When I was a child, I prided myself on my long blond hair, which garnered me many compliments from smiling grown-ups and which my mother would threaten to cut off every morning as I screamed and cried with every little tug and snarl.
My mother promised me then that someday I would have a little girl who screamed and cried and threw a fit no matter how gentle I was as I brushed her hair and then I would understand. And, yes, here I am with not one but two little girls who scream and cry and kick and yell every morning when I brush their hair.
The other day after my husband and I smirked at the long list of instructions that we would have to carry out to dogsit my parents' coddled Boston Terrier, my mother promised me that someday we, too, would have no children around and would devote ourselves similarly to a dog. I rolled my eyes, but I know that she's probably right. Since becoming a mother, I haven't done well in my children's absence.
Officially, I want my children to be independent and brave and capable of thriving even when they are away from me. I also like to think that my marriage is built around more than just our shared children, and that I can enjoy my husband's company even away from the children's presence. I just haven't done a great job of acting on these convictions.
It's not that I haven't spent time away from my kids, it's that I haven't spent it wisely. When Big E was a baby my husband and I longed so badly for a few childfree days that we actually booked a trip to Vegas for when she was 18 months old. The anticipation of the trip was glorious. Imagining leisurely meals out and late nights that involved activities more glamorous than trying to quiet our sleep-averse daugher got us through months of temper tantrums and diaper changes. By the time we had to leave her with my parents and board our plane, however, our little escape seemed less glamorous and more neglectful. I spent our few days away so racked with guilt and longing for my daughter that I actually started lactating after a six-month hiatus. Perhaps the least glamorous I've ever felt.
This past weekend I proved that even six years after that miserably failed attempt, I'm still no good at appreciating my kid-free time. My in-laws were in town and on their second night here they offered to take the kids so that we could go out to dinner. I was more than happy to take them up on it but was itching to call and check in with them before we even made it through our entrees. My husband helped me resist the urge to call, but when we ended letting them spend the night with my in-laws in their hotel room he couldn't keep me from wasting the rest of the night worrying that Big E would miss me and crying because Little E wouldn't miss me enough. It's possible that I should have skipped that second Stella at dinner.
The next morning my husband left early for a class he's taking and I had the house to myself. I could have read a book, done some writing, started backing up all the photos on my computer like I've been meaning to; instead, I made elaborate lunches for the girls to bring to the beach that day and then I sat down, folded my hands in my lap and waited for them to get home. Also, I berated myself for my complete inability to be a fully-functioning individual without my children by my side.
In a couple of weeks we'll be sending both girls off for a few of nights of camping in my parents' backyard. Those nights of freedom have been getting me through the screaming and tears that comes with brushing out two heads of beach-snarled hair. This time I swear I won't waste my child-free time. I already have plans to clean and rearrange the girls room. . . which is probably not necessarily a step in the right direction.