Hear that? Of course you don’t. That’s what I mean — there are no squeals and giggles, or whines about watching TV, or, worse, cries of frustration. Aside from birdsong flitting through the open window, the only sign of life in this house is my clicking keyboard and the occasional slurp of me sipping coffee.
I’m all alone here. It’s bliss.
This weekend, my wife took our son Felix to visit her mom for two nights, giving me three days of solitude at home. We do this at least a couple times a year – one parent taking the boy out of town to visit the grandparents, leaving the other behind. I can’t recommend it enough.
You know how when you go away for a weekend as a family, everyone comes back beat and in need of another day or two off? We’ll stagger into the house late in the afternoon, our nerves frazzled from entertaining Felix on the train for three or four hours, our bodies aching and digestion off, wanting nothing more than to grab a hot shower or maybe a nap, but of course you can’t do that as a parent — there’s dinner to prepare and bedtime to run and patience to maintain.
Planting one parent at home changes that. Tonight, my wife will find a cocktail or glass of wine awaiting her and dinner on the stove. I’ll be excited to see my son and play with him after his long, pent-up train ride. It’s like I’ve been sitting on the bench all weekend, recharging, and I’ll be fresh and ready to run the ball home in those last few minutes of the game, when the rest of my team is exhausted and ready to throw in the towel.
Besides being a bonus for the traveling parent, smaller trips maximize the grandparents’ time with the little guy, making what could be a big weekend of entertaining into a smaller, more intimate bonding experience. And while Felix in theory misses the adult who stays home, in practice he’s happy lapping up all the attention himself and rarely asks about the absent parent. (He didn’t even want to talk to me on the phone when I called to check in. I got a “Hi” and that was it. So much for absence making the heart grow fonder!)
My first solo weekend came around Christmas a few years ago. Excited, I packed my schedule with museums to visit, chores to complete, friends to meet for coffee, drinks, and then dinner. Somewhere in there I wanted to catch up on sleep too, and just take some quiet moments to read or daydream or linger on the toilet — you know, the simple pleasures. For two days, I could do whatever I wanted, and I wanted to do a lot.
Needless to say, I didn’t check everything off my list. Or rest up. Or relax even. As the weekend flew by, I counted the minutes – Only 26 hours till my family returns! — and became crazed with the stress of trying to squeeze every possible ounce of enjoyment and iota of productivity out of each moment. Fun never feels really fun when you’re trying hard to have it, and no matter how many chores you get done, there’s always more to do.
Since then, I’ve ratcheted back the planning and lowered my expectations. Seventy-two hours alone in New York City could be a crazy enterprise, or it could entail — as it has this weekend — a long afternoon nap, a couple of lazy mornings in bed, a late night out but also an early evening in, and a run or two. With less to accomplish, I experience what I do more deeply. Just sipping a hot cup of joe and watching the garden in silence is a gift.
Every parent deserves a weekend to themselves, at least once a year. So as summer vacation plans start to take shape, remember, you don’t have to travel as a family all the time. Sometimes, taking a little break is just what you need to renew your enthusiasm, gain a new perspective on old problems, and actually experience life instead of watching it pass by in a blur.