This winter my husband and I took a vacation to Napa, without our kids.
It was amazing.
But first let me begin here:
I was thrown headlong into a most awful winter. My son was in his first year of preschool and with it came one fever after another. “Is this normal?” I asked the doctor in exasperation. She assured me it was, and that children in their first year of preschool usually suffer through twelve to sixteen illnesses. Sixteen! It was too cold for the kids to play outside, and they were too sick to be around friends. Escaping to the gym was also out. Not only were they contagious but the gym daycare was surely a petri dish of more viruses. My memories of last winter are of long days inside, administering doses of liquid Motrin and Tylenol, and whining. Lots and lots of whining. The TV was turned on, a lot.
It seemed as if the winter would never end.
I had watched other friends with small children go on romantic getaways and a rage began to brew inside me. Nearly four years of parenting and we had never had a break. I was happy for my friends, but as a friend once texted me while visiting her parents, “I was drowning in no help and wanting to punch everyone in the face.” I was angry. Angry that we didn’t have a support system that would willingly take our two small children for several days at a time, let alone overnight. Angry at a culture that doesn’t rally to help parents of small children. Angry that a trip without kids is usually viewed as selfish, as opposed to a healthy way to keep the spark in a marriage alive.
And then our nanny returned.
She had moved away, but she was back. As the kids grew more and more comfortable with her again we slowly realized that we could take some time away. We were just going to have to pay for it.
Worth. Every. Penny.
You see, at the time I didn’t really like my husband. Did I love him? Yes. Did I appreciate all he does for our family? Yes. But I realized when he was home I found his presence annoying about 80% of the time. I felt like he didn’t help enough, and when he did he had no idea what he was doing and therefore only made things worse. My feelings resulted in far too much eye rolling and loud sighing.
He didn’t deserve any of it.
Through tears I told him how very much I loved him. I told him how proud I was of him. And then I told him I didn’t enjoy him, well, like ever. Luckily we have the kind of relationship where we “get each other” and he wasn’t insulted. He was my best buddy for twelve years before we became parents. I adored his company. I remember one day (before we had kids) I went to the liquor store by myself to get some wine and the cashier said, “Where’s your old man? You two are always together.”
I told him I wanted to be pals again. He said that we were, and reminded me we were just “plugging through these years with small children.” I agreed, but lamented that I was afraid by the time we had time alone again we’d look at each other and be two very different people.
At the end of our trip we found ourselves wandering the deserted streets of the plaza in Sonoma. The weekend crowd had left and we were having that realization that happens at the end of a trip, maybe we should have left yesterday. We ended up in a bar that we would find out was the local dive. There are no dive bars in wine country but this was Sonoma’s. We played pool, we chatted up the locals, and when a woman at the bar attempted to hit on my husband he brought her back over to our table. It turned out she was a forty-one year old editor for reality shows. She had driven up to Sonoma from LA, alone, and in need of a mental break. She told me about how she’d frozen her eggs at thirty-eight, how she’d begun traveling alone for the first time in her life, and how she’d thrown in the towel last year and finally bought a house alone. She asked my opinion on whether she should go it alone and just have a baby. And she shared some pretty sage advice about men learned over the course of all her years dating. Mainly that they need more praise than women do.
It was the kind of brutally honest conversation you can only have with a stranger you know you’ll never see again.
There were parts of her life I envied and vice versa. And then she said something so simple. Even months later her words still flicker through my mind. She looked over at my husband standing at the bar, drinking too much, playing a dice game with some old men and said, “You’re lucky you know. You don’t have to babysit him. You’d be amazed how many men don’t socialize well.”
This had never occurred to me.
All the many years when we were younger his constant need to be around other people drove me crazy. I dream of seeing other lands. He dreams of talking to as many different people as he can. I want a passport filled with countries, he wants one filled with people. I mean, sure, I can shoot the shit with the best of them but I don’t have that drive to be with other people. As a nurse once said to me while she bandaged his sprained ankle, “He’s a lot of fun, isn’t he?” That he is. That he is.
My guy, he’s still a good time.
A couple days later we found ourselves holding hands in the airport. Headed home. Enjoying one another like old friends.