Absence Makes the Heart...


     As a married father of two children under 5, I have several key responsibilities in the family, none more important than simply showing up each day. There is a designated spot for me in the bed beside my wife, and I’m pretty sure she’d notice if I failed to park there one night. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t fantasized about skipping town with some friends for a few days. So when a buddy sent out an excited e-mail just after Jim Rice was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and pitched a trip to Cooperstown culminating in the induction ceremony in July, I knew I had to go.

     Spending a few nights away from the family for no other reason than sheer amusement had always seemed fine in theory, but in practice it’s awfully hard to ask that of a spouse when your kids are very young. Teamwork is so essential to our daily routine of feeding, transporting, and being exasperated with the children that disrupting the arrangement so I can play bocce and drink beer takes a rather large dose of chutzpah. My wife would have to take off a day of work to care for the kids on the day I usually stay home with them. Then there’d be the driving, cooking, cleaning up, reading books, giving baths, and engaging in arguments about bedtime, all for her to perform solo.

     Nevertheless, I had built up a reserve supply of chutzpah for critical moments such as this, and I intended to use it. In the span of a few short hours, momentum had gathered around induction weekend, and to sweeten the pot with good old-fashioned gimmickry my friend planned to reserve an RV for the road trip. The vacation taking shape would be one I hadn’t had since I was young and much more irresponsible, involving just about every outdoor amusement known to humankind, including bicycles, Frisbees, Wiffle Ball, golf, and even hacky sack. Liquid refreshments would flow like the nearby Mohawk River, and great food would be grilled over open fires. Jim Rice? The Hall of Fame? I stopped caring about that stuff almost immediately. This was about three nights camping with the guys, channeling the part of our lives that had ceased to exist when we got hitched and had offspring.

     I even managed to rationalize how my absence would have a silver lining for my wife. She was certain to enjoy three nights with the bed all to herself, and would have an excellent excuse for making use of our neighborhood’s take-out options. In addition, we had spent maybe ten nights apart in our nearly six years of marriage, almost all out of necessity for work or family responsibilities. A few days of separation was bound to benefit both of us.

     It was time to pitch the scheme. I elected to use e-mail rather than a face-to-face conversation, where my quivering voice might betray acknowledgment of the favor’s enormity. “Let me know if there is some insurmountable problem that you know about already,” I wrote. My wife replied, “In the abstract, it all sounds fine. I know my dream is to get away to spend time in an RV.” An ironic jab, but one that highlighted the improbability of our spending even a single day of our next several years together in a campground drinking beer in front of a fire. If that was the sort of merriment I was looking for, she and I would have to part ways, if only briefly.

     Ultimately, the abstract became concrete, and we cut a deal that made me feel less guilty. She would plan to leave the house and kids to me on some other weekend, giving her much needed time away, and allowing me the chance to eat out of pizza boxes and type on my laptop in bed at night, which annoys the living daylights out of her. To this end, she is planning a weekend away this fall with college friends she rarely gets to see. Transportation and sleeping arrangements, as I understand them, do not involve an RV.

Here is my prediction: my wife will discover that her self-imposed exile from domestic life is as fun as predicted at first, but that nostalgia for things like small talk about work and post-dinner games with the little ones and even sharing a bed with me creeps in surprisingly quickly. She may find that she misses being home sooner than she thought she would. I know I did.