In July Stevie and I flew the kids to Portland, rented a car and drove down the Oregon Coast to see my mom for the 4th of July. It was a beautiful week, and seeing my kid’s faces light up as they marched in the small town parade and later watching as their smiles went from green to blue to ooh to ahh as endless fireworks exploded over the ocean, made the saving money, navigating airport security with toddlers, plane ride, road trip, and disrupted sleep schedules completely worth it.
Sure, there were some stressful moments, like when my daughter, worn out and tired from a daylong trip to the Oregon Coast Aquarium had a Category 3 Meltdown because I took a bite of her chicken strip, or when we forgot the diaper bag on a hike back into the lush green Northwest rainforest and I ended up cleaning Captain’s poop-butt with a large fern I was 90% sure wouldn't give him a rash. (I was right.) All in all, it was an amazing trip, even if we came home more tired than when we left. Stevie and I came home from the trip in full agreement of two things: A, Trips like our Oregon vacation are important, bring us closer as a family, and give us the opportunity to get to know our kids in a way that the 9-5 grind of being two working parents doesn't, and B, the kids were totally not invited on our next vacation.
Fast forward 4 months. This past weekend Stevie and I made arrangements for the kids to stay with their grandma for a few days, packed up the van and unapologetically took off to Denver without them. Our destination: The Great American Beer Festival. Here were the best parts:
Sweet magical silence. About 15 minutes into our 8 hour drive to Denver, I reached towards the dashboard, turned off the radio, high-fived my wife, and without saying a word we stared silently off towards the horizon for the next hour and a half. Sure, there were plenty of things we wanted to talk about. Over the course of our drive would discuss politics, religion, the parenting techniques of all of our friends and how much we agreed or disagreed with ALL of them (you do it too!), our kids, other people’s kids, funny stories from our each other’s pasts that we had already heard dozens of times, but enjoyed hearing again, and silly games like “Who’s on your list” and “Look how long I can let go of the wheel before we die” and “Dammit, John! Grab the wheel! You know I hate it when you do that!” But before we got to any of those conversations or games, we first played a game we had been craving for months: the quiet game.
Our kids fill our lives with so many wonderful things, but one of the few things they take in exchange is silence. There is no silence in our home anymore. Even the quiet times are not silent, not really. There is always the anticipation of the oncoming storm sitting somewhere near the edge of each moment, waiting for a scream or a laugh or a holler or a shattered lamp. When you have toddlers, even the quiet is loud.
So between Salt Lake City, Utah and Evanston, Wyoming, despite our eager anticipation of the hours of uninterrupted conversation to come, our first kid-free indulgence was to shut the hell up.
Ease of transitions
“Hey Stevie! Do you want to go to the store and grab something for dinner?”
“Hell yeah I do. In fact, check it out! In the space between this and the last sentence we have already gotten in the car, gone to the store, bought our desired dinner (Oreo Cookies) and returned. It is almost as if by not having our two children here we are able to bend space and time?”
“I know! Right? Hand me the whiskey, please. I need something to dip my Oreo in.”
(Note: For an earlier version of this joke, click here)
We got to be in the same social setting at the same time
One thing I am really proud of with my wife and I’s marriage is that we work really hard to let the each other have time to ourselves outside the house. If Stevie wants a night out with her all-girl “book club” that doesn't really read books, but instead drinks wine and eats delicious food that she never brings home for me, then I’m happy to have a night home with the kids. Same goes the other way around. If I want to go to the coffee shop and get some writing done, she’s totally happy to let me meet up with my buddy Paul at the bar to watch football. It is important for us to venture out into the world. The problem is that we rarely get to do it together.
Which is why when we met up with our friends in Denver for the festival, or afterwards at the bar, or at the bar after that, we relished in the fact that not only were we out with our friends, we were out with our friends AT THE SAME TIME. Sure, we weren't the same clingy, hand-holding freshly unwrapped couple we had been nearly a decade ago, but just seeing my wife smiling on the other side of the table or having her walk up behind me as I caught up with old friends and kiss me on the cheek brought me back to those first few years when everything was new.
I slept in until 9 AM. I don’t know what more I can say about that. It was glorious.
There was no asking for a high-chair. There was no refereeing crayon distribution. At one point we both got up and left the table at the same time for no reason what-so-ever except that we could. I didn't have to share anything from my plate. Our table contained no chicken strips or mac-n-cheese, and therefore neither did the 6-foot radius around our table. We talked across plates of delicious food, ordered drinks after dinner, took our time and then got up and left without leaving behind a single toy that we would later need to come back and get before being able to get our kid to go to sleep. Granted, Stevie did leave her sunglasses on the table, but they were only 8 dollars and she eventually got over it.
We realized how much we missed each other
I know. I realize that this post treads dangerously close to complaining about having kids.
I wouldn't be surprised if I got a few comments about how we “chose” to have kids, and therefore we don’t have the right to complain about them. Well, that is just dumb. I chose to run a marathon, and it was a very rewarding experience. That didn't mean it wasn't hard, or that I didn't get to complain about the training.
Stevie and I did choose to become parents. And then we chose to again. And we love it. We even love the hard parts, but that doesn't make them any less difficult. Like I mentioned before, taking our kids on vacation was a wonderful and important experience, but so is taking a vacation from our kids. Not because we don’t like them, or because they make our lives worse, but because when we are with them they are our top priority. When they’re not around, we can relax a little. We can let our guard down. Stevie isn't going to fall down the stairs. I am not going to dart off into traffic. We both can stop protecting and raising tiny humans, and just collapse gently into each other’s arms. Sure, that happens every night at home after the kids go to bed, but it was extra nice to do it for three days in a row.
But honestly, the very best part of the whole weekend?
In-between the silence, the easy transitions, the amazing meals, the beer festival, and the good times with old friends, we kept finding our shadows of our tiny humans. I found a necklace at the aquarium we visited that looked just like one Duchess had described wanting. Outside the restaurant Saturday night, I caught a glimpse of a mom with two toddlers just as she turned around the corner.
Instinctually, my right hand closed and I was a little sad when my little girl’s hand wasn't in it. I could feel the weight of captain’s squirmy body in the crook of my left arm. I looked at Stevie and realized she was feeling the same thing. We missed our kids.
Where our ride out was silence and politics and religion and jokes, our ride home was “Remember when Duchess did this?” and “Can you believe that Captain is almost two!” And as we pulled into the driveway to pick them up, I could see their little faces peering out the window. Getting away for a bit is great, but damn it feels good to come home.
We won’t always be able to afford two vacations in a year. Hell, there have been years when we couldn't afford one. But in the years we can, a kid-free weekend doesn't feel like an indulgent thing for selfish-parents to do. It felt responsible and important. It brought us closer together, and I think that helps us be better parents. And that is good for everyone.
And we like beer festivals.