A few Saturdays ago the little girls and I dropped my husband and teenager at the airport for a red-eye flight to New York. There had been several excited weeks leading up to this departure – weeks of buying The New Yorker to check out play reviews and other exhibits; weeks of obsessing over what bag to carry on the plane; weeks of discussing how hot/humid/rainy it would be; weeks of wondering if a disposable razor could go in carry-on luggage (it can); weeks of debating whether to bring the high school English class’ assigned summer reading; weeks and weeks of talk about how much she would love it and whether dad would remember she needs to eat lunch and why is dad taking her rather than mom and where should she go shopping.
And then suddenly it was 10pm on Saturday and we were parked at the Load and Unload Only curb at the airport giving quick hugs good-bye. And then I was driving home with two little girls, one sobbing “I want my daddy, I miss my daddy!” And I felt the tension of letting two of the people I love most in the world out of my care.
Now mind you, my husband is an imposing 6’4″ and a former police officer. Nobody wants to mess with this guy, and my daughter couldn’t be with anybody who would protect her better than her dad.
But when we all come back under the same roof each night, I have the illusion of control. I send my girls off to school and field trips and friends’ houses, my husband drives all over the Bay Area, and I commute to an office 30 miles away. But at the end of the day, when all heads are accounted for, I am comforted.
Of course my husband and teen had a fabulous time in New York. They emailed a handful of photos and we got an occasional text message or phone call. And four days later they returned, safe and sound, into our waiting arms.
In the meantime, once the little girls and I got over the initial anxiety of waving good-bye to 40% of our family, we discovered that some things were easier unencumbered by them. We were spontaneous, deciding to head downtown after a day of work and camp to see a movie, and it was easy to find one the three of us agreed on. We explored the hiking trails of a nearby county park without cajoling and dragging along a teen who would rather be at the mall. Preparing dinner was easy without trying to please more sophisticated palates. And by 9pm the rest of the evening and, more importantly, the remote control were my own!
And yes, I’m well aware that on the other coast dad and teen were feeling the same – able to explore the big city without little girls complaining about tired legs or boredom and me worrying that we’ll be late for the theatre.
Our family dynamics change in really interesting ways when one or more of us are away from home, whether it’s me traveling for business or the little girls at a sleepover at camp. Somehow this disruption in the status quo gives us the freedom to break out of our routines. We try new things, we have a different kind of fun…and it makes coming back together that much sweeter.