I sent my kids away. For a week. (Okay, 6 days if you want to get technical.) It was fabulous. It was freeing. It also made me realize five dark truths.
The idea to send my girls away first came up about a month ago. My mom suggested that I be open to sending my girls to ‘Camp Grandparents’ early on in the summer. “Do you think they’ll come here without you? I think they can handle it.” My parents live more than 200 miles away from Los Angeles — a 3-hour drive. I was certain that my oldest LadyP could handle it (she’s 5). As for my baby, LilMiss? I wasn’t sure about her, only because she still walks the hallways in the middle of the night (she’s 4).
But, with summer plodding along, we thought, “Let’s do this and see what happens!” I figured I could use the uninterrupted time to devote more energy to writing (my book, my blog, my TV segments, my ongoing assignments for other sites I work for)… and my girls could enjoy good old fashioned small-town summertime with my parents, my sister and her two adorable daughters (one of whom is the exact same age as my LilMiss).
So, on a Monday afternoon, my girls and I drove one and a half hours to meet Grandma halfway. One 45 minute lunch at Mimi’s Cafe in Bakersfield later (with my own 96 year old grandma in tow!) my girls loaded up in my mom’s car and got whisked away. For a whole week. (Fine, 6 days.)
Like I said before, the days were free and fabulous (although, I wasn’t exactly flying high on pampering myself). Over the week, I realized a few semi-frightful things:
I’m remarkably okay without my kids around. I was expecting this, as I ripped off that Band-Aid about being away from my kids long ago (thank you Matt Damon). But, this feeling was different. I missed my kids, but I was honestly a-ok without them being around. I didn’t spend my days wondering what they were doing. I didn’t feel awkwardly alone in my house, wondering what I should do. Those (lack of) feelings scared me a bit. (They still scare me, even writing it all out loud now.) Maybe it was because I was frantically busy and entrenched with hitting deadlines for work? Maybe it’s an honest response to being so tired of paying for babysitters so that I can work? Maybe I’m just heartless?
Even without kids around, I have a challenges hitting certain deadlines. This was a hard pill to swallow. It’s easy to identify the responsibilities of taking care of children and a household as something that interrupts your own concentration and ability to get things done… but when you still have some of the same issues completing work when your kids aren’t around, well, that’s jarring. Here I thought I’d finish the manuscript of my book in mid-July (when my kids were away) but nope, I’m still finishing it now. Maybe I’m overloaded [work-wise] more than I can admit? Maybe I just have a concentration problem.
I felt no remorse for not cooking my husband dinner… for 5 days straight. This might be old-hat to some of us here, but for me the feeling is new. So you know: I was the woman who used to cook 5 days a week, no problem. When I started working more, I started cooking less. And it’s been less and less and less lately. I had fantasized that, with my kids gone, I could return to experimenting with a new recipe like I used to do in the old days (ie: 4 years ago). But no. Not me. Not having kids around gave me license to not cook at all in the name of squeezing in more time writing my manuscript. Packing the fridge with salads and frozen food you can nuke from Trader Joe’s worked perfectly fine. So fine. You can tinker in the garage for as long as you want, I can not cook dinner. It’s all good.
My kids were absolutely fine without me, over at Grandma’s house. I know what you’re thinking, and no, it’s not that — my mom is a tough cookie that really does enforce rules and regulations and behavior much more than me, so no, they were not getting by with a free pass over there. But yes, the days were packed. They went to Princess Dance Camp for 2 hours in the mornings. They swam every afternoon. They had Karaoke-packed slumber parties with my niece. They even went to Vacation Bible School and learned to sing all the same songs I learned at the same Vacation Bible School growing up. I’d call to check in about the day’s activities every night. “Do you want to talk to your mom?” my mom would ask my darling munchkins. “No! We’re playing!” I’d hear them holler in the background. Excuse me? You get on the phone and talk to me! Half of me was beyond proud of them for happily handling themselves and being self-sufficient away from mommy… but geez kids, you can at least pretend to be a bit sappy just for show. “They’re just perfect over here… no issues at all,” my mom would say over the phone. Apparently the cousins were very, very busy.
What happened when I drove the 200+ miles to pick up my little darlings? They greeted me at my parents’ front door as though I’d just seen them about 5 minutes prior. Same smirks. Same smiles. Same swimsuits.
MAN, I MISSED THEM! I hugged them and kissed them and then they went running off continuing whatever they were doing with their miniature mermaid dolls before I got there. I was a bit dejected. “I don’t want to go back to LA, mom!” my LadyP yelled. As I stayed over the weekend before taking them back to LA (yes, my oldest one did in fact come back), I also realized:
My girls behave much better when they’re around my mom. My girls are good, I’ve always been strong about saying that… but yeah, they sure know how to push buttons too. I’m a taskmaster who isn’t afraid to followup on rules and threats, as learned from my own mom. (Let’s recall that McDonald’s Happy Meal toy incident…) However, all previously-perfect behavior at Grandma’s went to you-know-where in a hand-basket while I was there over the next few days. After allegedly sleeping straight through the night — all 5 nights — at my parents’ house with no drama, my little one reinstated her habit of waking up, walking the halls and begging me to get up with her around 1am. “When you’re here she turns into a needy baby,’ my mom noticed. She was right. On top of it, my oldest started throwing a bit of her what I call ‘Almost 6 years old’ drama while playing in the pool while I was there. (I had to kick her out of the pool several times and made her stand on the grass by herself until she calmed down.) “She did not act like this when you weren’t here,” my mom reported from the chaise lounge. Thanks, Mom. “It’s not you,” my mom continued. “It’s because you’re ‘Mommy.’ They’re kids, this is what kids do.” Even with 40 years of teaching experience to back up her assessment, I didn’t want to believe her…
There you have ’em. Five dark truths. The funny thing is, I actually feel more focused after experiencing them. The black magic of having extended time to yourself as a mother is powerful. So powerful.
Who’s ready for another Camp Grandma?