Sometimes being a good friend to your spouse means holding down the fort so they get some time and space away. Holding Down the Fort is really hard for me. In my world of longings, one of the deep ones is longing for time to just be off.
I would love for space to not be in charge all most of the time. I have been in charge for all most of my life, and responsibility is wearing and wearisome.
I long for the day when my husband’s time away means my own time alone here in the quiet, not shouldering the weight of solo parenting. I long for the day when we can go away together without requiring what feels like an act of congressto make it happen.
I realize that many readers long for a spouse or for a child or to not be solo parenting all of the time due to death or divorce. We ALL have our longings, our hard stuff, the things we wish would pass, the do-over desires.
Since this is my blog, I am writing about my struggle to be a good friend to my husband. He needs time away with friends to be refreshed. And, really, this time away isn’t totally his, because it sweetly lined up with the weekend that our son is playing in the Virginia All-state band concert at George Mason University. He will be able to catch the concert tomorrow and spend quality time with his son on the ride home.
So while he hangs out, I hang on. That’s how we roll. He has done it for me more.
But it doesn’t make it easy. It’s always more fun being the one heading off in the car up or down the interstate, leaving on a jet plane. It’s always the most fun taking off together.
Left behind looks like agonizing over how much screen time is too much while trying to maintain sanity. It is having to stand hard ground alone. It’s breathing in the vapors and fumes in the air that seem to only be released when spending quality time around Mom. It’s negotiating the strife solo and dealing with the dog.
It also looks like making memories and learning to relax and being thankful for middle school lock-ins, reducing responsibility by one. It looks like being content with the space that I do have and resting in the fact that while tweens have needs, at least they sleep at night!
A few weekends ago, Steve and I took some much-needed time away together, with the holiday season in full swing. The timing was not ideal, but is it ever? As I type this line, I am transported in my mind to twenty-four years ago when we were saying, I do, at a time that was less-than ideal.
Today is our twenty-fourth wedding anniversary and the twenty-ninth anniversary of the season when we met.
There is a backstory to our time away, and while I could post pictures of festive decorations and divine cheese platters and gush about the reflexology treatment and hot-stone massage that my darling booked for me in advance, there would be much missing. There would be a glaring omission of the reality that we had to fight hard for this time and were almost taken down for the count.
That, dear reader, is the part that I want to share with you. Reality.
The story began last fall, summer, even, when my dearest asked our firstborn and her husband if they could spend Labor Day weekend with the kids so that we could go away together. Three nights alone seemed an incredible luxury. I was looking forward to it desperately.
When back-to-school life got full and pressures started bearing down, a voice inside reminded me that it would be worth it all when we were away. I could work really hard to get the school year going and then relax into the long weekend, emerging refreshed and re-connected with my partner in the midst of all of the madness.
We were both so caught up in our duties and responsibilities that a glaring omission happened. We failed to book a destination. This reality struck the week before we were to go away, when a painful conversation took place, leaving me feeling let-down, hurt, and angry.
Festering heart wounds that I thought had been dealt with, broke open and began to ooze painfully. I spent time trying to figure out a kind, yet honest, way to express my deep disappointment.
Too often I have offered a quick, That’s okay! or It’s no big deal! to things that were NOT okay and WERE big deals. It was a new path for me to sit in the hard place of feeling my feelings without minimizing them and of hurting without accusing my partner in anger. It was a struggle not to lash out at the one I love while in pain.
After these honest conversations, Labor Day weekend found us dog-sitting so that our daughter and son-in-law could go camping. We stayed at the house laboring, as usual. It was not the weekend I had envisioned, and I felt hurt and disappointed.
Steve quickly arranged for the next available time that the married adult couple could come and stay for a weekend. It was months away in December, but just having a date on the calendar was encouraging.
Things were rolling along smoothly. A non-refundable, non-transferable location was booked in Williamsburg, and Christmas Town tickets were purchased. Planning was enjoyable, and we were communicating. I had requested an entire Friday off to have a leisurely morning to myself before stealing away together.
I was picturing it in my head, and it was BEAUTIFUL!
Then things started to happen. Plans began to shift and change for honest reasons. Human error in communication caused the wrong weekend to be booked. We could still go away, but the child-care factor became much more labor-intensive and complicated.
I did not like the revised plan I was hearing. It felt forced and overwhelming and exhausting. Much complicated planning needed to happen just to arrive at our destination. It was not as I had envisioned. To top it off, the night before our planned departure, Steve became ill. He took to bed in a manner unusual for him unless it is serious. It was serious.
I was left in the nebulous unknown of wondering if I should continue to pack children to take to their siblings instead of having siblings come to them. I wondered if we would be able to go away at all.
Frankly, I was finished. Tired. Done.
My day off dawned, not as I had planned. It found me driving kids to school instead of rolling over for a little more sleep. After the drop off, I checked in with Steve who was not sure how he felt and did not look great.
Our revised plan had been to drive two cars to drop the kids with their adult siblings in Richmond on our way to Williamsburg. That would leave a vehicle for them to drive back to Harrisonburg that would fit everyone. Steve didn’t look up to the driving challenge. I was already less-than-thrilled with that idea BEFORE sickness crept in.
Let’s just not go. This is getting ridiculous. When are we going to read the sign that says this is not a good idea? What else has to happen?
We had until 11:00 to cancel the massage appointment he had booked. He wanted a little more rest, leaving me to make a teary call to my sister to help me process. She helped me sort out my heart, and when we hung up I realized that I needed to try.
Trying looked like seeing if there was any way to have the kids cared for here in town overnight instead of having to drive them to Richmond. The Richmond connection could drive themselves here the next day and hang out until we got home.
I reached out to friends and family who were able to say yes. While Steve slept, I arranged and drove around and packed up and picked up and dropped off. When he woke, I presented the new plan, which I think was plan d by this point. The kids were accounted for, he could sleep in the car while I drove, and we would at least be away, alone together.
If he felt better, great. If not, he could sleep while I read, addressed Christmas cards, wrote, did yoga, got a massage. We could watch movies or listen to podcasts together. It actually wasn’t looking too bad!
The bottom line is that we were able to go away, but it wasn’t easy.
We listened to podcasts together in the car. After a night of rest, Steve felt well enough to walk in the woods while I experienced a restorative massage. We ate at The Cheese Shop in downtown Williamsburg and walked around Merchant’s Square. We napped and relaxed. I didn’t write any Christmas cards. We didn’t make it to Christmas Town.
Our time together was too short. It always is. But it happened.
Have you ever wondered about my screen name? Have you even noticed it? Sometimes I get asked about it by those who wonder how it came to be. What’s the story? It has to do with a ten or eleven year old girl and her baby brother.
I was ten when the baby boy of our family was born. That was thirty-four years ago. Thirty-four years?!
I remember that baby boy. He had a rattly sound when he breathed due to a floppy epiglottis. I had one when I was born, also. We had that in common, separated by ten years. I loved holding him, playing with him, and watching him grow.
When he was a toddler I remember thinking he was the cutest thing. Maybe it was because I was growing up and becoming more maternal. Maybe there was now enough distance between me and a younger sibling that he wasn’t viewed as a threat for attention. Maybe I understood that he was a baby. The baby.
I gave him a nickname. Gregorypancis. Pronounced Greg-o-ree-pahn-sis.
I don’t know how or why it came about. It just did. I give the ones I love nicknames, just ask Beatrice, Kippy, Mabeccabo, Kierbear, McTirkle, Coco, Roo, and Maemo (Little Mae).
Fast-forward to the internet age and the advent of AOL and email addresses. When I set up my first email account and was looking for a screen name that didn’t need a number in the thousands after it, I thought, mommypancis. Mom-me-pahn-sis.
NOT mommyPANICS, though she often does.
I was in the thick of being mommy. It was available. Whenever I need it, it is there. It’s me. Mommypancis.
This is the face of Mommypancis, designed by my firstborn girl. With Maemo, of course. Can’t you tell?
And what about that little Gregorypancis?
He is a Daddy who will meet his little one face-to-face in a few short months. Babypancis will make an appearance in late November. I am thankful.
Happy Birthday, Little Brother! I love you much.
And, yes. I DID sew that orange and blue patch pillow in fourth grade. That is another story in itself, but the fact that it graces my baby brother’s toddler bed attests to the love and affection I had for him. Still do.
It’s my favorite time of the day. Once I pry myself from bed and make it over to the corner, coffee appears on a little stand next to me. Prepared by my luvvvah, often in matching mugs, this sweet ritual is one that I miss when we are not together.
Often it has arrived before I wake all the way up, the smell enticing me to emerge from the coziness of my covers and meet the day. But I don’t waaant to.
We sit together reading quietly or scanning our phones or asking what is on the agenda for the day. I journal. We talk. It is the kind of time that I want to last and last. No interruptions. No kids. Just us for 20 minutes.
This morning I reached for my mug for that first sip.
How is the coffee holding up? Do we need to buy more?
There is a bit of back story here.
Today is payday. That means the bottom of the barrel has been scraped in many places in the kitchen. I wondered if it was that way with the whole-bean coffee that we usually have stocked and stored.
Steve is the coffee-preparer most of the time. I am out of the coffee supply loop. So this morning I took that first sip and asked, How’s the coffee holding up? Do we need to buy more?
His response made me laugh.
This is an old packet of Folgers that I found in the coffee basket. We are out of coffee. I will have to bring your second cup to school after the bus run.
I am not a coffee snob. Truly, I’m not. But I could tell. Usually there is a bag of backup beans somewhere but not today. I will add it to the list.
Happy Friday, Everyone! That second cup cannot come soon enough. Enjoy your day!
Julie, there’s an interesting kind of little bird in the honeysuckle. Actually several of them. Come and see!
I’m busy in the kitchen, sorting groceries, prepping food for the upcoming week. There is meat to process and put away. Marked down for quick sale means taking extra time to wrap and freeze it when I get home.
I’m not surprised that there are birds. We often find the little creatures nesting in the thick honeysuckle that lines the fence. We tease that it is Zephyr’s lair where she hides to pounce on them.
Since this is one of the first spring-like days, it makes sense that birds would show up. It doesn’t make sense that Steve is heading to our room wanting me to join him. I follow semi-reluctantly. After all, there is work to be done!
It seems he is talking about the honeysuckle outside our bedroom window. I wonder if my neighbor, Melody, is having a party. There are shiny silver balloons bouncing in the breeze, blocking my view. That is the first thing that pops into my head as I peer out the window trying to see the odd little. . .what?!!
Sure enough, there are little birds. They are brightly colored and oddly still. I hurry outside, confused.
This sight greets me. These balloons are for me. I notice writing on one and pull it down to read it. Then another. And another. The birds are holding onto words written to me by friends who care.
I am overwhelmed.
The first thing that happens inside is I try to figure out and make sense of it. Who? What? When? How?
A quick text confirms, and she quickly reassures that she didn’t gossip about me, something that is a given, but that she told some mutual friends I could use some encouragement.
The thing is, every name represented holds a special place in my heart and has crossed my path in a unique way this week, either herself or by means of her husband crossing paths with mine.
I know it’s not random.
This week has been big. It has been hard. There are things in all of our lives going on behind the scenes. In my world I was hit with my word this year in a big way. My heart is in a struggle to believe truth. I was hijacked to a difficult place in my story, and feelings began to return that I couldn’t feel back then.
We are all in process.
Completely separate from the words offered up by these precious friends were those in texts from others who are walking with me through this hard place.
Thank you for battling this out, Julie. You are an amazing, gifted, courageous, war-torn, lovely woman.
Savor the small moments. . .now is not forever.
I am praying for you today. I hear the heaviness, and my heart is aching with you. Be gentle with you.
I know I am not alone. Yesterday, evil wanted me to believe that I. Was. Alone. It was dark and painful and so very hard.
And it is still hard. But I know the truth. In the words of one of my sisters, God is shouting out his love for you out loud.
Thank you for being his hands and feet to me, Sweet Friends. All of you. Those who read, encourage me to keep writing, pray for me, tie balloons to my honeysuckle, text.