9pm: I am the mother of three children (Stanley aged 6, Wilfred 4 and Mabel 20 months old) - and I’ve had at least one of them in the tow for the last 40 flights I have boarded. My husband flies a lot with business, so he’s enjoyed plenty of uninterrupted movies, inflight meals, and cat naps at 40,000 feet - and to be honest, I’d quite like a bit of that too. So I’m flying to Rome tomorrow morning to meet a girlfriend for a 3-night holiday in the city. My bag is packed, my passport is stashed in my hand luggage, and my alarm is set for 5am to get to the airport. Will I miss my family? Definitely! But will I enjoy it? I don’t doubt it for a second.
7am: I've just waved goodbye to my husband and I'm stood at the check-in desk at the airport. I’m feeling a strange mixture of nerves and excitement about flying on my own for the first time in 6 and a half years. I’ve always been a frequent flier, jumping on several flights a month in the days before kids, but I can barely remember what I did in airports before I had kids. Should I go straight through and grab a coffee? Or head to Duty Free? Or maybe enjoy a quiet, childless breakfast where I can flick through a magazine until my flight is called? There are so many options that I don't know what to do.
10am: I'm on the flight now and we're taking off. As we climb higher into the air, it's suddenly occurred to me how far away I’ll be if anything goes wrong. I feel a rising sense of panic, but there's no going back now. I've got two hours to flick through my magazine and day dream, without having to worry about a toddler chucking bread rolls or child throwing his entire glass of orange squash over himself. I vow to enjoy every second.
1.30pm: I’ve arrived in Rome Fiumicino Airport and I’m waiting by the luggage carousel. To my right, a couple are stood with a tiny baby. I feel sad for a moment that my children aren’t here to enjoy a holiday too - but as the baby starts crying loudly, whilst the husband struggles to balance four suitcases on a trolley, I appreciate my child-free status more than ever. I grab my single suitcase and sail out into the airport in a matter of minutes. I’d forgotten the sense of freedom you feel when can travel light!
5pm: After a few hours chatting and unpacking, Elena and I leave our apartment and wander into the centre of Rome, taking in the sights as we go. To our left, The Colosseum catches rays of late afternoon sun. We keep walking and reach the Trevi Fountain, posing for photographs amongst the crowds. Coming across a piazza filled with cafes, we decide to sit down for a drink. One drink turns into two - and our tummies start to rumble. And that’s where we are now, tucking into the most amazing pizza and trying to pin down our flavour of gelato for dessert.
11pm - I’ve just looked at my phone and discovered a flurry of bedtime messages from the kids back home. I feel a smidgen of guilt for forgetting to say goodnight. “I deserve this time” I remind myself, as I scroll through photos of them on my phone in bed.
9am: I’m still lying in bed. On my own! Without a baby next to me or two boys asking if I can put on the TV! It’s heaven!
11am: Rome is hot and busy - and I’m very thankful that I don’t have children to worry about as I try to walk down small passageways without being knocked over by mopeds and make my way through the crowds. The Spanish Steps are busy, but we find a space to sit on for a photo. I can already taste the plate of pasta I am imagining for lunch.
5pm: We’re back in the apartment for a siesta after a busy day sightseeing - and the luxury of having a few hours to lie down isn’t lost on me. “What would I be doing now?” I ask myself, as I look at the clock. I would be in the middle of teatime at home, probably trying to convince three children to eat and picking up rejected food from under the highchair. I stretch out on my big double bed and pick up my book. I know where I’d rather be.
Midnight: I was just dropping off to sleep, when my eyes shot open in panic. I haven’t missed the kids much up to this point, but I’m suddenly feeling so far away from them. This physical ache to be close to them, especially my youngest, has taken me by surprise.
1pm: We’re sat in a beautiful restaurant in a leafy piazza in Rome. We’ve spent the whole morning shopping for presents for the children. We have five children between us - and the bags are filled with Roman soldier costumes, lift-the-flap Roman village books, and snow globes of the city. I used to come back from city breaks with bags full of clothes and accessories for myself. How times change!
8pm: We’re walking through the streets of Rome for the last time and I’m trying my best to commit the beauty of our surroundings to memory. We stop to look at some Roman ruins, wondering what they could be. With a quick scroll on my phone, I discover this is the place Julius Caesar was murdered. Rome never ceases to amaze.
Midnight: We’ve just got back to our apartment after a beautiful evening in Piazza Navoni, complete with giant pizzas, the sound of opera singers in the air, and lovely conversation with my friend. I haven’t thought about the kids much at all today, but I think about them as I’m falling asleep. I can’t wait to back with them tomorrow.
10am: As I wait to board my flight, I find myself scrolling through photos on my phone of the weekend. I feel nostalgic about it already. I really needed a break before I came on this holiday - and I really do feel rested and relaxed. But I’ve also got a renewed appreciation of what is waiting for me at home. I can’t wait to see those three little faces!
2pm: As I walk out into the arrivals hall, the three children come hurtling towards me. I stop where I am, even though I know we’re causing a blockage, and crouch down to hug them tight. “Did you miss me?” I ask, as we start to walk away. “Yes, Mummy,” my middle child says, looking up at me with happy eyes. And then with a cheeky smile, he adds: “Can we have our presents now?” I’m so happy to be home.