“Maybe it’s just not worth it,” my husband said, the night before we left our kids for a four-day romantic get-away.
I’d been looking forward to our trip for months, the very idea of it carrying me aloft through a whole fleet of low mother moments, and so I couldn’t help but take my husband’s sudden willingness to bail as some kind of existential insult. Did he really mean me—that I wasn’t worth it?
Still, I knew what he really meant. My husband and I are both stressed, exhausted people even on our good days; we are parents to three young children, so it comes with the territory. But now that we were finally fleeing that territory, not only had I not yet packed, I hadn’t even gotten halfway through my blow-by-blow accounting of where each child was supposed to be when, for what, and with whom. Could any trip be worth all this extra stress and hassle? And 17 years and three children into a marriage, what exactly does “romantic” mean anyway?
One sleepless night, one airplane flight, and two boat rides (one of which was intensely nauseating) later, we arrived at our remote French Caribbean hideaway. But it wasn’t until we were inside our room that we were in a truly foreign country: We were alone! With a strange, but beautiful, silence descending upon us! My husband collapsed into bed and gestured that I should join him. Sure! But first let me just quickly check my e-mail… No emergencies, but there was one thoroughly upsetting teacher missive and I was more than a little tempted to do what I always do: Write back right away, issuing an abject apology, while simultaneously, and somewhat surreptitiously, singing my son’s praises. But there was my husband looking longingly in my direction, so I decided to do what I never do: I ignored the thing completely. It was like the e-mail was a test.
The next morning we awoke to a blindingly bright room despite the fact that both layers of curtains were closed. My husband hunkered down with his iPad and began catching up on countless episodes of “Homeland” while I decamped for the gym and did something I hadn’t done in more than a decade: I stayed as long as I liked. For 90 minutes I ran, stair-climbed, lifted weights, and watched CNN—my mind so happily free of child logistics that I began having random opinions about what I was watching. The story about airplane travel entitled “Wider Seats, Better Sleep” made me recall a “scientific” piece I’d read years ago about how fat women had better sex. Did they? Perhaps best to leave now!
Out on the beach I found my husband still attached to his iPad and lured him away with the promise of pre-noon cocktails, something we never dared indulged in at home for fear of setting a bad example. Later, we went for a drive in our rental convertible and despite the heat put the top down, driving too fast past mountain goats and mansions. It was like being irresponsible was the closest we could come to being young again, only with better toys and worse bodies. And just like that we whiled away the days. We didn’t wear sunscreen. We slept too much, spent too much, ate and drank too much. But who cared? Until, like all idylls, ours came to a halting end.
On our final morning, we fought at the tiny island airport because I wanted to take a walk down the road and pick up lunch from a little café.
“I don’t get it,” my husband, who feared we didn’t have sufficient time before departure for such a jaunt, said. “Why do we always have to do things your way?”
My way? It was an old critique, one I hadn’t even heard in years, perhaps because I hadn’t had the opportunity to really do things my way ever since having children. All I really wanted just then? One last little taste of freedom.
Eight hours later, when we arrived at the front door of our apartment, I finally got it. “Goodbye,” my husband said, kissing me hard on the mouth. And then we opened the door and went inside.
Johanna Berkman is a journalist and fiction writer, and an NYC mother of three. You can read more of her work at johannaberkman.com.