The Escape Hatch: Why All Parents Need One

In a few days my husband and I are going to Las Vegas, without our kids. On Sunday we’ll be dining at Picasso and going to see “O.” Just eight months ago we took our first trip alone, to Napa.

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It may seem a little selfish to be taking another trip away from our children again so soon. But you have to understand, our nanny (the most wonderful, kind, gentle, person on earth) is moving in less than two months. She’s been a part of our family since my son was fourteen-months-old. Up until that point I had never left him with anyone for more than fifty-seven minutes. Yes, I counted. After he turned one I came to the conclusion that if I was ever going to get a break (like, a real break) I was going to have to hire someone, schedule it and pay for it. After searching for a nanny and doing several interviews I stumbled upon the profile of a woman named Oz. The same weird nickname we have for my son.

It was serendipitous.

I knew she was the woman for us when during her interview she became distracted as my son wandered down the hallway, out of sight. She fidgeted in her seat and nervously asked, “Um, where did he go? Is there a gate at the top of those stairs? And you need better covers on these electrical sockets.”

I hired her immediately.

Over the last three years I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know her. You know how every once in awhile you meet someone who seems too kind for this earth? That’s Oz. I’ve watched in awe at the natural ability she has to calm an agitated child with a gentle touch and a sweet, “Oh lovey, come here. What’s wrong?” I’ve seen her get teary eyed when talking about cruelty or injustice. She is love in human form. I will miss her presence in our life, and not just because she gives me a break from my children.

The clock is ticking my friends. Lately people keep asking me, “So have you found someone new? What are you going to do when she leaves?”

“Cry,” I say, “I’m going to cry very very hard.”

So I realized this is our last chance to take a trip without our children, for a very long time. Here’s the deal, I could find another nanny, but I will never find another Oz. It would take years to cultivate that level of trust in another person.

So, a few weeks back I was standing in the kitchen, looking at the calendar and realizing she was leaving soon. I knew if I ever wanted another trip alone with my husband it had to happen soon. Oz informed me she could watch the kids, in a little less than two weeks. We booked the trip quickly. There was barely enough time to build anticipation.

It felt different this time.

The trip we took back in February was a different story. We NEEDED the break. But lately things are good. It’s fall, still nice enough out that we’re out of the house a lot. We had a great summer, which included our first vacation as a family of four. The kids have been healthy. They’re involved in school and activities. Our youngest just turned two, and all of a sudden she seems like a person and not a baby. Life is fun.

Did I just say that?

But it is, it’s fun and we’re not really yearning to leave our babies right now. We’re more in the mood to go on a family trip to Disney, but as I said, last chance.

So here we go. It’ll be good.

But one of the things I’m going to miss most once our nanny leaves is the option of having what I call the escape hatch. Oh, the escape hatch, every parent needs an escape hatch.

 

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My handsome devil in one of the greatest cities on earth.

In order to understand you need to read what I wrote last winter right before we left on our first trip without our kids.

Here it is:

I can’t stop seeing the children, and so many of them so little, so precious. Perhaps it’s just the truth of any given profession that you will see your work everywhere you go. When I did hair I saw everyone’s hair.

Or perhaps it’s just the truth of leaving my babies for the first time. I wonder how any mother could ever truly leave her babies.

My children, I love them, but they were smothering me with their neediness. The way children tend to do from time to time.

I cried “Uncle!” I booked a trip. Something I never ever imagined I’d do. I had watched friends with babies (like babies who still need bottles) go on seven day cruises or resorts in Cabo, without their babies. I could never do that. I’m not “that kind of mother,” I would tell myself.

Of course, I guess no one is “that kind of mother” until they are. Until they take the advice any counselor, priest or minister gives you in premarital counseling: put the marriage first. If the marriage is strong the children will thrive.

And so here we are.

Over the five weeks leading up to the trip I found myself feeling as though I had been gifted an escape hatch. When the days were long, and whiney, and snowy and I was trapped inside waiting for nap time only to look at the clock and realize it was only 8:50am, I would remember the escape hatch. I would relax.

And then an amazing thing happened.

I started to miss my babies simply thinking about not being with them. I would look at them and think, “How could I ever leave, even for five days?” I would hold them tighter, attack them with kisses. As weeks ticked by other Moms, jealous at preschool drop-off, would yell across the parking lot, “How many more days?” At first I wouldn’t know what they were talking about. Then I would remember. I would smile and say, “Oh, geez, I’m not sure. What is today? Hahaha!” But really I wasn’t counting down the days.

I was already missing my babies.

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The escape hatch, we will miss you and foggy mornings spent in hotel beds.

An Accidental Letter to My Daughter: If You Should Choose to Marry a Man

I began to write this story, and something else came out. So, this is for my baby girl. An unrealistically specific and thorough check-list if you choose to marry a man.

 

“You’re married right?”

“Yep”

“How long have you been married?”

“Four years.”

“Wow, really? How old are you?”

“I’m twenty-six. We got married young.”

“Do you have kids?”

“No. We actually just got married because we love each other. Pretty strange, huh? We got married young and I wasn’t even pregnant.”

“People always say marriage is work. Is that true? Is it work?”

 

I had this conversation with a nineteen-year-old girl, eight years ago, and it stuck with me.

We were sitting in the common area at our local community college, both waiting for a Humanities class to start. I was an “older” student returning to college. I was old but still young enough, cool enough to talk to, and ask life advice. I really liked the girl too. She was pretty, smart, and most importantly, funny. I explained to her that all human relationships take work. What I really wanted to tell her was to stay single as long as possible. Of course, I wouldn’t want her to overlook her life’s great love in hopes of landing someone better. “Be picky but not too picky” is the best I usually advise, as unhelpful as that is. More importantly I should have told her to never ever get married before she’s twenty-five. While we’re at it, try to marry a man five years older than you, but no more than six years older. This would be ideal. Perhaps I should have just said:

Marry when you are twenty-five.

Your husband should be thirty.

Ideally he should come from the same socio-economic background, and should love and respect his mother. Although, he shouldn’t value her opinion over yours.

He should:

-Be kind, smart, funny and honest, bonus if he can dance.

-Think you are smart, funny, honest and kind, and want you to dance.

-Own tools but also write love poems.

-Never disrespect you in a sexual manner or share personal details about your sex life with his friends.

-Be jealous without being controlling.

-Find you beautiful, even if you gain weight. Even better if he buys you jewelry or clothes simply for the pleasure of dressing you up, but he should NEVER tell you what to wear.

-Never tell you who to be friends with, where to work, what to study, or who to be.

-NEVER (not even once, not even when he’s drunk) lay a finger on you in a violent or angry manner.

-Share your religion and politics as these beliefs are part of his greater world view and therefore very important. If this isn’t entirely possible he should at least agree with your stance on abortion.

-Have the utmost respect for your reproductive power as a woman. If you were to become pregnant on accident his first response should be, “I will support any decision you make.”

-Be a motivated, hard worker. He should be successful. Success is a symptom of hard work. It is up to you how you wish to interpret that.

-Not break the law. He should NEVER EVER have a drug or alcohol problem. I will tell you that a man with an addiction will FOREVER have you at his mercy. Run far away from this type of man. He will age you, he will suck all the joy from your existence and/or he will pull you into his addiction. Do NOT allow any person to take your life from you this way. It is not your job to fix anyone, no matter how much you love them. 

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reading

 

Until you have a child your only responsibility on this Earth is yourself. Enjoy this time, it doesn’t last. Do not choose a man that needs a mother, because once you become an actual mother you will learn to loathe his existence. He will be a drain on your already exhausted body and mind. He might not necessarily make lots of money but he should have a desire to support you. That being said, he should also support you in your career. His career shouldn’t come first, even if he makes a lot more money. He should understand that being satisfied as an individual is part of the larger joy of life. Career and identity play into this equally. If you choose to stay home when your children are little he should understand what a very difficult job that is. He should never grow accustom to you always being home. He should praise your sacrifice. He should never view his work as more important than your work at home.

He should be your best friend, your dance partner, the keeper of your secrets.

And perhaps, most importantly, he should be good in bed. Because really, if he’s not, you’re better off as friends.

 

And Then I Met a Woman in a Bar

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.

So Napa.

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.