My son called recently to tell us that his wife had gone to visit relatives for a few days and had taken their baby. So he was alone in the house – except for the dogs – for the first time since baby’s arrival in their lives.
He sounded a little wistful as he talked about missing the normal routine of feeding, bathing, and entertaining their little girl. Without his family at the house, he didn’t know what to do when he came home from work, so he threw the ball for the dogs, but that diversion only lasted a few minutes. They are old and play time is very brief now.
But he also sounded – did he dare even say the word – free. He mentioned going out with a friend the night before and having a beer, also mentioning that he couldn’t remember the last time he’d done that. Then in case we misunderstood the thrill in his voice, he quickly clarified that he’s not entertaining thoughts of abandoning family responsibilities for nights out with the boys. It just felt good to revisit his carefree youth when he didn’t have to think about who might be worrying if he didn’t come home at a reasonable hour.
I understood completely. When my husband traveled for business, I occasionally welcomed a brief respite from all that it means to have another person to defer to. If I didn’t feel like cooking a regular meal, I could get by with soup and sandwiches for the kids. That was definitely not my husband’s idea of a meal. I could read in bed at night for as long as I wanted without worrying whether my light was bothering him. And I could soak in the tub until I turned into a prune without holding up anybody’s shower.
That didn’t mean I didn’t love my husband and enjoy his company. It was just nice to be alone now and then. And when I was finally able to say that to him, he admitted that those short business trips were like a vacation for him, too. He could actually watch an entire television program without some kid bounding through the room in hot pursuit of the brother who punched him for no reason.
I actually think those brief ‘vacations’ from regular family life can strengthen a relationship. When my husband returned from a trip were thrilled to be together again. Now he could fix all the things that broke while he was gone and I could practice my cooking again.