Home Alone

imagesMy husband and I are often in different countries.  Sometimes different continents.  A few moves and working for an international organization will do that to a couple.  There are business trips and conferences, training sessions and summer holidays.  There is wrap up and set up of the old and new digs.  It’s never for too long, but long enough to make the heart grow fonder.  He crosses his heart/hopes to die/stick a needle in his eye that when we are apart, he misses us.  And perhaps after the first few heel clicks of freedom, the heaving sigh of relief at being able to watch The Great British Bake-off in peace, the gluttonous satisfaction of eating take-out three nights in a row, he does.  But he steadfastly maintains that after a day or two the novelty tarnishes and the space in between becomes heavy; the days more about killing time than wallowing in it.  I never really believed him.  He can’t very well turn around and say “Yes!  It is epically awesome when you guys go away!  I can drink beer and have frozen pizza for dinner every night and fart and burp and swear and leave untidy piles of paper around with abandon!

It’s no secret that I envy that time away from spouse and children.  A break from the norm, a break from the grind, a break from the every-day sameness.  But it has always been nothing more than a fantasy for me; a reality so remote from my own that it took on Holy Grail like proportions.  The idea of a weekend on my own, by myself, was so delicious that my mouth watered at the thought.IMG_4728

And then two years ago my husband announced he was taking the boys on an overnight adventure.  It was a last-minute trip, planned so that I could spend the day with a bag of chips watching Prince William pledge to love, honor and cherish Kate Middleton.  Normally I am content to read the stories and look at the publicity pictures in glossy magazines after the fact.  But for some reason, I was invested in that wedding.  I think it had something to do with all the hoopla surrounding her dress.   Regardless, I nearly wept with joy when he announced his intention to keep the boys out of the house and my hair for nearly two full days.  I realized it would be the first time in nearly seven years I would sleep by myself in my own bed in my own house.

I threw clothes and supplies in whatever I could find and packed bags full of snacks and first aid supplies.  I may have slammed the door while blowing kisses and waving goodbye.  I think my husband may have asked if I could contain my glee somewhat, for the sake of the children.  But, oh!  36 hours BY MYSELF.  I merrily cleaned the house and IT STAYED CLEAN.  I went to the mall (there wasn’t much to do in Cyprus) and I came home and THE HOUSE WAS STILL CLEAN.  I had a can of soup for dinner in my clean house and washed my one pot and one bowl and one spoon.  I had some wine.  I had some chips.  I watched a movie about a sparkly vampire and a sullen teenager.  I went to bed and got up early the next morning, plonked myself down in front of the television and watched continuous coverage from Westminster Abbey.  The wedding was lovely.  I was disappointed in the dress.

When the males returned, exhausted from adventure, smelling of unwashedness, knees scraped and smiling, I felt a burst of love.  For my children of course.  But also for my husband, for taking my children away for the night and giving me the gift of alone-ness.

In nine years, I have spent five nights by myself.  Two of those were the nights I spent in the hospital after giving birth.  But I am not petty, I shall count them.  Nine years.  Five nights.  Even my five year-old can do the math on that one.

This year when my husband announced he was taking the boys camping, I had an initial burst of euphoria.  I made a conscious decision not to do anything.  I would spend the weekend simply chilling out.  I didn’t want to clean.  I didn’t want to cook for company or go out with friends.  I had some work I wanted to do on the blog.  There is the book.  There was art to hang.  I toyed with the idea of putting my wedding photos in an album, twelve years after the fact.  Sure, there were errands to run and food to be bought but I had nearly two whole days in which to do it.  Oodles and doodles of time.

IMG_4729But a funny thing happened on the way to alone-ness.  The idea of spending the weekend alone began to weigh on me.  It didn’t shine with the same magic and mystery as it had before.  When your children are little and there is someone tugging on you or hanging on you or trying to climb into you marsupial style, space and peace are all you can think about.  But I get a fair amount of space and peace these days.  Even with the cleaning and the laundry and the food shopping and the errand running, the school stuff and the day-to-day maintenance, there is time enough in there.  There’s time to sit and contemplate.  To have a coffee with a friend, to write, to read, to chill out on a park bench in the sun for five minutes before it’s time to move on.  That is only part of it though.  Another is that I am a little jealous.  As mom, I am the one who is reminding the kids to do their homework and put their clothes away and make their beds.  I am the one who is smelling their breath to make sure they used toothpaste and sniffing their feet to make sure they’ve chosen clean socks.  But Dad!  Dad is the one who is taking them camping and letting them make fire and roast marshmallows and bait fish hooks and whittle sticks with sharp knives.   While the everyday stuff, the bone structure,  is what keeps the family from collapsing in on itself,  it’s not what my children are likely to remember.  When they are sitting around in ten years waxing poetic about their childhood, do you think they are going to remember how Mom used to check their backpacks for homework or how Dad let them cook hot dogs on a stick?

Fire trumps clean socks every time.

This time they were a lot more excited than I was.  And I realized, as much as they all drive me batty, I was going to miss them.

Photo:  fireplacemall.com
Photo: fireplacemall.com

Okay, maybe not the squabbling and having to cook, but just having someone else around.  Not just someone, but my someones.

Maybe my husband has been telling the truth all along.  Maybe he really does miss us when we’re gone.  The next time he Skypes us from the sofa, a beer in hand with a marathon of Master Chef playing in the background, I shall give him the benefit of the doubt.

17 thoughts on “Home Alone

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  1. I agree with you, there is something of the “careful what you wish for” about getting time to yourself. Your description of “one pot and one bowl and one spoon” somehow captures the two sides of the coin, for me. Being home alone can be like drinking alcohol alone—ie not as much fun. However, any chance I get to be on my own I go wild listening to music, while the TV is on in the other room and I am reading and playing my guitar and…you get the idea! 🙂


    1. It’s funny you should say that. I had a lot of trouble with the title of this piece, and until I finally decided on it, for a while it was called Be Careful What You Wish For. It was also titled A Widow for One Day, which I really wanted to use, but I felt like it was offensive to those who really struggle with this sort of thing day after day. Like my mom. When I sent my husband off to CPH to set up house here, I packed him one pot, one mug, a towel and a blanket in the air freight. That was the non-sentimental, efficient side of me. But now thinking about it, well, how sad, really! It is always nice to have some time to let your hair down (while playing guitar or watching chick flicks). But it’s even nicer when everyone comes home.


  2. My husband travels some for his work. When he isn’t away, he works from home. It is either feast or famine with him. The first day he is gone I work on projects long delayed. The second day I am still enjoying not having to meal plan and cook. The third day I’m missing him. The fourth day I about go crazy with loneliness. The fifth day he is one the way home and I’m excited. Of course once he is home he doesn’t want to do anything but be a couch potato and enjoy being home. That’s when I want to fly the coop.

    My mother used to take my kids home with her for a weekend once or twice a month. It was wonderful alone time for us as a couple. The kids enjoyed being spoiled. We all benefited.

    Great post!


    1. I am still waiting for the grandparents take the kids part of the equation…(Mom, Mom-in-Law, excuse the giant hints being dropped here…) I think that would be unbelievably beneficial to all involved. (GIANT HINT). I love your description of how you view your time with and without your husband though. It’s so true. I often feel that way with my boys. I pick them up from school and am thrilled to see them and then they hurl their backpacks and homework folders in my general direction, wave hello as they are running past to play with their friends and I think, “Why was I so happy to see them again?”


  3. I just spent ten days alone, making art, and I quite enjoyed it. What I liked best was doing everything exactly at the time I wanted: meals, sleeping, errands, working. But I couldn’t get over that sense of phantom limbs, that something was constantly missing, namely my family and family responsibilities.


    1. Phantom limbs is a perfect way of putting it. I think in my case as well, being ‘home’, there are always things that need to get done, and those usually weigh on me. I’m one of those horribly unrelaxing types that can’t sit down until everything is done. I often fantasize about a long plane trip by myself. Not so much to reach the destination, but the plane journey itself, in a space where you can’t do errands or laundry or food shopping, but you just have to allow yourself to ‘be’.


  4. My mother had this same problem; after she dealt with the no fun doctors visits, stomach bugs, gum-in-hair incidents, our father would come back from work trips with exotic presents (a camel whip, a bamboo back scratcher ?!?). He would take us away for the odd weekend to give my mom a break and feed us satanic forbidden sugar cereals, Eggo waffles, frozen pizza and ice cream. This stacked the deck against Mom and relegated her to “no fun Mom” status, yet she never played the martyr card. I miss you, Mom!


    1. I’m not sure I have the strength to forego the martyr card in a dire situation (say when they leave home and balk at calling me once a week…). Your mom, bless her, sounds like one hell of a woman. From what I know of her through your stories, I think I would have liked her very much.


      1. What am I thinking- we used to tease her (’cause she needed more harassment, right?) that her go-to response was, “Don’t worry about me..!”
        Your beautiful post makes me wish that I could share an adult’s perspective with her and thank her for not killing us after what we put her through…and my dad owns part of that!


    1. That’s the thing, isn’t it? You always think, oh for a minute’s peace! And then you have a few minutes of peace and you realize how vast and empty the space around you is without the little buggers around. Kids. You cant’ live with em….


    1. Oh yes, the clean house that stays clean is the best part of all! And the one pot dinners. In the end though, it’s nice to have the foot stomping, loud talking, sticky hugging presences of my boys. All of them!


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