I know this is not necessarily a normal parental attitude, and it's certainly not the one my parents modeled. I remember being nine years old and staying with my grandparents for 10 days with my brothers, eight and two, while my parents took their one-and-only solo vacation to St. Thomas. I cried. The boys cried. I said that I forgot what my mother looked like and listened to Anne Murray songs because her voice reminded me of my mom. When my parents returned, my mom said they would not go on a trip like that again; they missed us too much. But no permanent damage was done.
Before we had kids, we discussed the importance of our marriage and its impact on our children. We said our children would not be our top priority. It was easy to say it then; our children were faceless. But now they are Mirabella, the princess-obsessed, exceptionally bright and precocious 3-year-old with the business-like blonde bob she is always tucking behind her ears, and Emerie, the tiny sprite of a toddler with a head full of loopy strawberry curls, sky-blue eyes, and the tenacity of a much larger child. They have, quite literally, made our lives full. They have also only increased the urgency of prioritizing our relationship. Life as two working parents with two pre-school-aged children requires teamwork. Dividing to conquer. Days are filled with tasks, not always quality time. We get to the point where we can’t see each other anymore.
I don’t understand it when people say they “don’t believe in divorce.” It is irrefutable; it exists, regardless of whether you believe in it. This fact, and the related topic of wanting to stay together as opposed to "not divorced," was the focus of our premarital counseling. We just celebrated five years of marriage, and it is clearer to me than ever why so many marriages fail. I can absolutely see how people “fall out of love” with each other or feel that they don’t know each other anymore. It takes vigilance, and sometimes the (valid) reasons not to make time for us pile up. Sometimes it’s okay; life is a series of seasons. I am prone to letting it slide, but Daniel has always been our advocate. He always looks for opportunities to get out or away, to the point that I sometimes tease that he wants to pretend we have a different life. It's not that; he is unabashedly resolute in his desire not to lose us. One night in Rome, on the rooftop terrace of our hotel, I thanked him for making it happen. Left up to me, we might go on the occasional date, but we would not be selfish for our marriage. We would be available to everyone but each other. We would be wrong.
This is not the proverbial question, “which came first;” that one is obvious. We came first. We were here first, sipping coffee on park benches all over Baltimore, marveling in the joy of just being together, before those precious girls were even a thought. And, it's my sincere prayer that we will still be here once the girls have started their own lives. Ayelet Waldman wrote this controversial piece a few years back in the New York Times about why she loves her husband more than her kids. Uproar ensued. I think some of her language was a little inflammatory, maybe to get a reaction, maybe because that's actually how she feels. I know in my writing I have often been rightly accused of assuming the good and highlighting the bad. But I think I agree with her central point. We do our children a disservice when they are the absolute center of our lives, home, and family.
At work one day a co-worker said he admired that we made time to go away. I mentioned that we have chosen to put our marriage ahead of our children for the benefit of our children. Himself a 35-year marriage veteran with four grown children, he cringed; "I think the kids come first, but I understand what you're saying." A fellow mother of young kids asked for details of the trip with envious eyes. "We've been married eight years and we've only ever been away for one night a couple of times. I have never spent more than a night away from my kids."
I'm not advocating leaving children for long stretches, or at least not for the sake of leaving children. But the benefits of our trip-- the reconnection, the time our children spent bonding with their grandparents, the lesson they learned that Mommy and Daddy love each other and always come back, and the memories Daniel and I will have of our adventure together-- far outweighed our shared heartache over the separation. Emerie took a couple weeks to realize I wasn't hopping on a plane every time I left the room, but she is fine now. And though some may disagree, I think we are better parents post Italy.