Noel and the kids took off this morning for Nashville to visit Grandma Libby and Grandpa Alex. I was originally supposed to go with them, but my boss needed to go out of town this weekend for a family matter and I was needed to take his place on the podium at the summer commencement ceremony.
So here I am with four days of singlehood. And I can't help but remember the long years of singlehood after college, when I lived in apartments alone. I enjoyed being in control of my destiny. I liked my self-concocted routine. I felt comfortable being accountable for my time to myself and no one else, at least during my off hours.
It's been more than a decade since I've lived that way, though. Marriage, initially, is almost like living alone -- just with two people. By that I mean that as a couple you are in control of your destiny, as a couple you have a self-concocted routine, as a couple you are accountable for your time to yourself and no one else. As long as you reach agreement on those matters, you live life independent of alien agendas.
Almost seven years of parenthood, however, have put me in a psychic place far, far away from that lifestyle. Being a parent is the opposite of being accountable to an authority figure like a parent; power to set the rules is beside the point, because the responsibility flows from the weakness and vulnerability of the other party. One quickly adapts to being tied down to other people, with only stolen hours of respite -- a night out, a getaway when the grandparents are visiting, etc.
When my boss initially asked if I could take his place, I thought of the option of sending Noel to Nashville alone. It had its attractions: several days to myself to get work done and to enjoy leisure time, just two weeks before the start of classes. But I didn't feel like I could ask him to take on that burden of solo parenting and travel when we had confidently planned to go as a family. So I didn't even mention it. Instead I presented the option of delaying the trip by a few days, until after commencement. That didn't work for him because of his writing schedule, which he'd already juggled to fit the original dates. "Why don't I take them by myself?" he suggested.
He may be regretting that offer now, as he tries to squeeze into his visit the hours of concentrated work he's going to need to meet his professional commitments, all the while parenting two kids. The grandparents provide backup, but not at the same level as a spouse; foisting the kids off on them while begging for time to work is a bit harder when they are your hosts, hoping to have fun with the grandchildren but not be overburdened with them.
And I was regretting the offer, too, at 8 this morning when they drove away with what seemed like far too little fuss or preparation. Toss some clothes in a bag, make sure their backpacks have crayons and stuffed animals, and then suddenly, without any buildup, they're receding southward, out of my control. I was briefly convinced that I'd made a major mistake -- the loneliness that hit me was like a battering ram. That tiny car, those little people in the back -- how could I let them go?
Yet even as I composed myself, went on about my day, and started to revisit the rhythms of the single life, they still have a hold on me. They've given me four days -- a gift of time. I have to use it to make progress on important work, to indulge in recreation, to revitalize and prepare myself for the coming academic year, to organize their birthday party next weekend, to buy their school supplies and plot a course through the various decisions we've been putting off.
By Saturday evening when they're scheduled to return, I'll be desperate for their presence. (I'm desperate for it now, but the tasks ahead of me, both pleasurable and dutiful, are covering up the ache.) Meanwhile, I'll be taking a vacation in Single Town.