My children are spending 40 days away from home and from me, traveling out west with my parents via motor-home to see Yellowstone National Park; Devil’s Tower (that odd natural structure featured in the closing sequence of the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”); the city of Cody, Wyoming; and the Teton mountain range. My mom’s been wanting to take them out west for years, just as she took us out west on a mega, 3 month, summer-spanning, road-trip-of-a-lifetime when we were kids, and this summer, the timing was just right. So we dropped them off at my parents’ motor-home on July 6th and will not see them again until August 15th.
Those of you keeping score might remember that it was but two short summers ago that John was gone in Africa for 45 days – days I thought I would handle like a champ but which instead gave me a weird, unpleasant, and hopefully never-repeated glimpse into spouse-less life, followed a few months later by a bout of full-blown depression. Needless to say, although I wanted the girls to have this travel experience, I was not so sure how I would handle it.
Tomorrow marks the half-way point of the girls’ trip out west, so it is with relief and amazement that I can report that – I don’t miss them! I know that sounds horrible so let me explain before social services comes knocking on my door. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE both my girls and treasure these fleeting years of their childhood. I’ve talked to them every few days over the phone, I will be super glad to see them in person when they get home, and I wouldn’t trade motherhood for anything in the world. But parenting is a job where you rarely get a day’s vacation, let alone more than a month’s worth. I am well aware that this is a huge treat that many never experience – and I’m enjoying it!
The first few days without them were just…weird. Three days in, I was still talking to ghosts.
“Look – here’s the border to Maine!”
“Does anyone need to stop at this rest area to pee?”
“Do NOT run down that path – you’ll fall and get hurt!”
“No, you may NOT fill your pockets with rocks.”
(Apparently, it takes a while for the mental mompatter to subside.)
As sentimental as I am, I have never been one to mourn days gone by. I never pined for my grade school years though I had fun at my 20th high school reunion. I enjoyed college but I doubt I’d have the patience to run the educational gauntlet again. Being single was NEVER all it was cracked up to be – especially when you marry your best friend. I loved having babies, and I enjoyed every stage of their early childhood, but I was always ready to move on to new challenges. That “baby lust” others talk about? Never felt it. I was and am GLAD to be done with diapers and bulky strollers.
But this extended time without kids is like a complete throwback to our early married days, like we’ve stepped into some malfunctioning time machine that threw us into the past with one foot still in the present. Our 11 day road-trip trip to Canada without kids was soooo incredibly relaxing. We saw whatever was wanted to see, ate what and where-ever we wanted to without worrying about what was on the kid menu or how late someone would be kept up. We sat on a beach and watched the waves roll up until we felt like leaving. We snacked on the bed and watched TV just because we could!
Twice we were around kids that were not our own. We ignored tantrums, played games, and indulged in silliness without a thought of the consequences. We watched other people being parents and thought, “yep…that’s how it goes. How NICE that we don’t have to do that right now!” It was glorious – a glimpse, perhaps, into potential future grandparent-hood.
Now we are home and here are a few things I never even realized I missed about that former life when we were a childless couple:
1. Eating in the family room on the couch without worrying about spills.
2. Staying up late and sleeping in late to compensate.
3. The quiet.
4. Going out together without worrying about a babysitter.
5. Making a trip to the grocery store that lasted us a week & didn’t involve a list.
6. The quiet.
7. Buying small quantities of food instead of the “family pack” sizes.
8. Doing a week and a half’s worth of laundry in a single day.
9. The quiet.
10. The house only gets messy if I mess it up.
Life seems to have a way of turning back upon itself though. John goes back to work tomorrow and soon the girls will return home. School will start with its routines, commitments, and busy schedules, and these carefree throwback days will be a distant memory. But this period seems like a tantalizing taste of our “empty nest” future, of what retirement might be like. I think we’re gonna like it!