You know the feeling. You find out you are going to have some time to yourself… no kids, no spouse. And your brain is instantly flooded with all of the things you are going to do, eat, drink, possibly get arrested for…
This is usually my immediate reaction:
It’s how I imagine it might feel to be on your deathbed, having been given a week to live, only to have the doctor come in and tell you there was a mistake and you’re actually going to be fine — like you just got YOUR WHOLE LIFE BACK. Now what are you going to do with it?
I found myself in this situation recently. Tim was flying across the country with both kids to visit family in Buffalo for the week. As predicted, I immediately started making a mental list of what I was going to do. It went something like this:
- Get at least 2 massages and 1 facial.
- Go to happy hour.
- Watch Magic Mike XXL, Tarzan, 50 Shades Darker and at least 1 Ryan Gosling movie.
- Get drinks with friends. Lots of drinks.
- Get a tattoo.
- Go on a long, leisurely dinner date with my cell phone.
- Get at least 9 hours of sleep per night.
- Read all of the magazines that have been piling up on my kitchen table, still wrapped in plastic. Preferably on the toilet, uninterrupted.
- Clean out my entire garage just so I could do something productive and gloat when my husband returned.
Sounds like a pretty awesome weekend, right? Only here’s what I actually did:
- Watched approximately 67 episodes of Family Feud.
- Read 1 magazine — Bon Appetit — focusing most heavily on a section about “kid-approved” meals (FWIW, this recipe for chicken katsu looked particularly awesome).
- Ate meals that made my college dining experiences look Michelin-starred by comparison. These mostly consisted of cookies, cheese and/or frozen pizza.
- Drank 1 bottle of wine. Total.
- Spent the night in animal urgent care (no, that’s not the name of some super hip new bar in LA) after Owen, my 13-year-old senile, mostly blind, slightly deaf Shih Tzu fell off the bed.
- Cleaned up (someone else’s) poop. A LOT.
- Gave a bath.
- Slept a total of 6 hours. Period.
- Sustained ZERO hangovers.
- Watched about 12 hours worth of old videos of my kids.
- Cleaned my kids’ rooms.
- Talked on the phone with my husband for approximately 6 hours total. Cried for a large portion of it.
Aside from the obvious fact that my weekend was not the moms-gone-wild, booze-and-bad-decisions-fest I was envisioning, here’s what I learned:
1. Once a mom, always a mom. I went from cleaning and hand-feeding and staying awake with my little ones, to doing so with my original little one, Owen. Based on the fact that, injured and afraid, he cried if I left his side, he really needed it. It was like having a newborn all over again. And I stepped easily — almost thankfully — into the role.
I also couldn’t stop the mom-like puttering. Picking up toys, folding little undies and onesies and blankies, inhaling that lingering, unmistakable scent of your babies that you wish you could bottle and keep forever. I ran and emptied the dishwasher with only a few plates, forks and wineglasses in it. Did loads of laundry made up of a few pairs of undies, a towel and my gym clothes.
2. My life falls apart without the structure created by the straight chaos my husband and kids unleash on it. I felt lost not having the frenetic energy of a busy household, filled with noise, urgent needs and time-sensitive deadlines like naps, meals, baths, school departures and bedtimes, all mixed in with the pressures of work and other personal and household obligations. When faced with large expanses of free time, I quite literally did not know how to fill them.
And I didn’t pick up where my husband left off. Tim prepares my coffee (South American ground-to-order beans, French press, cane sugar, half & half), breakfast and lunch every morning, and makes sure I don’t leave for work without them, along with a selection of snacks, my phone and my gym clothes. He hands me a glass of wine within minutes of walking in the door each evening. Without him here, I left for work with a handful of Frosted Mini Wheats and drank machine-made coffee with non-dairy creamer out of a paper cup when I got to work. All of my day-to-day efforts usually go toward caring for my kids, my husband and my job. When given the chance, that energy sadly didn’t redirect to me. Except for the glass of wine within minutes part. I nailed that.
3. The grass really is always greener. At least once an hour on weekends, usually while James is yelling at me to “STOP BEING A GROUCHFACE, MAMA” and Luke is grabbing poo-covered baby wipes out of a poo-filled diaper wad and trying to eat them, I get a glassy look in my eyes that says, “I need to get out of here.”
And yet here I was, alone, with all the time in the world to do what I wanted, and all I wanted was for my family to be home with me…shoving chewed up blobs of grilled cheese in my face, making all kinds of totally irritating noises and demanding nothing short of 100% of my attention, 100% of the time.
Sometimes the things we think we need — freedom from obligation, the opportunity to revisit our crazier days, to be pampered — are just that. Things we think we need.