When I was about 10 years old, this kind-of-epic event occurred in our family. My parents went away for around four days, and my grandmother flew in from Toronto to watch me and my two hellion siblings for that half-week, as we lived in New York state at the time. She cared for us well, and we all survived, despite the fact that she almost drove our enormous, 80’s, maroon station-wagon off of the road on a couple of occasions.
My parents went to the Caribbean for the first time, and they came back with stories of impossibly turquoise water and swarming-rainbow fish. Mom and Dad were both relaxed, giddy, and laden with souvenir T-shirts for us kids. Looking back, they weren’t just jazzed about their first trip down south, it was also their first getaway from us, their darling children.
Yes, my parents had not both spent a night away from the kids in 13 years of marriage.
I bring this up because Craig and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary last month. (Thanks, it’s a nice, round, number.) Of course, like most couples these days, we’d spent a fair bit of time together before getting married, so it’s actually been 15 years, but who’s counting? Our relationship has spanned the journey from our youth at 24:
To where we are now, which is (gulp) middle-age at 41. I know they say 40 is the new 30. It’s not. It’s actually still 40.
Quite a few people around us also happen to be celebrating their 10th anniversaries, with varying levels of hoopla and big gifts. Good friends of ours organized their first getaway from the kids after ten years of marriage, and strongly encouraged us to book something too. It was amazing how much we managed to do in two days, they said. When we wanted to go somewhere, we just walked out the door and went, without having to organize all these diapers and sippy-cups.
With this glowing report of uninterrupted conversations in mind, I booked a one-night break for us that took place last weekend. It was the first night that I had spent away from Lark since she arrived on Earth, and I was fearful as to how she would react to having a sleepover at my parents house. Would she be inconsolable, weeping for Mummy all night? On the contrary, that afternoon I received video footage of her dancing with my niece, garbed in a sparkly tutu and shouting, “It’s party time!!” That’s my daughter. When we picked the kids up to go home, she cried the whole way, begging to go back to Bubby and Da’s house. My son was equally unperturbed by our brief separation, as I imagined he would be, given that he is now 8.
Our overnight stay was fab. We went to a spa and lounged in hot tubs, we drank bubbles, looked in shops, had a hike, an enormous dinner, got a massage and had a lunch in a country pub. Not necessarily in that order. In 24 hours. There was no screaming or bickering or refusing to get into car seats. There were no demands for snacks and sudden pleas for water. We just did stuff without a lot of fuss. It was insanely liberating. And we talked about other things. Things that we used to talk about, like music and books and current events and articles we’d read. Things which were not reports of the weekly schedule and who has to do what when, and requests to fold the laundry or pick up milk on the way home. Things which were not shouted at each other in an effort to be heard, over the constant cacophony of our loudmouth offspring.
We’d realized not too long before that it had been four years since we last spent a night child-free. How did that happen? It wasn’t that we didn’t want to have a short holiday without them, but Time just somehow gets away from you, and before you know it, you’re reminiscing about your honeymoon on your 20th anniversary. It strikes me as so very essential to the success of a relationship to be able to spend time together, apart from the children, yet finding that time can prove elusive.
Timing and life make it not always possible to get away from the kids. We won’t always be able to find the funds for overnight escapes, and not everyone has someone in their life with whom they can leave their children for the night. Which is why I propose mandatory, government-sanctioned and sponsored child-free holidays, complete with registered overnight care. They must already have this in France, oui?
After 15 years, let’s face it, many marriages are foundering on the rocks. Couples come unstitched at the seams for a variety of reasons: work, money, careers, compatibility, affairs, stress, illness and renovations. I mean, God, if Brad and Angelina couldn’t make it, can any of us really expect to?
I’m obviously not a marriage counsellor, but here are a few things that I think are good ideas when trying to keep it all together:
- Give your partner a clean slate every day. A dear friend who is much wiser than I offered me this one a while ago. She talked about how we never hold grudges against our children, but we start each day fresh with them, full of unconditional love, despite the fact that they were behaving like little a**holes yesterday. If we could try to approach our partners with the same attitude, rather than holding on to resentment, we’d be much happier.
- Don’t pigeonhole your other half. No one likes being told that their own, complex personality fits into a neat little category, or what they “always” or “never” do. You may think that you can accurately predict what your partner will do or say, (and often you probably can) but never forget that we all, always, have the ability to surprise one another. And we have to be okay with it when our partners do surprise us.
- Book the escape. Or the afternoon together. Or the date night. Whatever time you are able to find is worth something. And if you know a person who struggles to find that time, like a parent to a special- needs child, or a friend who is dealing with illness in the family, be the person who offers to help.
Ten years – hell, 15 – have gone by fast. In another ten years we’re going to be parents to teenagers, and ten years after that, we’ll be 60, with tonnes of time on our hands, and we’ll be sighing, and wondering what the kids are up to tonight.