My husband is away, so I’m alone in charge of our two (extremely sweet, but very boisterous) sons – aged two and four – for three days. I’m up at 5am with them, I do the school-and-nursery run, then I come home and plough through as much work as I can manage before heading out to pick everyone up again.
Dinners are lazy, reheatable affairs. I am not diligent with the night-time toothbrushing, and if they fall asleep in my bed instead of their own, so be it. After dinner, I open my laptop and work until my eyelids get heavy.
“You’re doing really well,” people say, giving me kind smiles and encouraging squeezes about the upper arm. “Is your husband away for work, then?” “Oh no,” I reply. “He’s on holiday. He’s gone away on a three-day luxury glamping trip to a local nature reserve.”
That’s generally when they start backing away slowly – but let me explain. I have sent my husband on holiday. No, I’m not insane and our marriage isn’t in trouble (if it were, I certainly wouldn’t be packing my husband off on a posh retreat when he has a perfectly good car to sleep in).
Being a parent is lovely. It’s wonderful to meet and get to know the tiny people you’ve made, but it’s also extremely tiring – especially when those tiny people have been awarded, as our sons have, an excess of personality. Ours are not the sort of children you can leave with a table full of craft goods while you catch up with a friend, or a soap opera, or your significant other and a cup of tea.
If you were to try that in our house, you’d soon find you and your tea covered in craft goods and co-opted into a very physical game called The Hulk Cooks Dinner For The Avengers, which involves being yelled at for poor omelette technique and being asked complex questions about red dwarfs and gas giants. All the while, Alexa is playing Blitzkrieg Bop by The Ramones on repeat, at full volume, and by your side, a two-year-old is grinning up at you, and very obviously nudging out a poo. Welcome to my home. It is not yet 6am.
My husband and I are both full-time freelancers who work from home and, outside traditional childcare, have very little support. So, while we know we’re hashtag-blessed, there’s often so much going on that we’re also hashtag-about-three-circular-conversations-away-from-a-stress-aneurysm.
We cope with all this by tag-teaming. I do the pre-school parenting shift while my husband works; then he takes over in the afternoon while I work. Often we’re too exhausted to function by the evening, so we conduct most of our relationship during the tiny moments when we cross paths in the kitchen. It is no way to live, but we know the kids won’t be this young and needful forever.
One of the things that brought my husband and me together when we were first dating was our, well, hatred of all things. We both tend towards grumpy misanthropy because we’re introverted and easily overwhelmed. We were thrilled when we discovered a shared fantasy of getting away from everything.
We’d text each other adverts for trips to see the Northern Lights where you sleep in a glass-roofed igloo; listings for clifftop houses at the ends of the country; remote houses hidden deep in the woods. Despite sharing a love of Breaking Bad, I don’t think either of us could tell you what happened in the final season because we were both salivating jealously over the snowy New Hampshire safe house the main characters had to hide out in for months.
So when, in the weeks leading up to his birthday, I kept catching my husband mooning over the brochure for these glamping log cabins, much like a romantic heroine pining for her war-bound beloved, I knew where I had to send him.
And I was happy to do so, because he’s such a wonderful parent. His mother was both a stone-cold homemaker and an inveterate nurturer. My husband has inherited both those traits and it’s a joy to see. Children naturally flock to him – he’s tender and creative, playful and conscientious. I wasn’t even sure I wanted kids before we started going out. Then I saw him interacting with children, and suddenly I wanted a lot of them.
Inasmuch as my husband and I work and parent equally, he takes on more of the household load – partly because he drives, and I don’t; partly because of my health concerns, which include obliterating migraines and ADHD. It’s an unfair truth that he sometimes has to drop everything and be the resident adult. For these reasons and more, I supported his little dad-retreat.
He’s back now. He arrived home glowing, smelling of the outside, looking about 10 years younger, and thrilled me with tales of watching the sunset next to his own personal firepit, and of working his way through a stack of books while he stayed in bed and the rain drummed on the roof.
Hopefully he’s recharged enough to withstand the next few months of parenting pandemonium, because this is our new system. We go six months and then one of us is packed off to recharge in some quiet locale. Last Christmas my retreat was two nights alone in a seaside hotel; and my husband’s recent log cabin sojourn means the next break is mine.
I’ve no idea how I’ll spend it. Unconscious in a sleep hotel? Massaged into an altered state of consciousness on a spa day? Checking into a Premier Inn for a quiet afternoon just staring at my knees because I can and no one needs me to fetch them squash or play-act at Captain Marvel julienning some carrots. Who knows? All I know is my husband deserved his break, and I can’t wait for mine.