Leaving the Kids at Home
Going on vacation without the kids can be even as stressful as lugging them along
Here are some things that happened prior to and during the three-day vacation my husband and I took in South Carolina without our kids:
1.) The night before we left, my husband wrote up a by-proxy will in case anything happened to us.
2.) Doomsday (aka the Rapture) was predicted to happen precisely while we'd be flying between Philadelphia and Charleston.
3.) Two twisters touched down in the Midwest, leaving behind them unthinkable destruction and parents who still cannot find their children.
4.) Our kids were fine without us.
Details, Details, Details
We'd never left both kids before, and so to quell my anxiety about leaving them in the very competent care of my mom and in-laws, I prepared a four-page summary of each of my kids' needs, including bathing schedules, favorite bedtime books, and so on. (The grandparents were very good at not letting me know how many of these detailed instructions they disregarded.)
Our friends were all supportive. They told us that going away without the kids would be a good thing for ourselves and for our marriage. And we knew that we could not be leaving our kids in more loving, capable hands.
This made me feel less guilty as I began to pack for the trip, daydreaming of beachside lounging with margarita in hand. Into the suitcase went several black undergarments I hadn't seen since before my first pregnancy, not to mention some sundresses which didn't warrant the need for nursing bras. I even frivolously packed a bikini, despite my soft post-partumness. In my mind, I was already gone to Carolina, and ready to let it all hang out.
And then the baby woke up from his nap, scream-crying, my let-down let down, and I panicked. I began to feel twinges of remorse for ever having booked a ticket and for letting myself enjoy packing. And then worry set in: about everything. Suddenly the four pages of notes weren't enough. I started wallpapering my microwave in post-it notes about feedings and stroller use and bedtime tips.
Once beachside, I tried to drink away my anxiety with not one, but several margaritas. No matter how safe our children seem to be, even in the care of their most loving grandparents, what if something unpredictable happens?
Unpredictable things did happen. The Rapture came and went with no sign of the Apocalypse anywhere. A relief, until we tuned into a CNN report about a mother whose son had recently graduated high school in Joplin, Missouri, who had been literally sucked out of the sun roof of his Humvee by a tornado, and who now was missing among countless other people.
When you are not with your children, whether they are at day care a mile away, or in another state 300 miles away, you cannot help but worry. This predisposition comes to you naturally not because you are Jewish--or Italian, or whatever--it comes to you the second you become a parent.
What if something happens? To us? To the kids? To our parents? What if I'm not there to protect my babies from natural disasters? What if I'm not there to hold their heads soundly on my shoulders while the most terrifying people and events we can let ourselves imagine threaten the happiness and gratitude we feel every day?
What if our kids miss us? What if they don't?
As vacation went on, the anxiety lessened. (The margaritas helped.) It was relief to not ask for high chairs and crayons at mealtimes, to not pack a diaper bag for every outing. I put on dangly earrings and didn't worry about someone yanking them off. I took my time putting makeup on. I finished books entirely without interruption. I felt like a person again. We felt like we were dating again. But it was, admittedly, a little different. We called home about every five hours, and in between calls, looked at pictures and videos on our iPhones so that we could ogle the soft cheeks and smiling eyes we were missing.
When we arrived home, our babes were happy to see us, no apparent harm done. I nuzzled and nuzzled them as much as they'd let me. Later, our daughter whispered to me from the potty and held my cheeks in her thick, little hands: I missed you soooooo much, Mommy. Are we going to gymnastics tomorrow? She was ready to get back to normalcy, as was I.
Ultimately, I'm glad I went away with my husband. On vacation, whenever we looked at the kids on our iPhones, we glanced knowingly at each other. It's a Jewish thing not to remark out loud how lucky you are--you'll invite the evil eye--but you can think it, and for each time you worry, call home. A little voice is on the other side of the line, just waiting to reassure you that she's fine.
Read up on Mayim Bialik's experience of being away from her kids for a day. And on the other side of the coin, if you've made the brave decision to bring your kids on vacation with you, some tips from Jewish traditions.