by Leslie Morgan Steiner
My husband and I are one of those couples that divide up the childcare and household responsibilities without ever discussing them. He takes care of groceries, garbage, light bulbs, basketball coaching and taxes. I do diapers, play dates, doctors’ appointments, pet care, date nights and midnight sick kid duty. I don’t recommend this system – talking about strengths, weaknesses, preferences and fairness seems to lead to more ideal solutions -- but somehow this haphazard divide-and-conquer works for us.
Except that I have gotten stuck packing for all three kids and myself for every trip, vacation and weekend away for 13 years. My husband always shrugs off packing with a dismissive “Come on, honey, it’s no big deal.” And then he’d watch me, time and time again, as I frantically scrambled to pack pacifiers, diapers, Tylenol, toothbrushes, favorite books, prized stuffed animals, shoes and underwear for everyone – while simultaneously getting the kids showered, dressed, fed, and out the door. A monumentally boring, stress-filled job. By the time we pulled out of the driveway, I was a sweaty frazzled resentful banshee with a throat sore from shouting.
Meantime my husband would casually shower, eat a sandwich and pack for himself without a care about forgotten blankies or bathing suits. During the packing frenzy he would invariably say something sufficiently clueless and condescending to make me want to garrote him, like “Wow, you are really stressed out! Why don’t you just relax and enjoy yourself? We’re on vacation, babe!”
It often took several hours – or days – for me to calm down.
This year my husband surprised me by offering to pack everything and everyone himself.
“All packing. All kid prep,” he said. “You need a break. Get some exercise, get some work done, I’ve got this one.”
Speechless, I agreed.
Perhaps he was motivated by the fact that for the past three months I’ve been taking care of my dying mother. My world is filled with medicine, diapers (adult this time), nurses, tearful visitors and hospice care. Without a doubt, it’s the most stress and sadness I’ve ever experienced in one finite time period. I had two mini-nervous-breakdowns in the past week alone; my husband was probably terrified of me packing for the family in that state.
Departure morning I slept late, went running, packed my bag, and showered up. I did not make breakfast or lunch or fold a single sweater for our ski trip. I did not print out the boarding passes. I ignored the kids’ wild shouting “Who has my socks? Where are my goggles?”
I gotta say, it was awfully relaxing. A real break.
A priceless snapshot was my husband’s appearance as we left the house. His hair, which he only has a little of anyway, was sticking out at all angles over his head. Although he had showered earlier in the day, he was covered in sweat. His voice sounded hoarse – I’d overheard three glorious screaming matches with the kids. His clothes were wrinkled, his brow furrowed. He muttered a few choice words I’d heard myself say 100 times before: “Why don’t you just go by yourselves. I need a vacation from this vacation.”
I bit my tongue. I didn’t harass him for being so stressed. Instead, I thanked him with a huge hug even though he was disgustingly smelly and his muscles felt as tight as guitar strings. I didn’t care. I was on vacation.