It was as if I had won
the grand prize on some TV game show: I was invited on a seven-day Windstar
cruise though the Society Islands in French Polynesia and would my husband like
to join me? When my husband came home from work, I broke the news.
“Guess where I’m
going on my next assignment?” I asked. He was used to this fun but equally sad
(for him) cat and mouse game. My job as a travel writer takes me to some pretty
cool and exotic places, but rarely is he invited or able to join. He mostly has to read about my adventures after the fact with the rest of the magazine subscribers.
He smiled and waited
for the answer. When I told him “Tahiti,” his smile fell. “I wish I could go.”
I hesitated. “Well,
do you want the good news or bad news?”
“The good news is they’ve invited you to join me. But the bad news is you can’t
He looked at me with
obvious confusion. “Why not?”
“Because we have two
kids, and we can’t both be 5,000 miles
So began a week’s
worth of back-and-forth, discussing pros and cons, making lists, late
night what-if discussions in bed, asking for advice from friend after friend.
For me, being away
from home is actual work. Yes, I love what I do, and sometimes it feels like a
vacation. But I am always working an angle on every trip, making endless notes,
taking photos, getting quotes, writing other stories in between. I am able to
do this because I know my kids are at home, safe and sound, with my husband.
That one of us is there, at least. The prospect of us both being gone and
leaving our children, ages 9 and 6, behind and being so far away from them kept
me up at night. That told me my gut was right, he wasn’t going.
Finally, he came home
from work one night and made an announcement. “I’m going.”
My stomach dropped.
“Really?” I asked, forcing a smile.
“I don’t want you to
experience Tahiti, one of the most romantic places on earth, without me. When
I’m 90, I’m never going to say, 'I should have stayed home and worked.'”
We celebrated the
decision. Deep down, though, I wasn’t comfortable with it. So I continued the
conversation with everyone I could ask: neighbors who make an annual trip abroad
as husband and wife told me how beneficial it was for their sex life. The woman
who waxes my bikini line reinforced what a good lesson making my marriage a
priority would be for the kids. Even a random pediatrician I had met at a
cocktail party told me to do it. So why didn’t I want to?
But it wasn’t all painful yearning for the kids. This was, by all accounts, the first time my husband and I had spent an extended period of time alone – together – since our oldest child was born nine years ago.
The night before we
left, we dropped the kids at a friend’s house. I handed our friends the seven-page bible of every conceivable detail about our trip, the children’s
health history, after-school schedules, contact info and so on. Should anything
go wrong, there was a solution to be found in the bible.
And, of course, things
did go wrong. Both of my boys came down with strep throat and were home from
school for the majority of the trip. But I didn’t know this, because the
satellite connection on the boat was so poor, it was almost impossible to
connect with them on the phone or Skype. It was a week into our trip before we
actually had a chance to see each other’s’ faces, the sight at which I promptly
burst into tears.
But it wasn’t all
painful yearning for the kids. This was, by all accounts, the first time my
husband and I had spent an extended period of time alone – together – since our
oldest child was born nine years ago. And I learned that I really still like
him – a lot. We drank wine in the airport together, we read books without
interruption, we dove for black pearls, we lingered at breakfast, we held hands
for God’s sake. Every beach, every fruity cocktail, every bike ride and snorkel
in aqua seas was with my best friend — the guy who made those two little dudes
I was obsessing over possible. For the entirety of the trip, if he hadn’t been
with me, I would have missed him most of all. He had been right: if he hadn’t
been with me for the rest of my life, I would have started sentences with, “That
time in Tahiti” and ended them with "I wish you had been there.”
When we finally
returned from paradise to the chilly mountain fall, our two kids were safe and
sound asleep in their beds. The friends and sitters we had assembled, and who
had volunteered, took amazing care of them. They had sleepovers and pancakes and
ate candy up the wazoo. They were fine. And we, too, had survived 10 days in
paradise without them.
As my husband and I
lay in our bed that night, I turned to him and told him the truest things I could voice.
“I love you,” I told him. “I’m really glad we went, and I’m so happy that you
came. But I’m most happy to be home.”
“Me too,” he agreed
and kissed my forehead goodnight.
What we discovered on
that week away in virtual island paradise is that even the most mundane,
everyday things can be beautiful too. Life as a parent invites you to
experience a different kind of paradise, one with dirty smiling faces, elbow
cuts that require Mommy’s kiss, and singing Disney songs on the way to school.
Paradise is what you make it, where you make it.