When my mother-in-law announced that she would be whisking our four kids off to Disney for five days, leaving my husband and me alone in the house, I was ecstatic! What would we do first with our newfound freedom? The possibilities were endless! And then there were all the practical things we needed to take care of that never seemed to get done: the squeaky bathroom door, the piles of papers in the basement that needed shredding, the stubborn rust on the shower head, the various blackened parts of the house that needed new light bulbs, the dogs that had taken the word “funk” to a whole new level... In short, we had lots to do without being distracted, dragged off or whined at by any or all of our adorable offspring. No excuses.
Day one I found myself repeatedly checking the time. Was it time to pick up my daughter? Wasn’t the bus about to arrive? What was I going to make for dinner that wouldn’t bring forth wails of protest from the majority? Wait. I was kid-less. I was free! I was, well, kinda aimless. I worked out. I watched episodes of Six Feet Under in daylight. I mowed down on copious amounts of nuts, chocolate chips and dried fruit. My husband and I went out to a lovely dinner with friends and came home to an empty house. I fought the impulse to make a beeline to the checkbook to pay our sitter. It was very quiet. It was very clean. It was very, very weird.
The cleanliness on Friday was almost unbearable. This was the day the house was cleaned professionally. With not a glass nor a crumb nor a smelly sock in sight, I went with a sense of unease to the gym. I took a crack at organizing my bedroom dresser. I made uninterrupted phone calls. I answered long standing emails. I completed tasks without the pressure of needing to be anywhere or do anything for anyone but myself. Things were organized and calm and quiet. And I felt a surprising fog of loneliness begin to envelop me. I felt like how I imagine my dogs feel when we leave the house: ears perked for the sounds of someone returning home the second the door closed behind us.
Our daily phone calls with the kids were rushed because they were always in the middle of something incredibly fun and wanted to call but didn’t really want to take time to talk. “Mom! I went on the Rocket seven times! It was great! Bye!” “Dad! Can I get a pirate flintlock? It doesn’t even look like a real gun! Pleeeeese? Bye!” “Mom! Dad! Harry Potter was amazing! The castle is so cool! They had dementors! Bye!” We didn’t know what they ate, or what story they had read to them at night. We didn’t get to see our daughter’s face when she saw her first Disney character in person – Sponge Bob – and she freaked out. The kids felt very, very far away from us.
Saturday I decided enough was enough. I wasn’t going to wallow in the quiet. I was going to embrace it. (Plus there was still that “honey do” list.) With only three days left without kids, we got to work. We drove to a Cubs game in Milwaukee and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves (even though the Cubs lost, well, like only the Cubs can, the familiarity was comforting.) We took a long walk and enjoyed uninterrupted conversation the entire time. We washed the dogs. We skipped the shredder and opted for a bonfire instead. We never had to redirect anyone’s proximity from the raging flames, and no one threw rocks or suggested peeing as a form of extinguishing the fire. I cherished sitting on the toilet with reckless abandon, never once fearing I’d sat on something wet and unpleasant.
I’d say at some point I achieved a level of unexpected bliss in the calm. But at the same time, it was work. I realized that even though there are days that are difficult for me with my kids, so many days without them was even worse. I realized that for me, my kids make my home. The noise, the mess, the spirit of our home, it’s defined by the life our children bring to it. When I saw them at the airport hunched over their video games with the intensity of med students in the library right before their boards, my heart fluttered. All of the sudden I was mobbed by bodies and various appendages while souvenirs were shoved in my face for a good close look-see. It was in the bombardment of all the chaos, confusion and noise that I funnily felt at my most centered and most at peace. It’s good to miss and be missed. And while my kids flew to the Happiest Place on Earth, the Happiest Place on Earth came back to me when they returned.