A happy marriage means happy kids. I believe this. I preach this. I mean this. So to celebrate our 8th anniversary, we would vacation sans kids. I insisted our destination be driving distance because I was anxious about leaving them with a hodgepodge of sitters and laissez faire grandparents from across the country who would be there for only part of the time. I thought about this trip for weeks in advance. I had masterminded exactly how I would tell my sensitive 7-year-old that we would be gone, the kids’ activities, the drop offs, the pick ups. And then it got all f@%*ed up.
1. The week before the trip, I was reading to our 5-year-old before bed. Mitch was reading with our 7-year-old. I walked in to find him consoling her. “What’s wrong?” I ask. “Well, Ella is upset that we are leaving.” “You told her?!” I say, my face expressing Jurassic Park-like dinosaur anger. “Well, yes,” he said, puzzled as to what he had done wrong. “But I always tell her,” I said. “Tell her what?” Exasperated I explain: “Since birth, I am the one who has broken the news when we go away. There is a recipe for how many days in advance of the trip. I had planned to tell her on Thursday and now you ruined it.” “Well, it is Tuesday,” he said. “That is TWO DAYS EARLY!” I shriek. That night Ella had a nightmare about running away. When my husband woke up, I self-righteously told him about it. So I had that going for me.
2. Two days before our departure, we drove through Santa Monica and passed Michael’s. My five-year-old squealed, “Mommy. Can we go to the art project store? We haven’t been there in so long.” I told her we would go the following week. “But I can’t wait,” she said. I hoped it would go away and I thought it had – until the morning of our departure. She was crying. I was weak. In minutes I had packed the whole family into a car fueled by mommy guilt and headed to Michael’s. We went down every aisle, spent way too much money and returned way too late.
3. Then, I had an idea – leaving them each with a present. We had never done this before. And in hindsight, adding anything to our already broken pre-trip routine was an idea worthy of trashing, but the mommy guilt propelled it through. As I frantically packed, I assigned Mitch to the wrapping which he followed out in a Nicholas Brody-like state. I insisted that the gifts needed notes. Handwritten notes from me to the kids. So I began writing. At that point we were three hours late.
Finally the car was packed. I said my goodbyes to the kids and gingerly approached my in-laws: “Can you please do something that might feel unnatural to you? Can you text me periodically to let me know how the night went or if they had fun at the museum?” “Just go and relax,” my mother-in-law urged. “I relax better when I know my kids are happy!” I pleaded. Didn’t she know this was about me, not the kids? I looked at my father-in-law and I felt like he had really heard me. I breathed a sigh of relief. And then he said, “We’ll text you if there is a problem.”
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