When I was growing up, my dad traveled a lot. He was in the Air Force Reserves, and had a civilian job that kept him on the road sometimes for half the month.
It was pretty common for him to be absent at birthdays, have to duck out on holidays; miss school plays and spelling bees.
It was the 80s and 90s, and dads didn’t have to do a lot of that stuff anyway. Generally speaking, moms baked cupcakes in ice cream cones and bought Halloween costumes. Dads drank martinis professionally and had other people type things for them.
It was a different time, and there was a lot less for dads to apologize for.
Everyone was getting divorced and if your dad sat down to watch Knight Rider with you, that pretty much covered his hands-on parenting for the week.
So when my dad was gone, it wasn’t super different than when my dad was there, except we could be louder and have our friends sleep-over.
Still, my mom was smart.
When she could, she took short-cuts to make it all a little easier and fun.
On long weekends we’d head to my grandparents’ house to camp out in their guest room. They had cable, which was kind of a crazy big treat, and we would order food from the Italian place down the street, or Chinese food or KFC, which owned up to what it was back then — fried chicken.
Mashed potatoes with shiny, brown gravy.
Cole slaw. Mayonnaise.
Pepsi. Mini Snickers bars.
On Saturdays, we’d go to lunch with my grandma at Marshall Fields and then go shopping, and almost always my mom or grandma would buy me a new Nancy Drew to add to my collection.
We’d go to the big grocery store, which sold much more than the Minute Mart near-by that had one register and one kind of apples.
Somewhere in the journey, we’d stop at a payphone to call my grandfather and ask him what he felt like for dinner, and we’d all eat out of different containers than the night before and watch Golden Girls and Love Boat and Fantasy Island until at least most of us passed out in the living room.
I realize now, as a grown-up, that my mom had fine-tuned a plan to make solo-parenting work — she would let us stay up a little later than normal. She’d order food. She’d share the responsibility and make sure we had extra entertainment, like a new book and access to the novelty of Nickelodeon.
When I first became a mom, my own mother’s constant question to me was why I had to make things so hard on myself.
She said it out of love — she wanted to know why parenting seemed hard for me. She wanted to know why I couldn’t ignore the crying, at least for a while, why I didn’t switch to formula (breastfeeding was tricky for me), why I always seemed tired and stressed.
She was trying to protect her own baby.
I took it the wrong way, of course. Couldn’t she see that I was just trying to be a good mom? That there’s a lot of pressure out there to do things well? A lot of judgement?
That it was hard to have a kid with food allergies and that when I said I was
“just trying to do the best I can,” that I meant I was literally trying to do THE BEST I could.
Like, accept no failure.
Like, I’ve only got one chance to not screw this up.
And so when my own husband traveled, it was usually a mess.
It seemed like during every trip, a major appliance or the car would go bananas. Once, a window just shattered. I still don’t know why.
Probably, though, because of the pressure cooker I created in our home trying to keep everything together.
Because things felt a little overwhelming and scary, so I turned hyper-vigilante, convinced that someone was going to end up in the ER, or fall into a river.
Never mind that we were nowhere near a river.
I’m not sure when things shifted for me. When I realized that by trying to control everything while on my own, I was making us all miserable.
But at some point, I started thinking back to those years of my mom, my sister and me — the Three Musketeers.
And I remembered how my mom tried to make things fun instead of perfect.
How she would order food, and let us stay up late. How she would have a general plan of action, but not a schedule. How she would utilize her support system and rely on the people who were still in town to help her parent …
And I think that’s when “Mommycations,” like the one was had last week, started to get fun for us.
The thing is, a lot has changed since my childhood. So, I’ve tried to adapt, while keeping in mind what my mom did to make solo-parenting a little easier:
- We don’t have a grandparents’ house to crash at, but we do have friends to visit who provide mommy back-up.
- I try to work ahead so that I don’t have a lot of looming deadlines, which can make me less patient.
- Meals out are pricey, so we budget for them in advance, because they’re also super fun and easy.
- I try to have some ideas in mind for fun things to do, like dollar movies and places that offer discounts. But we don’t make a super firm plan because …
- I don’t force bedtime when my husband is gone. Everything feels a little off at night, and trying to push bedtime always backfires for me, so I let the kids stay up and we sleep in a bit instead.
- We eat a lot of ice cream.
- We work as a team now, which makes things so much easier. (Moms of littles, take heart! It gets so much easier!) My kids remind me about garbage and help me feed all our pets.
My mom’s Three Musketeers vibe works really well, it turns out.
Last week, I had a blast with my kids, and it went by so fast.
It didn’t feel scary or stressful. It didn’t feel overbooked or like the days were dragging on.
It felt a bit like a vacation really.
It felt so much less like waiting, and more like purposeful celebration.
It felt like the kind of memories that I want to make.
Do you have a spouse who travels sometimes? What advice do you have for making it work?
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