by Sarah Milligan
The airline tickets were paid for. The hotel was arranged. My husband and I were counting the days to our first vacation together—alone together —since the children invaded. Well, he was counting the days; I was using them to amass guilt. In less than a week’s time, my mother would arrive to take over my job caring for the children. I wasn’t sure who to feel more sorry for: her or the kids.
Rather than planning my “fantastic vacation without kids” wardrobe, as a sane person would do, I found myself losing sleep over the what-ifs. What if it snows and they can’t find the snow boots? What if it rains and the children poke each other’s eyes out with their toy umbrellas? What if the children tie up Grandma with their skipping ropes and watch Treehouse all day while living on candy bars?
I began compiling lists of bedtime routines, favourite toys, important phone numbers. By the eve of our departure, this list had morphed into The Binder: a catalogue of every aspect of the children’s lives, down to their blood types and how they like their toes dried. A “Wardrobe” section detailed which outfits were suitable for which activities, complete with a photographic index of footwear—which sandals don’t pinch, which boots don’t leak, and so on. Their future career aspirations seemed like a good thing to include—just in case it came up. And, of course, a “Nutrition” section detailed each child’s personal food likes, dislikes, and mandates: how my daughter will only drink milk if it is poured to a certain line in her cup, for example, and how my son will stuff his mouth with everything on his plate and choke, so can only be offered three items at once. Favourite recipes? Got ’em. Diagrams of the grocery store? Done. As a last-minute addition, I printed Google maps of our preschool route. “But our town only has two stoplights!” protested my husband.
We landed in Vegas, one relaxed and contented husband and one uptight and fretting wife. Midway through our first romantic dinner in what felt like a century, I had to text Grandma with a forgotten Binder item. It was at this point my husband calmly suggested that maybe, just maybe, the world would keep turning without The Binder. He even dared to venture the opinion that as Grandma has raised six children to adulthood, she would probably be fine, regardless.
After sulking for awhile at the insults, I grudgingly admitted he was right. I knew Grandma would care for the children with the same loving attention that I do, and more. I realized my true anxiety was that the kids would be okay without me. And if they were, what does that say about the arsenal of random information I carry around in my head every day? If everything I know about my kids—the contents of The Binder—is unnecessary, does that mean I am too? Or am I just making it all more complicated than it needs to be?
Slowly, I wrenched my head out of mommyland and into reality, and started enjoying myself. I ate, shopped, lounged by the pool. I remembered the pre-kids arsenal of information I carried: how to walk in heels, how often to order drinks so as to remain pleasantly tipsy but not inebriated, and so on. I smiled whenever I heard a crying child, knowing that I didn’t have to respond, then turned happily back to my magazine and margarita. By the end of the week, I was begging my husband to take me anywhere but home… not back to the laundry! The disciplining! The mess! Of course I missed the children but I could have done with another week—or three—away.
Back on the home front, Grandma hadn’t even cracked The Binder. The kids had the best week of their lives, and seem to have survived without any obvious emotional scarring. It turns out they don’t need me to orchestrate their every moment. And while that is somewhat saddening, it is also incredibly freeing—and utterly addictive. Flights to Vegas are cheap these days… perhaps Grandma needs another “holiday” with her grandkids.
Sarah Milligan lives in Sooke. She is grateful to her two children for the joy they inspire, not to mention the endless writing material they provide.