JULY 20, 2016 By Courtenay Harris Bond
My mood was almost festive – we would have no childcare responsibilities for the next three days and be alone together for the first time in two years.
On a recent Friday, I was one of the first to push my cart into the Wynnewood Giant when the doors slid open at 6 a.m.
Though I do have some compulsive tendencies, I don’t usually visit the supermarket at dawn. But on this particular Friday, my husband and I were heading out of town alone together for the first time in two years.
Our refrigerator echoed with emptiness, and I couldn’t expect my in-laws to fill it on top of squiring our three children to the Cynwyd Elementary School carnival that evening and then to back-to-back soccer games on both Saturday and Sunday while we were away.
Like my refrigerator, the store was nearly vacant as I wheeled around, dodging only the produce guys reconstructing their mounds of peaches and plums and stockers tossing loaves of bread onto shelves. Following no particular list, I grabbed a random assortment of snack food—goldfish crackers and milk boxes, a bundle of grapes and a box of chewy Chips Ahoy—making record time.
“I can’t believe you did all that shopping in 15 minutes,” the checkout clerk mused as I stuffed plastic sacks full of pretzels, yogurt drinks and applesauce squeezers—not the most nutritious menu, but food my children could fill up on if my husband’s parents were too spent to prepare proper meals.
Despite the earliness of the hour and my anxiety about leaving our kids, my mood was almost festive. This was partly a result of a coffee high but also because, after the conclusion of the morning, I would have no childcare responsibilities for the next three days. Plus, I had already achieved so much, and it was only 6:47 a.m.
But when my children finally trudged downstairs for breakfast, my 5-year-old daughter’s tousled curls ringing her head in a matted crown, her 9-year-old twin brother and sister rubbing their eyes, no one remarked on my early morning industriousness or even noticed that I had been out.
This oversight combined with my kids’ bickering that restarted almost in synchronicity with their first bites of Cinnamon Toast Crunch managed to dampen my mood and rekindle my worries that my in-laws would not be able to handle our three children for an entire weekend.
And as the morning progressed as usual—the twins smearing the bathroom with toothpaste, Jane wailing that pebbles were hurting her toes in the sneakers that she didn’t want to wear—I continued to fret that my husband’s parents would be totally overwhelmed.
Would our termite-damaged backyard play set finally collapse, sending Jane head first off the monkey bars? Would our dog start vomiting after eating one of the eviscerated birds that foxes sometimes leave like presents dotting our grass? Would our kids spar until my in-laws tossed in the towel, raised the white flag?
To divert myself from these ruminations, I darted out to retrieve the newspaper from the bushes where the carrier never fails to throw it.
“Are you going?” my son cried through the screen door, his voice rising in alarm.
“I’m going to miss you,” he said, folding into my arms for the first proper hug I had had from him in months and which I resolved to take as a favorable omen for the upcoming weekend.
But perhaps I should have trusted my initial pessimism.
“Jane and I are not getting along super well 🙁 ,” my older daughter texted a day into our trip. “I am really sorry. Please don’t be mad. Also the TV broke.”
“The TV didn’t really break,” my son retorted via text. “Georgia is just exaggerating a lot.”
This virtual exchange didn’t bode well for the mood back home and left me unsettled throughout the next two days.
My worries were confirmed when we pulled up to the house a little after 5 p.m. Sunday and saw my kids waiting on the front porch with my in-laws, who had already stowed their bags in their car.
“There’s a reason why this is a young person’s game,” my mother-in-law said.
I agreed, adding that even in my mid-40s, I often felt too old to parent three elementary-school-aged children.
However, although my in-laws may have had to tinker with our electronics and referee a few too many fights, no one visited the ER or had to dial 911. The outpouring of love we received from our kids upon our return made re-entry into the real world more palatable.
And maybe, with the passage of time, my in-laws will suffer a sort of amnesia, forget the fighting and remember only the intimate moments with their grandkids—just like women who forget the pain of childbirth and become pregnant again—so that another two years won’t have to pass before my husband and I can make another escape.