Surely I heard him wrong.
“I think I’ll take the boys camping over your birthday weekend,” my husband had said, “and give you some time to yourself.”
As a freelance writer with two young sons and eight employers at any given instant, my “me-time” is confined to the shower and the car, driving to fetch someone from somewhere — not time for myself, just time by myself.
So his offer sounded absurd. I ran it through my trusty guilt check: I didn’t ask, he offered. They love camping, I hate it. It is my birthday.
I’m shocked by the lump in my throat as my family drives away. Is it instinctive grief over losing control of my flock? Or (gulp) a fear that I won’t know what to do with myself when they’re gone?
But I’m more shocked at how quickly I get over it. No sooner have I bolted the front door than I am giddily — almost maniacally — reclaiming the house as my own. I put toys away and they stay there. I belt Bob Seger songs and no one leaves the room. I share my dinner with the dog without setting a bad example for anyone.
The words “sensible” and “balanced” have no sway over my meals for three whole days. I eat when I’m hungry, which is every 85 minutes or so. I walk to the farmers market because I’m craving a peach. I stop by the cupcake shop and inhale a ginormous chocolatey mound while standing up. I share it with no one. I sit at counters rather than wait for tables. I order champagne with lunch.
The Central Coast’s offerings feel vast, even profligate, when nap times and boredom protests needn’t be factored into the schedule. I spend two and a half hours at Target because I can, wandering aisles full of crap I neither need nor want, grinning like a woman on wondrous anti-depressants.
I drive slowly and without honking. I’m in no hurry. No one is waiting for me. No one is starving. And if I’m late, no one will pout.
I pop into a cheapo nail salon and wait 40 minutes for a pedicure. I don’t care. I read. I listen to conversations, to accents. I inhale acetone and am happy. Or just high, but why differentiate? There is no one knocking things over, digging through my purse for candy, or grabbing their pants in a way that suggests an “accident” is imminent. (Note: My spouse rarely does this.)
I go to a movie by myself. It’s not fantastic, but I laugh louder than anyone else because I don’t have to explain the joke, or cringe at the language, or pay close attention so I can discuss the plot afterward. I just watch, laugh and leave. It’s crazy.
And something else happens. My radar reorients. Long trained to scan the horizon for things my family needs right now (sunscreen? smoothie?) and things it’s likely to need three hours from now (pep talk? pudding cup?), my sensors turn tentatively inward. I’m suddenly, startlingly aware of how I feel. Mildly tired but…playful and…even contemplative. It’s odd to be so in touch with myself, to respond so generously and immediately to my own quiet urges.
I keep waiting to feel lonely but it never comes, because I know my guys are coming back. When they finally burst through the front door, I feel more alive, more conscious, more cared for than when they left.
“Did you miss us?” they ask, handing me their laundry.
“Terribly,” I moan, my radar reverting back to its outward orientation. But inside I’m chuckling.
Surely I heard them wrong.