Dedicated to my Cornell girlfriends.

Being on an airplane without my children feels like mistakenly leaving my house without a bra. Something is not right. And yet, it’s liberating, particularly as I am headed to an annual escape with my college girlfriends. For years, I did not find the time to go to these annual get-togethers. That was the real mistake.

In our daily lives of motherhood, whether we are “leaning in,” embracing domesticity or straddling both worlds as best we can, no one can understand and appreciate the roller coaster ride of motherhood as much as our girlfriends. And so, I have learned (although it took me awhile to catch on) that an annual escape with my girlfriends is a mandatory, mental-health engagement.

It’s not easy for any of us to get away. For days before, I work out the logistics for my three children (much harder than a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle), call in favors from family and friends, type up my children’s schedules so they (and their caretakers) know the plan (thereby hopefully avoiding teary phone calls) and frantically work late nights to clear my desk before departing. And there is always the unexpected last-minute to-dos: run to pick up my daughter’s antibiotics, coordinate getting my son’s baseball uniform for his first game, write a poem from the tooth fairy for the lost tooth that day (yes, that was a rookie mistake I started 19 teeth ago, thinking I was so clever, unaware that I was setting the bar too high) and continue to send out work emails all the way to the airport and until the flight attendant is ready to confiscate my phone for take off. I wonder if all of the angst has been worth it. Collectively, we girlfriends will miss tournaments, games, performances, work, parent-teacher conferences, meetings… there is real sacrifice to get away together.

But then it is time to take off. The anxiety, irritation and exhaustion start to melt away. I think lovingly of my husband and children and uncharacteristically send a spontaneous gushy email to my husband, even though there is no WiFi on the flight.

I half-listen to the emergency instruction for adults to put on their oxygen mask before putting on their children’s, and I actually stop to think about it. It reminds me of why I am heading to see my girlfriends, why every mama must take an escape with their girlfriends. I look out the window and everything below shrinks as we soar. Already, I start to gain greater perspective.

1. Girlfriends are moms who need to take care of themselves so they can continue to take care of everyone else.

Although self-evident, we moms too often ignore this mantra, as we strive to be there for of our children, husbands, family and friends. But with the limitless and miraculous job of motherhood, there are no scheduled breaks, no sick days and no accrued leave. We cannot effectively be there for everyone if we do not take care of ourselves, too. There is often guilt associated with a trip to spend time bonding with girlfriends, something I still need to work out, but we need to be the ones to make it a reality because no one else will do it for us.

2. Girlfriends care to hear about the details. Repeatedly.

Before marriage, children and careers, we used to talk on the phone (and in person) for hours, often telling the same story in great detail to multiple friends. I recall an instructor at a local gym continually asking me and my girlfriend to stop chatting during his class. One day, as we were jogging together (while in deep conversation) in Central Park, the same instructor passed us and couldn’t help but remark: “Still chatting!” Men marvel at this feat of chattiness. According to Dr. Louann Brizendine, who wrote The Female Brain, women speak as many as three times more words per day than men. Escaping with our girlfriends gives us the chance to fulfill our daily word quota with those who also yearn for in-depth conversations, without the incessant tap on the shoulder or the why-are-you-telling-me-this stare. We girlfriends sit for hours, diving into extended catch-up conversations, analyzing and re-analyzing situations, visiting old memories and sharing new stories.

3. Girlfriends are our cheerleaders who make us feel young again.

Our children are prone to say “what’s that on your face?” when you have a pimple, or “you smell!” when you need to brush your teeth. And our husbands may arrive home late to see us in our comfy but not-so-sexy pajamas more often than we realize. But a weekend away with our girlfriends, the compliments flow, and l feel like a runway model (at 45 years old and 5’3″). There’s nothing like girlfriends to make you feel young and beautiful.

4. Girlfriends Intervene, when necessary.

Escaping annually with girlfriends means that some years we want to mark the occasion with celebration, and some years we find ourselves in a rough patch in our lives. Girlfriends know when something is wrong because we can read each other. Sometimes we need a shoulder, sometimes we need a nudge and sometimes we need someone to verbalize what we do not even realize we know to be the truth. Girlfriends will not hold back when the truth needs to be said, awakening our intuition. And yet, girlfriends can be gentle and quietly supporting when we are not ready to verbalize our inner turmoil.

5. Girlfriends remind us to laugh so hard we cry (and try not to pee in our pants).

With the responsibility of motherhood, I sometimes mourn my carefree, spontaneous self that seems to only come out fleetingly, but definitely when I am with my girlfriends. We listen to old playlists and the tunes seem to transform us as the weekend progresses into our pre-marriage, pre-children beings. I find myself laughing longer and harder, the old irresistible laugh where tears stream down my cheeks, and we all blurt out the details of some shared memory, finishing each others’ sentences and re-discovering flashes of our old, familiar selves, which we then bring home with us.

6. Girlfriends share (even when we can’t figure out the technology).

By the end of a girlfriend escape, there is one thing we are guaranteed: Lists. Books we need to read, songs to listen to, products to buy, parenting tips to adopt, and photos we plan to share (when we can figure out how).

7. Girlfriends inspire us to be better.

My girlfriends leave me awestruck with their accomplishments in their personal and professional lives: being there for a close friend who battles illness, having four kids and switching careers to get a degree in a field of interest, raising a daughter with special needs and becoming an advocate and expert for her and thousands of similar families, coaching and managing teams, achieving breathtaking career success, founding groups and supporting causes, raising admirable children, maintaining healthy marriages… we discuss bucket lists, goals, dreams and desires. Girlfriends give each other support and advice and encourage us to become yet more of who we are capable of being.

As the end of my girlfriend escape approaches, my anxieties of life creep back. I feel heavy-hearted when I have to say goodbye, but I am also invigorated to go home and hug my family. I am going home a mother and wife who will laugh more, sing out loud more and appreciate my life and its possibilities even more, thanks to the priceless gift of my girlfriends. The airplane descends below the clouds, and I can see the runway clearly below.

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