole Fabian-Weber

Most mornings my sleepy-eyed daughter shuffles downstairs to an already hectic house. "My sista's up! My sista's up!" my 2-year-old son chants before she's even made it to the kitchen. She lunges in to cuddle me, but before I can snuggle her, my son is pushing her out of my lap to wrap his pudgy hands around her or, more often, me. As far as wake-ups go, hers is pretty abrupt.

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When both of my children are up, things can get crazy, and my daughter often gets the short end of the stick. "Can you just let him have it?" I'll ask when I can no longer take my son's whining about wanting a toy she's playing with. I watch sometimes as she slinks off to the corner to draw when she's tired of my one-word answers as I chase my son around.

To say I feel guilty is an understatement.

When my son was born, my daughter was 2½ and he was the one who got less attention. I'd leave him in his bouncer while I glued cotton balls to construction paper with my daughter. He would sit in his high chair being entertained by a never-ending stream of puffs while I read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas for the 473rd time to his sister. "It eventually evens out," friends would say. And while yes, it certainly has seemed to, disappointment is more apparent on a 5-year-old's face than a newborn's.

Tired of not being able to spend quality time with my daughter -- and tired of feeling guilty -- I decided to take her on a girls' trip. Four days just the two of us. No boys. No interruptions. No one-word answers.

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We made plans to go to a Tanque Verde Ranch, a real dude ranch in Arizona. I wanted to take her somewhere unlike anywhere our family had been before. Somewhere remote but all-inclusive, so there wouldn't be much in the way of logistics. And somewhere hot, because no trip can officially be classified as a vacation to a 5-year-old if there isn't copious pool time.

In the weeks leading up to our trip, my daughter and I talked about it constantly. At dinner, we'd discuss how we would be taking not one but two planes each way. We worked out the details of how she would pull her own suitcase through the airport. And, perhaps most importantly to her, we talked about how the boys would be at home in rainy New Jersey while we were soaking up the Arizona sun -- "just the girls."

Nicole Fabian-Weber
Nicole Fabian-Weber

Traveling with just my daughter was a cinch. Instead of spending 45 minutes trying to stop a toddler from knocking down every display Hudson News had to offer, I leisurely sat by the gate with my girl and a couple of bagels. We talked. We people watched. I lovingly examined the downturn in her eyebrows and the upturn in her little nose. "Can I have a piece of gum, please?" she asked tentatively, testing the waters of our new environment. "Okay," I said, surprising even myself. What the hell, right?

During our flights, we shaded in the pages of a Frozen coloring book with glittery crayons. And when she got bored of that, she melted into me and watched Snow White while I played with her soft hair. No one shoved her off of me. Nothing took me out of the moment. During our layover, we shared a burrito and a cup of frozen yogurt and talked about how Doc was our favorite of the seven dwarves, but Dopey was pretty great, too. The day was long, as travel days always are, but there was no stress. I had one person to focus on; something neither I, nor my daughter, has experienced in a while.

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About 10 minutes after getting to our room (and ceremonially jumping on the bed), she wanted to go to the pool, so that's exactly what we did. I dipped in and out of the water and watched the approximately 532 "handstands" she did in the shallow end.

When she had all but shriveled up into a human raisin, we held hands and walked through rolling trails lined with prickly pear cacti and lizards to a cowboy cookout, where we stuffed ourselves with burgers, watermelon, and pie. When we got back to our room, we collapsed into bed together and were quickly lulled to sleep by the sound of the travel fan I had brought.

For the next few days, we were, literally, inseparable. We made dream catchers. We went for walks. We took naps in our sprawling bed, showered together, and, thanks to the three-hour time difference, woke at around 4 a.m. only to quietly snuggle for an hour before heading out to our little porch to watch the sunrise with coffee and pre-packed Goldfish crackers.

"Do you want to ride a horse today?" I asked one morning.

"No," she said. "Let’s play hide and seek."

So, at 6 a.m., when the rest of Tuscon was sleeping, that's exactly what we did.

I soaked my firstborn up more than I had in a while on our trip. I answered her questions thoughtfully. I asked questions. I said yes to all the games she asked me to play. I felt like the parent I used to be -- the parent who, with one child, was always calm, patient, and ready to go above and beyond.

But our time together also felt familiar.

I noticed that my daughter and I were having conversations we'd had many times before. We were playing games we all play as a family or that she and I play when her brother naps on the weekend. We were coloring and drawing pictures of princesses and giving them names -- pictures we could easily add to the already-impressive pile we have in our kitchen. And every time I held her in my arms and kissed her cheeks a zillion times in a row as if she were leaving for college, there wasn't a single aspect that was foreign or unfamiliar -- because I do it a hundred times each day. The only difference? It's often amongst the throes of her brother banging pots against the floor, a barking dog, and boisterous requests to hear "You're Welcome" from Moana.

Her brother may be the most formidable force in our house right now, but she's far from overlooked.

As mothers, we constantly think we're doing a worse job than we are. We all see these seemingly perfect lives on Instagram, blogs, and even in Whole Foods, and immediately highlight our shortcomings and overlook all the thoughtful and amazing things we do each day -- the advice we give, the boo boos we kiss, the lunches we lovingly make -- as if they never happen. But we're far better at parenting than we think. All of us. For me, it took dialing down the (very loud) noise of my daily life to realize this. And I know it doesn't only apply to me.

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As we made our final decent into Newark, I stroked my daughter's Breton-striped back and felt a tinge of sentimentality as she watched the play-size cars and houses below. I was ready to go home, ready to see my son and husband, ready to sleep in my bed, but I was already feeling nostalgic for the uninterrupted time with my daughter.

It was a given that at home my daughter's back rubs and our "I Spy" games would be cut short thanks to a certain jealous 2-year-old. But then I thought about how that night I would lay in bed with her after her bedtime story, playing with her damp-from-the-bath hair and absorbing her nightlight-illuminated profile. I thought about our walk home from school the next day, where we would talk about what she did while picking bouquets of buttercups and dandelions. To be sure, our everyday lives wouldn't be as slow and deliberate as they were on a remote ranch -- no one's is -- but our hectic, truncated version is more rife with these intimate, meaningful moments than I realized.

And I think -- I hope -- my daughter already knew that.

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