One thing I've always prided myself on is my independence. I think my parents bred me to be that way. When I was a tween, back before the word "tween" was invented, my mom would drop me off at the mall with some friends, where we'd go to Friendly's and order ice cream and sit in a booth and basically pretend we were grown-ups. During family trips to amusement parks, I'd be allowed to go off by myself and meet back at a certain time, which led me to spending many, many hours on the Skyride at Busch Gardens because that was about as adventurous as I got. (Come to think of it, did they let me go by myself or MAKE me go so they didn't have to do the Skyride so much?) I was allowed to wander down Broadway by myself in New York and spend the day by myself in Colonial Williamsburg, where I bought myself a double scoop of black raspberry and mint chocolate chip ice cream. Apparently, independence equals ice cream in my mind.
My independence training culminated in my cross-country trip from Maryland to California a week after I turned 18. People have told me how brave it was for me to do that alone, but to be honest, it didn't take bravery - it took a combination of naivete and ability to not go nuts after 5 days with no one to talk to. (My parents were the brave ones, and I confess that I can only imagine letting my kids do the same thing if they had a cell phone and a AAA card.)
I had only been away from home for 18 months when I got married, and had to learn what independence means in the context of a lifelong commitment to another person. Clearly, this precluded any more cross-country solo drives, but did it mean that I was now Krazy Glued to another human being, til death do you part? This was one of the many adjustments that two people who come from different families have to figure out.
We've learned to compromise over the years. We each get time out of the house to do things we love, like school and girl's nights for me and snowboarding for him. But with each child we had, the weight of our dependents has squashed my dreams of independence. I'm tethered to five other people, and don't get me wrong - I love these people like crazy - but in choosing a family, I gave up a certain amount of freedom, and I miss it.
So I was excited when Ryan decided to take Brad and Noah to Arizona for a long weekend, in order to see the Dodgers at spring training. Excited that Ryan would want to take a mini-vacation on his own, excited that the boys got to do something fun, and yes, excited that I'd have the house half to myself for a little while. Darcey and Zack are the harder set of kids, but they're easily entertained and go to bed early. They also don't have opinions, so if I wanted to eat out, they wouldn't negotiate with me - I could go where I wanted. Grasping at straws, maybe, but this seemed like a little taste of independence to me.
They've been gone since Friday, and it's interesting - being alone is a lot lonelier than I thought it would be. I love being able to go to bed whenever I want, but there's no one there to peer pressure me into getting up on time for church. I love that I can sit and read or watch tv and no one interrupts me, but it's also eerily quiet in the house for long stretches of the day. (This is when Zack is playing with friends and Darcey's sleeping, but even when they're both here, it's still so quiet.) I didn't realize how much I'd miss having someone to talk to; I don't even have anything to say, I just want that basic human interaction. And I realized how much Ryan and I share the burdens of the household - with him gone, it'd be up to me to kill any spiders, change any lightbulbs, figure out what's wrong with the garage door opener. Maybe I didn't incorporate enough ice cream into this weekend; all I know is that independence isn't what I remembered it to be.
I still like being alone. I'm okay with myself, I like solitude - to a certain extent. But I'm seeing that the idealized picture of me roaming the world without a care, free as a bird - not only is that never going to happen, I don't want it to happen. When we were in Europe last year, I ended up leaving 3 of my kids with my parents and going to the Louvre by myself. This was something I had always dreamed of - cosmopolitan woman, in Paris, it was so chic. But when I was on the train into the city, it didn't feel chic - it felt lonely. I remember regretting not having someone there to share this experience with. So you can imagine my joy when I found Ryan and Brad walking out of the same wing I was walking into. I was so happy to spend that evening in Paris with two of the people I love most in the world.
Why do I forget that sometimes? I think it's the constant demands for attention from four kids and a husband that make an independent person cry out for a little breathing room, a little space to stretch my legs. It's easy to get swallowed up in family life and forget that there's anything else to you. I think I'm still going to want that break sometimes - a weekend to myself, or a mini-vacation with a couple of kids. I'm grateful that our marriage vows didn't require Krazy Glue to hold us together permanently. What's that old cliche? If you love something, send it to Arizona for the weekend. If it comes back, you'll appreciate it more. Or something like that.
I still have one day left before the boys come home. Let's see if some ice cream doesn't make this all better.