Over the winter holidays, B and I took our first proper vacation in over 7 years – a trip without kids that lasted longer than a couple of nights. 10 days in Germany and Turkey. It took a year-and-a-half to schedule, and involved a Herculean coordination effort to get all grandparents’ schedules, our schedule, and the babysitter’s schedule to align, but it was amazing! Of course we loved exploring new places, cultures, and foods, but even more meaningful was the uninterrupted time we got to spend together. Just the two of us. It took a few days for us to detox from the chaos of regular life, but at some point around day 3 or 4, we started remembering what it was like to be married before kids. What it was like to make all decisions based on just our own whims. What it was like to just be us as a couple, instead of us as parents. What it was like to have, and enjoy, new experiences that weren’t constrained by our having kids.
We were shocked to discover how easy logistics became when we didn’t have to factor in kids’ needs, schedules, and moods. For example, getting out the door in the morning was amazingly fast. We could just walk out. That’s it, voila (sorry, reading too much Fancy Nancy lately). The zero hassle factor felt so extraordinary in comparison to our usual leaving the house chaos, which comedian Michael McIntyre brilliantly captures in this short clip.
What felt even more amazing was that the absence of kid-created interruptions gave us the gift of time to truly connect with each other. Instead of our interactions centering around logistics (where did you leave the kids’ schoolbag? have you seen their favorite dolls? can you pick up milk on the way home?), bartering last-minute childcare tasks (you get this one into the car, I’ll get that one’s shoes on), or angsting over running late … we had time to talk about what we want out of life, to create new memories, to explore new places on our own terms, to be silly, to be a married couple without the responsibilities of taking care of anyone else but each other. We rediscovered how much we like each other’s company, how much fun we have together.
Knowing that we would soon be returning to the kids and the chaos made our time away together all the more special. I cherished the chance to focus on my wife and vice-versa, to not have to share her with anyone. It really hit me that carving out “us time” is not about running away from our kids or our normal, chaotic life (I truly love our life and wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world). It’s about running towards each other, running toward the “us” that we’ve created (and re-created time again) over 14 years.
In our normal, non-vacation life, being parents is always front and center. Even when our kids are seemingly occupied or sleeping, we have to be prepared that at any moment they’ll need us – to help resolve a sibling spat, to provide comfort after a bad dream, to admire their latest drawing, to check out an ant crawling by. Date nights help us stay connected, but we are still “on call” as parents. Going far away on vacation gave us the luxury of an off-switch. We got to let the “parent part” of ourselves go on vacation. That gave us the luxury of being able to focus completely on each other. We returned better for it – better partners, better people, better parents.
We came home from that trip recharged and inspired to carve out more “us time,” and committed to finding the resources to continue exploring the world. The first thing I did when we returned was plan a four-day trip for two to Miami in April. We’re now working on scheduling another four-day trip for two this fall. With all grandparents working and a plane ride away, coordinating the logistics isn’t easy, but we are determined to make it happen.
So how about you? How do you make room for “us time” in your life?