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Should You Take a Vacation Without Your Kid?

“Should You Take a Vacation Without Your Kid?” originally appeared on Asbury Park Press and was reprinted with permission.

Christine Coppa and her friends in Costa Brava, Spain, where their friend was getting married. | Image Source: Christine Coppa
Christine Coppa and her friends in Costa Brava, Spain, where their friend was getting married. | Image Source: Christine Coppa

In the spring of 2006, I went to France and England with my friend Lauren. It was my first time in Europe — I was 25. I brought a few hundred bucks, one pair of jeans, and three lipsticks (and some other basics).

Seven days in Europe touring museums, parks, churches, making new friends, tiptoeing around not so glamorous hostels — was pretty much a 20something’s dream come true. Lauren and I decided a group of us would go to Spain in the summer of 2007. We had a year and change — to save and plot.

Then life happened. That’s how it goes right?

I found out I was pregnant in January 2007 — a few days after returning from New Year’s Eve festivities in San Francisco and uh, touring wine county. As the story goes, my boyfriend took off in the first trimester and I was left to navigate my pregnancy and (gulp) parenthood alone. If you’re cringing — you’re not alone.

Spain in the summer was obviously put on the back burner as I was due in August. I remember telling my mom, “Oh yeah, I’ll totally go to Spain next summer. You can watch him.”

I peg that to hormones — hallucinations? I didn’t go. I went to the Jersey Shore. Jack tasted salt water on his finger.

As a working single mom, with a baby in daycare that cost over $1,000 a month, the idea of ever going on a vacation, let alone without my son, seemed absurd. But things started to even out.

When my book Rattled! came out, we flew out to California and stayed in Manhattan Beach as part of the tour. Jack stole my thunder and signed copies of books.

Coppa and Jack in Hawaii at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa. | Image Source: Christine Coppa
Coppa and Jack in Hawaii at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa. | Image Source: Christine Coppa

We took a Disney Cruise, stopping in Disney World, before cruising to the Bahamas. Uncle Carlo joined us in Hawaii at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, and we ended up spending a few days at Atlantis in the Bahamas in 2013.

Jack’s a pretty well-traveled kid, and it has always been my goal to give Jack experiences and not things — like Derek Jeter’s retirement ceremony and game back in 2014.

So when the “save the date” magnet for my best friend Nicole’s wedding in Spain — IN SPAIN — came out, my stomach dropped and I just slapped it to the fridge.

I looked at that magnet every single day, many times a day, while pulling yogurt tubes, cheese sticks, and juice boxes from the fridge. I read the words “Costa Brava” 9,000 times a day.

I was certain: I’d send a sweet note and gift, but there was no way I was going — to freaking Spain.

After all, I’m a single mom. I have my son and finances to think about — gone are the days of jet-setting.

But here’s the thing, I’ve always been in the “Carpe Diem” mindset: live for the moment. Who the heck knows what tomorrow will bring (hey maybe a baby, if you’re me!).

A lot of things have happened to me in life that have charged me with a “Just Do It” attitude! I think being diagnosed with cancer in 2014, two surgeries and radiation was the cherry on the sundae. But I lived. And I now I wanted to live. I was going to Spain.

So I booked my flight to Barcelona and planned out an eight-day adventure with some single girlfriends. I didn’t allow myself to think too hard about my decision because then I wouldn’t have gone through with it. I bought some sundresses, a new bikini, and sunscreen.

Jack and our pup Lucy were set at my dad’s house for a few days and in Bradley Beach with my older brother for the rest. Look, it wasn’t easy leaving him. I wondered about the worst. The plane crashing, mostly — but you can’t live your life in fear.

And I really want to set the travel bug example in my kid — there’s a huge world outside of New Jersey.

I remember taking off from JFK at dusk after two beers at the airport bar. The sky was iridescent. This feeling of calm mingled with excitement came over me. A single mom, I was free.

This may sound selfish, but since Jack’s dad isn’t around at all, I’m on 24/7. Everything is on me. Now I had eight days to tour around Spain — free as a bird. And that’s exactly what I did.

In Barcelona, Coppa and her friends stopped to sip fresh mango juice, eat prosciutto and bread off kabob sticks, and sat at a tiny circle table where the wine never stopped flowing and street performers broke out in dance at the snap of a finger. | Image Source: Christine Coppa
In Barcelona, Coppa and her friends stopped to sip fresh mango juice, eat prosciutto and bread off kabob sticks, and sat at a tiny circle table where the wine never stopped flowing and street performers broke out in dance at the snap of a finger. | Image Source: Christine Coppa

The adventure started in Barcelona. The girls and I checked into our room and immediately changed into our bikinis — to the rooftop pool we went.

Drinks and lunch and naps all around. Next, we walked freely around Barcelona, stopping to sip fresh mango juice, eat prosciutto and bread off kabob sticks, sit at a tiny circle table where the wine never stopped flowing and street performers broke out in dance at the snap of your finger. “I think we should order another plate of croquettes.”

We visited the loud, chaotic, glorious markets, and walked along cobblestone roads.

The next day, we boarded a train and traveled to Costa Brava to watch our best friend get married at a private, countryside residence. The bride glowed; the groom smiled so hard, his eyes showed creases I’d never seen before. We ate, we drank, and we danced, barefoot into the morning hours.

Our next stop was Ibiza — the party capital of Spain. And this is where I realized, you can go on vacation without your kid, but you’re still a mom.

I mom’ed my single friends the entire time. There was no wandering off with men we didn’t know. There was no excessive college-style drinking. There was no accepting drinks from strangers BECAUSE THEY ARE ROOFIED GIRLS!

We partied at Space (a world renowned club), that at 34 was cool but really just a bunch of spaces and dope music. We took in a burlesque show at Lio and wore floral, flower power headbands at Pacha. I was admittedly, shamelessly, such a kid in the candy store.

Coppa and her friends also visited Ibiza, the party capital of Spain. | Image Source: Christine Coppa
Coppa and her friends also visited Ibiza, the party capital of Spain. | Image Source: Christine Coppa

I laid out … (confession) topless (everyone else was). I drank at breakfast. I took afternoon naps on a lounge chair. I slept past 8 AM. (epic!).

Mostly it was so refreshing to just have my guard down. I wasn’t looking out for a little person. There was no hand to hold when I crossed the street, food to cut up at dinner, or pool to patrol because my son was in the water. It was like … before I had a kid, but better and here’s why:

I missed Jack. I missed him in a way where I knew he was safe and spoiled — and couldn’t wait to see him. And when I did see him again, I was so renewed and recharged and, OK, on Euro time, but still.

While some parents may frown upon traveling without your kid, I say do it. I know for me, my identity is not just Mommy. It’s Christine. It’s writer, woman, and, most important, Mommy.

And to be the best version of Jack’s solo single Mommy, I do need a break.

I missed out on Spain in 2007, but got there eight years later. The universe makes sure you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.

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