My cell phone rang. It was my wife, and she was crying.
"We're going to be here all day. Just go without me."
"But..." I said.
"Just take my things out of the bags and go. This sucks."
I hung up and looked at the kids. "Go line up at the door," I said. "We're going to grandma's house."
We planned this vacation to my hometown in Pennsylvania weeks ago. It would be Grace's first trip back in three years, and William's first visit ever. A few days before we intended to leave, I checked the mailbox. That's when I saw it.
No problem, we'd just change our departure date from Saturday to the following Monday. My wife would show up, get rejected and leave. I told her to walk in shouting "String 'em up!" and wear a T-shirt that said, "I hate everyone," but she didn't think it would be necessary.
On Monday, she was told she'd be needed all day. Monday morning became Tuesday evening. That's when she called.
"They need us until Wednesday," she said.
"Wednesday?" I asked. "How is this possible?"
Thirty minutes later, the kids and I were in the car, driving seven hours to Scranton. Without mom.
I was upset. I love visiting Scranton, but I love sharing it with my wife even more. I worried that my relatives would miss her, that the kids would miss her and that she'd miss out on the fun. It was a quiet drive on Rte. 95 south.*
Since my cousin was away on his own vacation, we used his house. One we arrived, I unpacked the kids and our stuff, and went to bed.
The following day was full of family, food and fun. The kids were on their best behavior, and I began to enjoy myself. I called home several times and emailed dozens of photos from my phone. The kids swam, went on rides, and stuffed themselves on junk food. That evening, we all had a great dinner at my grandmother's house,with everyone laughing and reminiscing. After I had put the kids to bed, I sat on my cousin's front porch, enjoying the evening air. That's when it hit me.
I absolutely adore my kids.
Prior to this trip, I was in a real rut. I felt like I was the kids' employee — though I still hadn't gotten paid. They were another chore that needed to be managed. Playdates, meals, summer camp, laundry, crying, bickering...plus all of the fun I had to put on hold to meet their needs.
I had become resentful.
During our stay in Scranton, we had one item on our daily To-Do list: Fun. With the usual pressures gone, I saw my children as they really are: smart, funny, inquisitive, happy, energetic little toddlers who love each other, their father, and life in general more than I realized. To see them encouraging each other, laughing so often and excited about the same things that I love was tremendous. If my wife had been there, we would have assumed the same roles we take at home. But, being forced to operate differently allowed me to see the kids in a new way. And I'm tremendously grateful.
I'm trying to hold on to that perspective now that the sheen of a life of leisure has worn away, and so far I've been successful. As for my wife, she had a lovely time at home, doing whatever she wanted to do, whenever she wanted to do it. We talked on the phone several times per day, and enjoyed the week in our own way.
I feel like a better father than I was a month ago, and it's all thanks to the vacation I took without my wife.
*As an aside, why must Connecticut be so huge? Seriously, it takes me hours to get through that state.