This past weekend, Jonathan sent me away.
That is, he booked three nights in a secluded cottage in the woods. He ordered meals for me from HelloFresh (which, by the way, is a genius way of feeding yourself in a vacation rental). He took Friday afternoon and all day Monday off, and gave me a weekend to myself.
I’ve taken solo trips in the past. When Katie was just shy of two, I attended a writing festival in Grand Rapids. When Abby was twenty months, airline points took me to Boise. This time around, flying is less appealing and so Jonathan found a little place twenty minutes away.
It may have been just down the road from our house, but it was a world away from home.
I have this bright memory of a day – no, a moment really – in Katie’s life.
I have many of them, actually, snippets and glimpses of each of my kids, little snapshots filed away. But I come back to this one often, not because of how important or special it was, but because of how mundane. How everyday. How routine.
She was a baby, still. Ten, maybe eleven months old. I was in one of those cycles of doubt that hit me every so often, a crisis of identity. The kind where I question my decision to stay home, where I wonder if I’m not supposed to do more, give more, be more than “just” a mom.
It was a normal weekday morning. She sat on the floor of the dining room, tiny legs spread wide, a plastic ball in her hands. She squawked to get my attention, then rolled it toward me. I bent to retrieve it and sent it back her way. As it came to her, it bounced, hitting her chest. I made a silly sound and she laughed, a big belly laugh, one that knocked her right over onto her side. And, clear as day, the thought popped into my head.
“This is why I stay home.”
This past weekend, I slept until I woke naturally, on my own.
I finished my coffee before it grew cold.
I went on three short morning runs and two long afternoon walks.
I stayed off of social media and I (mostly) ignored the news.
I made food when I was hungry, and I ate it uninterrupted.
I read large chunks of scripture at a time. Hosea and Micah. John’s gospel. All three of his letters.
I sat on the deck in the cool of the morning and journaled.
I took long hot showers and I used the restroom without hearing a single knock on the door.
I wrote the first 9200 (very rough) words of a novel.
I enjoyed long stretches of silence and solitude.
It was glorious.
In the routine, in the bustle, when I am short on sleep and long on frustration and it feels as though I hardly get a moment to myself, it can be easy to lose sight of joy.
And so, a brief (and so-very-incomplete) list, to remind me:
Abby’s “monkey” hugs, all four little-girl limbs wrapped tight around me, her face buried in my neck.
Sleepy bedtime and early morning snuggles from my big-girl Katie, who, will, ever-so-rarely, tell me, unprompted, that she loves me.
The joyful scampering down the hall from three pairs of feet when Jonathan comes home from work.
Miles, bringing me a book, settling himself into my lap, and listening to three words before pushing it to the side and trundling off to retrieve another. Rinse and repeat until the shelf is empty.
Cribbage and fruit cobbler and grown-up conversations once the kids are in bed.
Kisses good morning and kisses goodbye and kisses hello and kisses goodnight.
This life I get to live? It’s a good one.
Monday morning comes, as it always does.
I go for a run. Take a shower. Enjoy a last meal of quiet, a last hot cup of coffee on the deck.
I’ll admit: I’m not quite ready to leave.
As I pack my things and tidy up the cottage, I stand, looking at the small space. For a moment, I give in to the temptation to ignore practical realities, to forget the relationships and the people whose absence would leave gaping holes in my heart, and I imagine an alternate universe where this – this quiet, this solitude, this rhythm of uninterrupted creativity and contemplation – is my life.
For a moment, I think I could be happy with such a life.
I pull into the garage and my silence and solitude crumbles like powder, drifts away on the breeze. Two girls spill out of the house and are at the car door before I can unbuckle my seatbelt, brimming with greetings and questions and news.
They whirl around me for a minute, maybe two, and then they are gone again, off to continue the game interrupted by my arrival.
In the house, Miles is uncertain, shy. He looks at me without expression, as though to reproach me for my absence, a silent assertation that I can’t just waltz in and out of his life and expect a joyful greeting.
But then, he reaches for me.
I gather him into my arms and he puts his head against my shoulder. For long minutes, he clings to me, motionless. I can’t see his face, but Jonathan tells me he’s grinning.
So am I.