Over the summer, my husband decided that the trip to my family reunion, clear across the United States in Seattle, would best be taken by myself, without kids in tow, without husband in tow. I started off being less than enthusiastic about this suggestion. What if I just took our older son? I did this last year for my cousin’s wedding with above satisfactory results. The 3-year-old can stay home with Dad, and my other son and I can have a nice little vacation together — after all, everybody else’s kids were going to be there, wouldn’t that be weird if I went without my children?
“No, no,” my husband insisted. He kept claiming it would be so good for me, that I deserved it. In reality, this should have been a fantasy come true, not having to chase kids or design activities to entertain them. I remained skeptical and put off making the travel arrangements until the last minute, not sure what to make of my apprehension.
“There is still time to take him,” I said sheepishly as I knew he wasn’t going to give in. Why was I begging to bring my oldest buzz killer anyway? Truth be told, I was more afraid of worrying about them and missing them too much that the whole trip would have me in a preoccupied state wrought in guilt and sadness. For selfish reasons, I also worried that I would become my family’s built-in babysitter. Surely the assumption would be made that because I was free from my own chains, others could ask me to carry theirs. I, on the other hand, had visions of hammocks, cat naps and star gazing while I watched relatives chasing children who were not my own. So I saw bringing my son as my sort of get-out-jail-free card, while my plot also included leaving my own toddler at home with dad. But my husband didn’t buy it. He urged me to stand firm, do my own thing and relish the freedom.
Of course, his ulterior motives were barely mentioned. I was sure he wanted him to stay back because the 3-year-old was now at the age where it’s easier to have the older one there to entertain him. Being home alone with a high maintenance preschooler is a drag and the only thing that might make it less so is having an older sibling to move the itinerary along. He had already told the boys about their “camp” while mom was away. This included museums, parks, ice cream, video games, movies, Chuck-e-Cheese (yep, convincing the older one that staying home would be more fun than flying in a plane requires takin’ out the big guns), more ice cream and late-night bedtimes.
Weeks before the trip, I worried, and then worried some more. What if something happened to me? What if I kept thinking about the boys, too preoccupied to absorb my brother’s stories of Iraqi deployment over the last six months? The sole reason I was making the trip was visit my brother, a 1st Lieutenant in the National Guard, called up to serve his country last November. An important homecoming to be sure.
The flight out was uneventful — I chose not to view a movie or listen to music. I read, dozed off and read some more. But when I arrived in Seattle, I had to navigate the way to the my baggage by way of shuttle train and then take a shuttle bus to my rental car only to miss my ferry boat connection to the upper peninsula of Washington. And during the hour and a half drive up to the small town where I was born and raised I realized all this was made painless by way of freedom from children and it granting me the opportunity to deal with the setbacks in a purely adult manner. Before I left, I thought about downloading some new tunes on my phone and rocking my road trippin’ brains out, but that didn’t happen. Instead, I listened to nothing but silence. I embraced it. It sounded beautiful. I admired the snow capped mountains and the ocean as I cut in and out of bays and valleys. I made a few phone calls and as luck would have it, I was the second to arrive at the restaurant where all 35 family members were to meet for dinner. After an entire day of traveling, the chaotic atmosphere wasn’t my first preference — however, I was pleasantly surprised and grateful that the complaints from the staff and patrons did not include my children. I was a bystander for the first time in seven years! I had a few margaritas, pretended to feel the other parents’ pain and talked to grown-ups without a care in the world.
Nighttime brought on new emotions as I settled into a nicely appointed hotel room with a gorgeous view. I had brought my husband’s laptop, which for him, was akin to cutting off his manhood. The laptop is probably the singularly most prized possession in his life. He might argue that his family lays claim to that spot, if only to be polite, but I know better. We had decided since the laptop and “Camp Carlson” might present a conflict of interest, it would be more beneficial for me to take it with me. The idea was that I would surely have plenty of downtime to get some work done without having noses to wipe and games to get off the shelf. It turns out I didn’t have any downtime. Why would I sit in a hotel room and work when I could do whatever the hell I wanted? I was free and decided to make the most of it.
At night, alone in my room is when I wanted to hear their small voices, which I’d most likely be shooing away had I been there, so I made the prerequisite phone call home. “Tell me about your day,” I asked my son. Most of these inquiries resulted in a singular point about that particular day’s activities and many grievances about items lost, promises broken, unfair rules — basically a bitch session (some things never change). Even with the disappointment of nonexistent recap, it made me miss my ability to comfort my son with a hug and a pat on the head. “Mom’s gonna be home soon, okay?”
The second day, the extended family and I went on a 90 minute ferry ride to Victoria, Canada where someone thought it was a fine idea to have high tea at one of the most historic and sophisticated hotels on the island. It was lovely…just not so lovely for the rambunctious nieces and nephews whose parents dragged them into a situation where children were meant to be seen and not heard. As they tried in vain to herd their bored and unimpressed children, I was having a grand ol’ time. I took in every crumb of the hors d’oeuvre degustation. As exasperated parents pleaded with each other and their children, I sat there and for the first time in years, ate slowly without interruption. I ignored the noise, having become an expert at that, but the freedom… the freedom was so new and invigorating, it was as if I were being treated to an hour-long message.
On the way back, ferry passengers rolled their eyes and made comments about the unruly children who were both exhausted and over-stimulated. I sat with my brother and his wife, who had the clever foresight to hire a babysitter that day and we talked and shared about what we bought. My shopping mission was to come home in glory and popularity with toys and cool t-shirts. “Mission accomplished,” I thought as I lined up my toy box treasures. As much as I enjoyed soaking up my independence, I couldn’t help but pick up each item in anticipation of my boy’s reactions to it.
The third day was more relaxed, most likely a result of one family leaving and my sister bribing my brother’s babysitter to watch her kids as well as his. She offered to pay her double. At one point, I felt a desperate bidding war about to unleash, but the babysitter liked the idea of double the cash for double the trouble. She had no idea what she just getting herself into, but as long as the kids were safe, nobody was going to let that be known.
We wound up seeing a movie, shopping (for which I procured more stuff for the boys), and having a family BBQ, complete with a bonfire. The kids roasted marshmallows, and again, I was able to visit with aunts and uncles, my brother and my mother all in a relaxed and homey way without having to worry about little fingers reaching into the fire. Way up in the mountains, we fed horses and I sang and picked up my nieces and nephews and got to be the cool aunt. It was magical by way of minimal distractions. For the first time in years, I got to do and focus on what I wanted. I got to hear conversations from beginning to end and drink wine and lay on the couch. I felt myself returning to my old pre-child self and for that short time, it felt really good.
The last night there, I knew my luck was about to end. My glory days were all but gone, not just because I was going home where children’s demands and gadget noise pollution would permeate the air, but because that is the point where I truly and deeply missed my boys — all three of them. I had already grown tired of watching funny and interesting television tidbits and not being able to share them with anybody. The silence only provided me with a yearning for those squeaky voices and the early morning human alarm clock, complete with, “Mommy! Mommy!” I was ready. I had a beautiful time, but it was time to go home. I wanted to go home. It would all be for naught if I didn’t have a family to share it with, and from that moment until I walked out of baggage claim and saw my boys, I was all consumed with wanting to be with them.
The trip ran the gamut of emotions for me, each one arriving in perfect timing. I guess my husband was right, this trip was good for me, and it was only in my solitude that I could truly appreciate it — had I not had kids, I wouldn’t have known any better. I have my children to thank for this incredible vacation, only because they weren’t with me.