Making The Case For a Post-Lockdown Solo Staycation

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It’s the stuff of fantasy for many women. SARAH BREEN, co-author of the wildly successful Oh My God, What A Complete Aisling books and mother of three, describes a solo overnight break in a hotel …

The comments on my Instagram page were unanimous: “Absolute bliss.” “I’m not jealous at all, just happy for you.” It seemed I was truly, finally living my best life. But let’s rewind six months. I have three kids, aged seven, three-and-a-half and 18 months. Lockdown came at me fast. Once the schools shut, so did our front door. We’re lucky enough to live near Phoenix Park but the paranoia gripped me so tightly that it was weeks before we left the house for fear of the hand-holding couples and perspiring joggers rumoured to be dominating the local footpaths. I can’t remember a single thing we did in those neverending days but I know they all hinged on the promise of Netflix at 4pm (them) and gin at 7pm (me).

The upside to having young kids is they’re far too self-absorbed to be worried about a global pandemic. Their biggest concern was how to get fewer bananas and more chocolate into my chocolate-flavoured, chocolate chip banana bread. The downside, however, is how much one-on-one attention they each require, constantly. I am only one person, I would wail, as I simultaneously tried to print off the life cycle of a frog, wipe a bum and breastfeed.

I often joke that my children would get back inside me if they could, but I’m not really joking because it’s true. They just want to be touching me, all the time. What little respite I got at night was frequently interrupted by new molars or bad dreams and I often lay awake, balancing on the edge of the bed, wondering if I’d ever be alone again.

And then lo, restrictions were lifted and nature healed and the schools went back, which is when I decided that I’d earned a gift. Not a gift like all the stuff I bought online in order to single-handedly keep the economy going (you’re welcome), I’m talking about the type of gift that money can’t buy … the gift of solitude. So I booked a night away in a hotel. Alone!

“You’ll have to eat by yourself in the restaurant,” my mother announced matter-of-factly, like this hasn’t been a pipe dream of mine for some time. “I’m looking forward to it,” I replied, peeling a toddler off my shoulder and imagining a candlelit dinner for one where I don’t have to share my food or wash up.

The momentous Saturday came, and so did the guilt. Not because I was leaving my kids, you understand, I’d put in enough hours there to ensure there’s no nursing home on the horizon for me. No, it was because I was leaving my husband alone with them, and I recently realised that he’s never alone with them because I am always there. Always. So then the guilt dissipated, and I threw some extra knickers and another novel into my overnight bag in case I decided to simply never come home.

I was like a newborn calf taking its first steps as I nervously merged on to the M50 and pointed the car for Hunter’s in Rathnew, Co Wicklow where I’d nabbed a good deal on bed and breakfast plus dinner. To be driving alone was disconcerting enough but being on a motorway after so many months going no further than the Big Tesco had my nerves twanging like guitar strings. Before I knew it an hour had passed and Google Maps was telling me to exit the motorway because my destination was a mere three minutes away on the right. Huzzah!

Hunter’s Hotel, Rathnew, Co Wicklow

It was my first time at Hunter’s but a friend had assured me I’d love it. She wasn’t wrong. Having arrived a little early (eager? moi?) I was shown into the charming drawing room and presented with a pot of freshly brewed coffee and a scone still warm from the oven. It was heaven. Then, after a quick jaunt around their thriving vegetable gardens and making a dinner reservation for later, it was time to get on with the business of being by myself.

As a parent of small kids I’m faced with the same dilemma every evening: do I catch up on sleep or just enjoy being alone? If I sleep, I know I’ll feel better in the long term but it just means there’s no respite from the kids and their mania. If I stay awake, I might catch up on my Netflix but the following day, when Shouty Mammy makes an appearance, won’t be much fun. I contemplated this for possibly a minute too long because the next thing I knew my phone alarm was going off reminding me that a dinner I didn’t have to cook was happening in 15 minutes. Honestly, is there anything more delicious than an unscheduled nap?

The beauty of being away alone meant I could actively dress down for dinner. I didn’t even bring make-up! The luxury of it. And although 100 per cent of the other guests were in their finery, I didn’t feel out of place in the elegant dining room in my oversized jumper and leggings with my novel under my arm. (After the Silence by Louise O’Neill – it’s gripping, highly recommend.) Dinner at my table for one was divine – I had a prawn and avocado salad followed by seabass smothered in the most delicious lobster fricassee, and all topped off with a luxurious chocolate torte. The service was excellent, friendly and attentive, and I lingered for a while with my first post-lockdown pint of Guinness before turning in for an unprecedented nine hours of blissful, uninterrupted sleep. I woke the next morning to the sound of birdsong – not the omnipresent roaring of the seagulls that circle my house – feeling like a new woman. The whole experience had such a positive effect on my mental health and general wellbeing that I’ve resolved to do it every year. And next time I’m making a weekend of it.

Main featured image: This ridiculously pretty townhouse suite complete with copper bathtub at The Mayson in Dublin’s Docklands would be wasted on a man, frankly.

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