The boys are staying with their grandmother for a couple of weeks, which leaves our home lingering in quiet and something next to cleanliness. Other parents seem immediately envious of our now carefree status and use words like "freedom" and "fun," as if such concepts are fresh and new, suddenly sprouted from the dirt where once the boys would roll.
I admit, it can be tempting to go to the restaurants we usually avoid because they charge $18 for a kid's mac and cheese, or to enjoy a nightlife of bars and R-rated movies—all of those things that we feel like we're missing as we drive through In-N-Out on the way to the latest Disney release. But it turns out that In-N-Out is pretty good and Disney movies are fantastic.
What becomes clear when the kids are gone is that we use them as an excuse way more often than we should. And seldom is it justified. How many times have we missed this function or that, blaming it on activities and bedtimes, when really we were just too tired from a day of work and the given knowledge that traffic sucks?
Now, with the boys away, we find ourselves in need of new excuses to not do the things we usually miss—we have beer in the fridge and a subscription to Netflix, why would we need to go anywhere else?
However, what is all too obvious, well beyond the excuses made and whatevers missed, is that we choose to spend that time together as a family, and now, when "goodnights" are via text and hugs are replaced by FaceTime, it isn't opportunity that presents itself, but rather the confines of our emptiness.
These are the drought days of summer, hot and dry and longer than the clock would suggest.
That isn't to say that we don't take advantage of the situation. There is something refreshing about not scrounging for a babysitter or having to pretend that you shouldn't eat ice cream straight from the container. It is also conducive to a more productive workday, seeing as I work primarily from home and things like food and conversation tend to take a much larger chunk of the day than one would think. Interacting and playing with the kids can be especially time-consuming. They really are quite demanding.
And yet, it is not the time we miss them that matters, but rather the time they have with their grandmother. She is the only one they have, and they her only grandchildren.
When I was a boy, I had one set of grandparents who lived an hour away and we saw them as often as we could (as far as I know) before they both passed, while I was still in middle school. But my father's parents lived just down the road. I could ride my bike there in a couple of minutes, and so I did, much of my childhood in the bask of their love and the doting that goes with it.
A good portion of my young life was spent there and, even as I grew older, I would still visit my grandparents often, meeting my grandma for movies and a meal on a monthly basis. I knew how much it meant to her, and it meant at least as much to me.
But now they are gone, too, as is my wife's father and my own mother. The boys are separated by time and fate from those that should be, or should have been, as present in their lives as possible. There are far more excuses than reasons, none of which are fair to anyone.
We let life pull us to this corner or that, and justify distance by the bridge of technology, which, to be fair, goes a long way in stretching smiles taut over the voids they hide—a digital band-aid to what would be wounds if the children but knew what they were missing.
We make our plans, the talk between trips to tide us over, and we circle dates on the calendar to make it all the more real. There will be days, none to soon, when we are all together again, missing one another in real time and remembering why it is we left in the first place.
In the meantime, we take what we can get and all the moments for granted.
The boys are staying with their grandmother, and there are memories being made. I'll most likely binge watch that show everyone is talking about and drink at least one beer too many, because this is summer and it is far too hot for excuses and melancholy.