My 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.
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.
But 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.
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.