Tuesday, January 28, 2020

You can love being with your kids--AND without them

I was at a kid's birthday party once, discussing vacation plans and travel tips with another mom, when I asked her if the trip she was planning was a family one, or just a getaway for her and her husband. She--I kid you not--literally gasped, put a hand to her chest, and said "Oh nooooo, we never travel without the children. I don't have those kinds of urges." While I was busy trying not to respond inappropriately nor giggle at the use of the word urges, she then threw in the following statement, unprompted, just for good measure: "I asked my husband once. He said he does not have those urges either." *

*Fine print: no portion of the aforementioned conversation was exaggerated, tweaked, altered, made up, or misquoted for the sake of comedic effect.

I do have those urges.

I had them when they were teeny-tiny babies and smelled delicious and their presence in my life felt as tender and unexpected as the soft spots on their heads. I had them when they were bigger but still so little and called me "Mama" in their raspy little voices. I have them now when they are pre-teen and full-blown-in-my-face-teen and simultaneously awe and enrage me.

I love my boys. I love snuggling on the couch with them on family movie nights. I love listening to them tell me stories about how they handled a socially charged situation in school. I love climbing into our RV and spending a bunch of days with just the four of us making s'mores, riding bikes, and searching for adventure. I love that they both still expect (and enjoy) their bedtime songs and nightly rituals. I love being Mommy.

But I love being Liz, too. I love paddle boarding by myself at sunrise and discussing books over wine with my book club girls and reading the 704th book from the Outlander series in peace.

And I love being Hubby's Wife, too. I love strolling on the boardwalk in the afternoon hand-in-hand to decompress from our day and talking with him quietly over beers at our favorite local bar and spending an entire day at the beach drinking way too many Jack and Cokes.

I have urges. Lots of 'em.

I have been fortunate enough to be able to go on many getaways with Hubby, sans kids, thanks to amazing grandparents. Most of the trips have been little getaways, designed to help us reconnect and recharge so we could do Us better, but also so we could do Parenting better. These days, we go on way more family trips than Just Us trips, because we know we only have so many years left with the boys before they: a) are no longer able to take time away from their school/sports/schedules, b) grow up and move away, or c) no longer want to travel with us. Plus, now that they are not babies anymore, there are a lot of places we want to show them and lots of things we want to discover. So for now, if we can sneak in a long weekend once or twice a year without the kids, that's enough.

We are getting ready to take the boys on their first cruise in the next couple of months, and planning for that got me thinking about the last time Hubby and I were on a cruise. It was the first time we went away together after Kai was born. We were parenting an almost-4-year-old and a very high-maintenance 6-month-old so let's just say we were urging Reading that post made me relive both the desperation we felt to get away and the sweetness of feeling like we were leaving someone behind who would miss us with nearly equal parts desperation. Let's just say Ben's reaction, at age 4, was quite different to what his reaction would be now, at 14, if we were to announce we were going away for a few days. It definitely made me a little melancholic, but I guess the bright side is that as they get older and less dependent on us, the more opportunities we will have to satisfy those other urges.

So here's the Throwback post from that cruise getaway originally posted here on July 7, 2009:

Pina Colada, anyone?

"Four days?!? You and Daddy are gonna be gone for four days?"

"Yes, Ben, that is why (pause here for dramatic emphasis) you get to rent FOUR Blockbuster movies for grandma's house!! Isn't that gonna be cool?!?"

"But Maaaamaaaa, I don't waaaant you and Daddy to be gone for four days. I want to be with you guys aaaaall the time."

We have been telling Ben about our upcoming "Mommy and Daddy Vacation" for a few days now. I think it just hit him today that maybe, just maybe, he might have a problem with it. It seems that 4 rental movies do not cancel out 4 days of no Mama and Dada. Darn.

Hubby and I are big believers in spending quality grown-up couple time together. We do not think a fancy dinner can be romantic with 2 children sitting at the table with us (in spite of what some parents we know tell us...repeatedly). We do not think a family vacation--although wonderful in its own right--is as relaxing or as recharging for the marriage as a true getaway all alone. I realize that not everyone has this option. We do. We have my mom, Babysitter Extraordinaire. We are lucky. Really lucky.

So we will be leaving in exactly 40 hours (um, ehem, approximately), and we will tap into our Old Selves. The ones we were before we were Mama and Daddy. The ones we were when we met. And dated. And held hands. And kissed. And giggled. And flirted. And, uh, other stuff. It's hard to be Those People in our daily lives. It's hard to...and we try, Lord knows, we try. We reach out across the expanse of our family room, strewn with rattles, Hot Wheels cars, balls, books, and Nerf darts, and we try to reconnect as often as possible. With winks. With kisses. With smiles. With hugs. And after we put the boys down to sleep, we try to, with some regularity, open a bottle of wine, put on some music, talk (yes, really talk) and love each other. On the best nights, it feels like old times. On the worst nights, we're too tired to even bother with any of it. On most nights, we manage to steal an hour to ourselves before we collapse with exhaustion. This is Our Lives right now. It's what we want. But it's hard.

If you're lucky enough to be parenting with someone you'd still marry all over again, then it can definitely be more rewarding, but in some ways it can make day-to-day life even more frustrating. Because when you actually like the person you're parenting with, when you actually miss him even though he's still right there, living with you, sleeping in your bed, making breakfast with you everyday, helping you turn little boys into men, well, then it can be doubly hard because it's the parenting that's keeping you apart. So to have four...count 'em...four whole days and nights to OURSELVES on a cruise ship...away from the Real World, away from Our Current Lives, away from...yes, The Kids...it will be heaven. But as I finalize my packing, as I count down the last few hours, as I get my passport ready, I realize that I am leaving behind 2 little boys...one who will notice our absence, really notice it, for the first time, and in spite of the promises of Blockbuster movies, special outings with the grandparents, no bedtimes, and extra candy, well...the truth of the matter is, fortunately or unfortunately, he still likes being with us best.

So when I heard the panic creeping into his voice today, I felt a bit of the same panic creeping into me. Not so much because I will miss him, but because I want him to behave for Grandma and Grandpa...I want him to have fun...I want him to be happy...and, I have to admit, I want to leave guilt-free. And if he is clinging to my leg upon my departure, it will take me more than a couple of umbrella drinks to unwind and really let go. And letting go is the whole purpose of this trip.

I think I'm gonna need a lot of singles for the bartenders.