These are hard times: unemployment, foreclosures, food and gas prices, and children gnawing on lead-laced toys. Add to that kids home for the summer, cranky need-to-get-laid-spouses, the treadmill that sits gathering dust under a laundry pile, and skinny jeans that won’t even fit your right thigh after a week-long celery fast, and our collective tension makes perfect sense. After all, it’s not easy being a modern imperfect parent.
Most of us are rich in our time with our children, but totally impoverished when it comes to time as a couple or time alone. And while this is a very common problem, particularly amongst parents of young children, there seems to be some kind of vacation backlash out there.
I can appreciate the concept of a staycation — vacationing without traveling anywhere. It’s what used to be known as staying home without checking your BlackBerry every two seconds. I suppose for modern families this seems miraculous, but being a tourist in my own town or spending a week at home puttering around just doesn’t seem that exciting. And frankly, I’d probably be forced to clean those brown-ringed toilets and crusted floors out of sheer boredom. It’s easier to ignore those piles of laundry when I can claim busyness or exhaustion.
Clearly some of this non-vacationing is based on real economic limitations families face, but we’re also stunned into intimidated stupor by the price tag of some of the vacations being pushed in glossy magazines. Club Med! Disney World Cruises! Paris with the whole family! Even if our family could afford kid-friendly tropical getaways and trips to Disneyland, traveling long distances by plane with young children is about as relaxing as machine gun fire on a dark night.
What about parents needing time together every year without children in order to continue making the love juice that will keep the whole house of cards from crumbling into divorce and adultery? How about that?? It’s easy to see that many of us, my family included, have made huge errors in judgment by putting the kids ahead of everything else, maybe without even realizing we’re doing it. When both parents work, the time with the kids seems precious and paramount. When one parent works, the same feeling applies. Putting children first as a de facto reaction to the exhaustion of modern living is understandable, but it’s such a recipe for total disaster, at least it was for my family.
A year ago, my husband and I were separated and I was getting ready to file for divorce. I was also a few months away from ending an affair and quitting drinking. As the year progressed and we negotiated and renegotiated our family arrangements, we realized that for the sake of the kids we needed to keep our family together, even if it meant living separately but in the same house. Slowly, over the past few months of co-parenting and a concerted effort to heal the divide, it’s looking like maybe we won’t divorce after all; that it might not be just because of the kids that we are staying together. Maybe we like each other more than we realized, back when we were locked into marital warfare, revenge, and retaliation.
If you had mentioned a year ago, as my mother did, that maybe we should take a vacation together without the kids, I would have joked, “I’d rather clean out the kitchen garbage can,” but I would have been dead serious. The thought of spending time together without the kids may have started as a longing for togetherness, but after a few years spending all our time talking and thinking about the kids became much easier than having a real conversation, or admitting our mutual misery.
Clearly our issues are much deeper and more complex than just not taking vacations together as a couple. On the other hand, I think maybe that’s where the all the trouble started. The kids came first so much of the time (and with young kids, this is so easy to understand) that we lost the ability to talk about anything but bills, laundry, or who wasn’t sleeping through the night. We became so beleaguered by the daily grind; we lost sight of the fact that without our relationship and a little well-planned benign neglect, the kids would lose the stability we know they crave. They would lose their family structure.
So this August we’re taking our first weeklong vacation without the kids since we got married nearly 5 years ago. And if my recent solo trip to BlogHer is any indication, I think the sleeping in late, drinking coffee while perusing the Sunday paper uninterrupted, and the feeding only myself will provide the transformative refreshing rejuvenation no amount of staycations or date nights or Mommy’s Day Outs could ever begin to achieve.