When I told people I was leaving my kids at home, I felt guilt at first – even though I knew they’d be in the safe and loving hands of my husband, my mom-in-law and our wonderful nanny Norma. Why should I feel guilty though? No-one batted an eyelid when my husband flew off to Italy for his friend’s wedding, leaving me at home with two little ones. But when the mother does it, some people immediately judge, thinking she’s shirking her responsibilities, abandoning her children.
I felt that too a little bit, I must admit. But only at first. Once I was actually on holiday, spending time by myself, sleeping eight hours straight, eating a meal slowly without being interrupted, going on a leisurely game drive and having wonderful conversations with girlfriends, I realised that not only was this good for me, but it was essential to my happiness and I needed to be doing it more regularly.
When you become a mother (or father) you are suddenly so many things to so many people that you forget how it feels to just be yourself. Obviously you love your children immensely but you forget what you are without them, that you are still you – someone with ambitions and loves and fears that are separate from anything you do as a mother. Everyone is different but I crave silence, peaceful moments when I can just sit and contemplate. These moments are rare in a house full of children and I so appreciated these moments this holiday.
I went to Zimbabwe to be a bridesmaid at a close friend’s wedding, which was held at Bumi Hills Safari Lodge on the banks of Lake Kariba. It took us a while to get to Bumi (2 hour flight to Harare, 5 hour bus ride to Kariba and then a 5 hour boat crossing) but it was worth every minute. The views are spectacular, the game viewing sublime (the ellie in the photograph came up really close to us with its calf) and the staff friendly and accommodating. It really is paradise and remains that way only because it is a bit out-of-the-way.
Things seem positive in Zimbabwe, despite its recent history. Harare was buzzing. Life is hard but everyone’s an entrepreneur, offering to sell you a home-made broom, or re-tile your roof, or clean your car. And the land is beautiful, you forget just how beautiful.
On our final evening, we went on the most spectacular game drive and as I sipped champagne and watched the magnificent sun set, the most enormous full moon rise and listened to hippos bellowing in the lake and felt myself surrounded by wonderful people, I knew so powerfully that I don’t want to be anywhere but here, in Africa. There is no place like it. We have such huge problems but we also have such immense beauty, such promise, such possibility.
I returned home a different Belinda. So grateful for my wonderful life as a wife and mother but also with the knowledge that I am still me, without all those things. It is a notion so easily forgotten and I’ve made a pact with myself to do this once every year or so, so that I can try to remember.
Photos by Claudia Mills