by Meredith O'Brien
I almost canceled. Several times in fact. The swirling chaos of my three children’s oppressive schedules nearly made me throw in the towel because it just seemed too difficult to get away with my husband to celebrate our 18th anniversary. And damn, would canceling have been a huge mistake.
Let me backtrack a bit: When I was looking for a gift to get for my husband Scott for our anniversary in October, I decided what he needed was time . . . with me. Alone. I’m not talkin’ a stolen 20 minutes here or there, or a disjointed conversation in the dark at midnight when we’re both cranky and tired. We needed time away from everything, including our house so I spontaneously booked a night – only one night, mind you – at a swanky Boston hotel in the Beacon Hill area. My sister-in-law, who lives about an hour away from us, agreed to take my kids on that Saturday night in December -- we’d drive them up to their house -- and my husband and I would pick them up by mid-afternoon the following day.
When Scott opened the anniversary card which explained that his gift was a night in a nice hotel together -- plus a nice dinner out, time to walk around the city and enjoy the Christmas lights, and window shopping the next day -- he thanked me and then asked, “But what if the kids have things on those days?”
“I don’t care!” I said, getting irritated. “This is OUR time. There’s nothing scheduled for those days. We’re going! We get to have time alone.”
Flash-forward to a few weeks ago when those two previously “free” days became jam-packed with three kids’ basketball games, two youth hockey games and a Nativity play at our church for which my daughter had been chosen as the narrator, the largest speaking part. Now I was the one getting cold feet about whether this whole night away business could work. “Forget it,” I told my husband. “We can’t do this.” I was heartsick at the thought that my 12-year-old daughter would miss two basketball games and the play. I didn’t want to disappoint my 12-year-old son by having him miss his game, nor did I want our 9-year-old to be saddened about skipping two hockey games. I felt too guilty about going away for an evening if it was going to cost them so much.
Then my husband and I had a bit of role reversal. He was the one who insisted that he’d work it out, make it happen, though we’d have less time in Boston together than we originally planned: We left for Boston after attending a hockey game and two hoop games (my husband coaches both basketball teams), getting to our hotel room after 6:30. My sister-in-law’s husband agreed to drive our kids to church the following morning so my daughter could appear in the play. My husband and I met them at our house at noon so we could drive the children to their games (so much for spending a leisurely afternoon walking around Boston looking at the Yuletide decorations and possibly shopping).
To achieve our scaled-back night away necessitated a heck of a lot of running around beforehand. We had to make sure the kids’ bags were packed, that my sister-in-law knew what time they had to be at the play, that my daughter had her script and that the house was tidy because everyone was going to meet there in between church and the Sunday children’s games. It would’ve been a lot easier for Scott and me to just go out to dinner and call it a night.
But God, did we need that time alone, even though it was only for less than a day and was bookended by crazy-busy-ness. It took both of us a while to relax after all the rushing around, from focusing on our three children, on our work and on our ginormous “To Do” list, and to actually look one another in the eye and focus on us, and not because the kids had just gone to bed or because we were too tired to fold another load of laundry.
Way back when, we had the ability to luxuriate in “us.” We lounged around reading newspapers in bed on weekend mornings. We ate spicy gourmet meals with exotic ingredients and didn’t have to constantly get up to fetch someone a cup of milk or paper towels to clean up spilled milk. We went to movies that didn’t have animated characters. We went to plays that didn’t feature puppets or fuzzy mascots. We had ample time back then as opposed to now, when we’re absolutely time starved. Time deprivation is not a good thing for a couple. It’s scary how easy it is to allow our relationship to slip to last place on our priority list. Trying to find “us” time often feels like it’s an extravagance. But it’s not a luxury, I have to keep reminding myself, because without it, there won’t be an “us” really, there’d just be two people phoning it in.
I was in the midst of waffling about whether we should cancel our night in Boston when I read Margot Wheeler’s Mommy Tracked column “Working Mom, Ex-Wife ”. Wheeler wrote about the disintegration of her 15-year marriage and described a “desperate loneliness” she and her husband experienced when they “retreated to [their] own, ever more distinct worlds.” And I related to that.
Oftentimes – more often than I care to admit – I feel as though my husband and I barely have time to speak with one another beyond questions such as, “Did you feed the dog?” and “Can you take him to hockey practice while I take her to basketball practice?” By the time all three kids are back from whatever activity we’ve been carting them to and said offspring are finally in bed, after the dishes are washed and it’s a night when both my husband and I happen to be home, we’re usually exhausted from our day and certainly in no mood to delve into anything other than a superficial conversation because we have to be up early in the morning the next day to either drive our 12-year-old son to band practice for 6:50 a.m. or our 9-year-old son to the hockey rink for 5:30 a.m.
Despite the fact that it’s a major pain in the neck to scramble to find people to take care of your kids and arrange for rides for them to get to all their stuff, it’s really important to assert yourself and make time for you and your significant other, if only to remind one another of why you got together in the first place. Believe me, it’s well worth the effort because if you don’t invest in your marriage and make it a priority, who will?