It took twenty years, but my husband and I finally started taking time for ourselves. Devoid of ideas on how to celebrate our platinum anniversary, and lacking the funds to buy each other anything platinum, we decided the perfect gift to each other would be a weekend away.
The logistics of planning a weekend away were almost enough to make us give up the plan. Having three kids in numerous activities, one being just a toddler who needed 24/7 supervision, securing childcare was our first hurdle. With only one local grandparent, we were mindful of the fact that Nana can get over-utilized. However, my two sisters and I had often talked about being resources for each other, so even though I knew she was an extraordinarily busy working mom, I asked my sister in New York if she would like to take my kids for the weekend.
Scheduling around not only my family’s schedule, but hers as well, seemed nearly impossible; but after we got through it, she seemed truly enthusiastic about the opportunity to have them.
My husband and I wrote lists and we packed their favorite foods. We filled suitcases with clothing, toys and toiletries. We made sure we had Sarah’s special baby doll for bedtime, the older girls’ ear buds for the ride and chargers for the electronics. Ten minutes before we were scheduled to head out, we got around to packing for ourselves.
We had chosen Lake George as our destination for several reasons. Travel points collected by our credit card use provided free lodging at the incredible Sagamore Inn, and my sister’s house was right along the way. We had heard it was a beautiful area for hiking and there were plenty of good restaurants.
It was hard to say good-bye, especially to the little one. The older girls were excited to be with their close-in-age-cousins, but I wasn’t sure how Sarah would do with the separation. All was well as we backed out of Caroline’s driveway though, Sarah tugging her aunt towards the swing set, not looking back.
We eagerly checked in as I tried not to look impressed. I didn’t want to let on that this was far from a typical weekend for me. Gorgeous views of the lake, lavish décor in the grand lobby and the clinking of glasses in the bar, all had me feeling like a very lucky fish-of-water. We found our room to be luxurious and we set out about unpacking, almost pretending we were staying longer than just two nights.
It took a few hours of unhurried time together, but the conversation eventually began to flow. In our normal daily lives, as in those of most parents of school-aged children, life is chaotic. Every day is a constant challenge to keep up with schedules, keep everyone reasonably clean and healthily fed, keep the money flowing in, and try to find quality time to make memories.
Parents can easily become more like partners than part of a couple. All of the responsibilities are shared, so what one forgets, the other has to remember. At any given moment, one parent is making dinner, packing lunches, feeding the dog, paying the bills, carting the kids around, cleaning the house, doing the laundry and/or fixing what’s broken.
Add the constant joint-decision-making that is required of parents, and the responsibilities mount. Budgetary decisions come up daily regarding things like saving for college, what to spend on vacations, whether or not to send the kids to summer camp, and whether or not private lessons or tutoring are feasible.
There are sometimes thorny discussions to be held regarding things like after-prom-activities, teenage driving rules and varying discipline techniques. Instead of spending quality time together, a marriage can seem more like two parties in perpetual negotiations.
Even if we make it a priority to go out for dinner or see a movie together, there is never enough time to decompress. The next responsibility is rushing at us, and keeping on top of it all leaves little energy for anything else.
As we settled into the lap of luxury, we discussed the easy decision of where to eat. Looking up reviews of the restaurants in the area, there appeared to be no wrong choice. It seemed like a good time for cocktails, so I set out the cheese and crackers I had brought along, while he opened a bottle of Chardonnay.
We slept as late as we wanted to. We went on challenging and beautiful hikes, something I had forgotten we both loved to do. We ate wherever we wanted to, never having to ask for a kiddy menu or rush through a meal because of an impatient teenager’s social schedule. In our downtime, he strummed his guitar while I read an engrossing novel. Having nothing we had to do, nowhere we needed to be and no one or nothing to take care of, we were left with time to just be together.
I remembered that he can be funny and he recalled that I can be silly. Instead of glazing over topics on our minds, we had the time to talk at length and in-depth about our feelings on a variety of subjects. We were just two individuals, not the co-captains of a very precious vessel, out to enjoy ourselves and have fun. I was amazed that after twenty years, it actually felt like we were back in school, dating again.
In recent years I have become aware of the power of meditation, of taking time for myself, to connect to my inner being. Now I realized that this time away had the same effect on us as a couple. I had heard that couples reconnect when they take time away, and I thought it sounded corny and pretentious. Now I knew that it actually worked.
The following year, my other sister watched the girls. We planned it so that we would drop them off at her home near Philadelphia on our way to Atlantic City. Despite it being pre-season early June, the weather was summery. We discovered a beach bar where we could lay on comfy lounge chairs and be served frozen drinks. Ocean breezes, calypso music and swaying palm trees made it feel like we were in Key West. Not into gambling, we found great restaurants, took in a fabulous comedy show, shopped the outdoor outlets and took power walks along the boardwalk and beach.
We just returned from our third annual trip, this time to celebrate our 22nd anniversary. Coming off of a busy youth sports season and college-touring, I didn’t think I could slow down, relax and unwind enough to enjoy it this year. I was wrong. We hit the Berkshires in Massachusetts where the food is farm-to-table, the villages are historic and quaint and the mountain trails provide beautiful views. Once again I was reminded of how important this time is for us.
It was my mother’s turn to watch the kids and they were thrilled to have her. She brought her sewing expertise along with her machine to expertly alter anything they needed. They had movie night, made a pie and went to the mall. When we returned, it appeared they had as special a time with Nana as we had away.
From now on we will claim it, this tradition we finally adopted after twenty years. Despite it being logistically difficult to break away, it has become a priority for us. It reminds us that we have fun together, that we each have positive attributes that get lost in the fray, and that we are people, not just parents. And the effects last.
When family life starts to take over, when it’s all swirling around me and I am losing sight of what matters, I reach for a memory of our time away, and I remember the peace and the laughter. Stripping away all of the responsibilities and getting back to just us, it reminds us why we are together at all.
Adriane Heine lives in Northeastern Pennsylvania with her husband, three daughters and lab mix. She is an adoption social worker for children in foster care. Her writing has garnered four Keystone Press Awards from the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association. She is passionate about helping children, doing as much yoga as possible, and sharing cool experiences with her girls.