When I was growing up we used to take these whirlwind family vacations to the East coast. My parents are self-employed which meant time off to travel was rare, so when they decided to close the gallery for a couple of weeks every few years we would cram into the car and see as much as we could in the time we had. We went to Washington D.C., New York, Boston, Rhode Island, Connecticut…. Every place we went we would go to museums and galleries, historic homes, college campuses and bookstores. We had fun and it was all interesting, but my brothers and I used to complain that we always ended up doing just what my parents wanted to do, and we never got to pick.
So one bright morning in the
middle of a vacation mom and dad said, “Okay, you can decide today.
What shall we do?” My brothers and I looked at each other and thought
for a bit, and finally we said weakly, “Well, I’m sure there’s a museum
around, and I think I saw a bookstore….” The truth is we didn’t know
how to pick what to do. We only knew one way to do things, so even
given a choice there was no choice to make.
That’s kind of how I feel now with my kids. I’m used to having at
least one of them around all the time and that’s the way I do things. I
don’t get out alone much, and when I do it’s for a scheduled purpose,
such as a rehearsal or a concert. I know I probably should make time to
be alone, but when I contemplate an evening away from my kids I draw a
blank about what I would do with it. I’m so out of practice with the
concept that I don’t even know what the choices are. It’s especially
weird since most of what I would want to do is at home, and finding a
sitter who can take the kids away but leave me here is awkward. I feel
like if I’m home it doesn’t make sense that the kids aren’t here too.
So when my friend Carol told me she was having a party I
automatically asked if I could bring the kids along. She said she had
envisioned a more adult affair, and that I should see it as a good
chance to get out for a change. She even found me a place nearby that
was having a babysitting fundraiser event on the same night, so there
were no excuses. I was going to a party.
I’m not good at parties. I adore my friend and definitely wanted to
go, but I don’t drink and I’m a geek which always makes me worry about
fitting in. I don’t have a problem with this–it’s not a flaw and I’m
fine with who I am for the most part, even if who I am means being
uneasy at parties. I don’t need to learn to like parties more. I get
by okay, because I can talk to almost anyone and when I have the energy
for it I can be amusing (so I’m told), but it doesn’t help that parties
are the kind of event where I intensely notice my husband’s absence.
It’s hard to go to a party alone, even when everyone there is nice and
you know some of them already. When you come with a partner there is a
default in place for when you don’t know where to stand or what to do.
It’s like home base in tag–there’s a safe spot to retreat to and catch
your breath. Plus my favorite part of a party is always that period
after it’s over, when you can talk about it and compare notes. I
especially like it if we host a party, and as Ian and I clean up
together we talk about how it went. Some of my favorite memories are of
the two of us washing and drying the dishes as a team, chatting about
what went right and what we’d do differently next time, who was funny,
who surprised us, me assuring him his sense of humor wasn’t too odd and
him assuring me I didn’t talk too much. Leaving a party alone has an
unfinished quality to it.
So tonight you get to play Ian’s role in this one-sided post-party chat. Here’s how my evening went:
I don’t know why leaving the house always has to have a Keystone Cops
quality to it, but we can never just go in a timely and calm fashion.
Mona is the most reliable of the bunch in terms of actually following
simple directions, which means sometimes when I tell the kids to use the
bathroom and put on shoes, Mona ends up buckled in the car before
Aden’s even dressed. (I’m not exaggerating.) But there is always some
scrambling over coats and snow pants and gloves and hats that is
frustrating, some kind of discussion about what toys they can or cannot
bring, and no one ever remembers where we are going.
Anyway, Aden and
Mona both got into the van while I struggled to put a coat on a sound
asleep Quinn lying on the family room floor. About a minute before I
was ready to leave (and about five minutes after we should have left),
Aden came rushing into the house yelling frantically that Mona had
spilled water everywhere. I don’t know why there was that much water
waiting to be spilled in the backseat of the van, or why they couldn’t
figure out on their own that Mona should come in and change, but I told
Aden to please go out and ask Mona to come in and find new clothes.
Mona clomped upstairs a minute later, jeans soaked, coat wet…. She
found a new outfit, twirled in it for me, and got back in the van.
Quinn was sleepy and cranky, and I nearly forgot to grab all the cream
puffs I’d baked for the party, but we were finally on our way.
But to where? The babysitting fundraiser place was in a facility I’d
never been to before. I had an address, but my sense of direction is a
strange and magical place where anything can happen. Apparently even
an inexplicable drive out to the airport. I finally dug out the GPS and
while I was fiddling with it and looking at the time, I reminded myself
that I couldn’t really be late because none of it mattered. This was
supposed to be fun, and getting stressed about fun is stupid. Carol
would be happy to see me whenever I got there, the babysitters wouldn’t
care as long as they got their money. So I didn’t get agitated about
being lost, which is good because it was better to laugh when it turned
out the place I was trying to find was only a few blocks from my kids’
school. From the backseat Aden said, “Why have we been driving so long
and now we’re almost back home?” Excellent question. We chalked it up
to one of those things that happens when her dad isn’t here.
The babysitting fundraiser was kind of cool. Lots of people and
activities and snacks and a movie. There was a ball pit and lots of
games. The girls vanished into the herd of kids immediately and didn’t
look back. Quinn…Well, Quinn fell to pieces. He clung to me for dear
life, turned away from anyone who tried to help, and wept. This is
another one of those areas where deployment makes things more
complicated. In a normal circumstance I would probably be inclined to
say, “Hey, he’ll get over it as soon as I leave. We both need to
toughen up.” But this is not normal. Daddy went away and now he’s just
some guy we talk about. I have no idea how deep Quinn’s fear of my
leaving goes. Maybe this is run of the mill separation anxiety, and
maybe it’s something more traumatic, but I don’t know, and it makes it
hard to decide what to do. I know to other parents it looks like I’m
being too indulgent sometimes, but I’m just trying to be sensitive to
what might be a bigger problem. In some cases the regular parenting
techniques might prove to be cruel, but again, I don’t know.
So I walked about with Quinn glued to me as long as I could and I
finally had to just peel him off, hand him to another mom, and listen to
him scream as I walked away. I burst into tears before I even got out
of the building. I sat shaking in the car for a bit before setting the
GPS for the party (because it was close but I didn’t want to risk seeing
the airport again).
The party itself was really nice. It was a tropical theme, which in
Milwaukee during winter is particularly welcome. The food was abundant
and tasty, and I met some interesting people and ran into a few
friends. I had volunteered to make something sweet (and no, cream puffs
are not tropical, but who turns down cream puffs?), and one of the best
parts of my night was when I went to see what else was on the dessert
table and a couple of guys sitting near it kept pointing me toward my
own cream puffs saying, “You have to try these, they’re really really
It was pleasant, but the moment when I felt most comfortable? When
Carol’s youngest daughter who is Aden’s age came up to ask if she could
take my picture. I said yes, but only if she was in it with me. I was
much happier sitting with Carol’s kids at the back of the room than I
had been anywhere else. Proabably because I don’t know how to choose
not to be around kids. It’s what I know, it’s where I fit right now.
(Plus she’s got super great kids.)
I was tired, and decided I’d done as much of a party as I felt up
to. I missed Ian. I missed my own kids. I think I hit the time limit
someone who doesn’t drink can do at a party where other people have
glasses of wine in their hands. Carol gave me some colorful pinwheels
to take back to my children and I headed out with about an hour to use
up before having to get the kids out of hock. What to do with it?
Should I go home? That sounded lonely. I chose Target.
It’s nice to shop without having to chant an endless litany of, “No.
No. Put it back. No. Did you hear me say no? Maybe later. No. Put
it down. I don’t care, put it down. No. No. No. I love you, but
no.” I picked up a few things we needed, like paper towels and
shampoo. And then I thought, “Hey, it’s my fun party night out–I’m
going to treat myself to something nice!” My husband, if he’s reading
this, is already thinking (correctly) “Good lord, we own another
I don’t know why a nice flashlight puts me in a good mood, but it
just does. I like one with some nice heft, a good grippy grip, and a
button with a satisfying click. I have no explanation for why I enjoy
buying flashlights, but it works in my favor a little that my kids are
always absconding with them and running the batteries down and breaking
them. I like to have one in my nightstand and one on the refrigerator
in case of blackouts, but especially since we hung a mirror ball in the
kitchen and the kids use those to light that up, I can never find either
one of them. So I found myself a nice new flashlight for on top of the
fridge. I put the batteries in it in the car and clicked it on and off
happily a dozen times before it was time to go get the kids.
The girls didn’t want to leave they’d had so much fun, and Quinn had
eventually calmed down enough to hang out with one particular mom. The
mom kept saying to me, “My goodness he’s smart,” and couldn’t get over
how much detail he was able to bring to his descriptions. Between that
and the big happy hug I got from my cutie boy it was the complete
antidote to the upsetting dropoff earlier.
A weird emotional mix of an evening, but it’s a start. I need for
all our sakes to get out alone a little more often where it’s not for
work or errands. I signed the kids up for the next babysitting event at
the same facility in a couple of weeks. Quinn promised not to freak
out next time, and I’ll try to find something quiet to do by myself. I
have no idea what, but at least I’ll have a nice flashlight to do it