Learning to separate all over again
There have been many times since I first had kids when a long vacation hasn’t ended soon enough for me, times when I’ve counted down the hours until the school bus would show up once again at our door, times when I’ve practically slammed that door on my kids’ backs and then danced for joy because I had the house back to myself again.
But not this spring break.
I’m not sentimental. I don’t pretend to enjoy family moments because I feel I should. I once told a woman I didn’t know well that I found small children, even my own, painfully boring to spend long periods of time alone with. I still remember the expression of horror on her face. You’re not supposed to say things like that. Or maybe you’re not supposed to feel them. Either way, I was probably a bad person.
And yet the truth is that even though I would lay down my life for my children, would tear the heart out of my chest and feed it to them if they had no other sustenance (ew–why did I go there?), would carry them with my last ounce of strength if they couldn’t go on any longer–would, in short, sacrifice my own well-being for theirs–sometimes, I confess, I can’t stand being around them.
I remember one spring break a few years ago when we had very few activities planned and weren’t traveling because my husband had to work. I was alone with four fairly young kids and by the end of the two and a half weeks, we were all pretty much at each other’s throats and I hadn’t had a moment to myself to write, relax, or finish a thought. I felt deeply depressed and couldn’t figure out why until the kids were back and school and the depression lifted. How awful, I thought. What kind of mother doesn’t want her kids around?
But everything was different this year. Everything was wonderful. Maybe it’s because we had a lot planned. Maybe it’s because my kids are now old enough to do interesting things and to not need a lot of help with the uninteresting things. Maybe it was just the alignment of the stars.
We traveled this spring break. And everywhere we went, the kids were the best possible companions, enthusiastic, energetic, curious, involved . . . When did they become such interesting people?
Best of all, they were enjoying each other, constantly laughing at shared jokes, playing games together, linking arms as they walked down new and foreign streets, curling up on hotel sofas together like puppies while they read books and (yes, sometimes) stared at the TV after a long day of exploring.
They tried foods they’ve never eaten before and mostly liked them. They sat through grown-up theater performances and laughed with delight at all the right places. (Happiness, I learned, is watching your kids enjoy something you’ve always loved yourself.) They frequently knew more about things we saw in museums than I did, and eagerly supplied the information they had gleaned from books, history classes, and Internet reading.
They traveled like troopers, dragging suitcases that were bigger than they were through train stations, airline queues, and hotel lobbies. When a bomb scare closed down an airport terminal, they simply followed us patiently as we dealt with problem and navigated our way back to our flight. They fought their way on and off crowded subways with us, deciphered maps, scanned menus, and helped plan our days. They were, in short, the perfect traveling companions.
Finally, we came back home, exhausted, overwhelmed, jet-lagged. We spent a few days just recovering, scrounging for meals and catching up on the TV we’d missed. Still in the habit of curling up together, of being the family LaZebnik alone in a strange new world, we still mostly clung together, not venturing out too much even though we were back in familiar territory.
And then it was Monday morning and time for the kids to go to school. We were all still partially on European time so everyone woke up early and for once I had company while I put together the kids’ lunches. I hugged them all goodbye when it was time for them to leave. When I said, “I’ll miss you,” I meant it.
There was no exhilaration when they were gone, no feeling of secret glee. It felt very quiet here and I found myself hoping that the day would go by quickly–that the hours would simply pass until I had my friends back at my side.
It was a good vacation.