Every spring, since as long as they could make it happen, my sister-in-law and her husband take a trip someplace tropical. With three daughters—now fifteen, twelve and ten—the couple has spent countless hours navigating schedules and car pools, coaching softball, packing snacks, braiding hair, cheering on half-time tumbling shows, bumping volleyballs, nursing hurt feelings and broken hearts, planning camping trips and pool trips and sports trips and putting together play sets and backyard pools, sorting a million Lego pieces and dressing hundreds of Barbies and well, let’s be realistic, the rest of their free time is spent doing laundry.
So if you were wondering, it should be clear now, this annual trip does not include their daughters.
“It is the one time every year that the two of us are guaranteed to make it about us,” my sister-in-law said as I was complaining about the impossibility of a conversation with my husband without a tiny blonde girl (or two) loudly doing her best to try to steal his attention.
“And forget date night,” I added, exasperated at the impossibility of syncing up the schedules of two adults who rely on one another the take the kids so the other can work. “It’s very rarely the harmonious family situation I expected.”
And she nodded, and laughed a little, because while she’s in a different phase of parenthood, she’s definitely been at that crazy toddler supper table. And she’s definitely missed her fair share of date nights, the kind that loom over your head as just one more thing you should be doing to do things right, if only you could get your head out of the weeds for a minute.
And so they go to Jamaica. Or to Mexico. Or some other island far away from the slushy snow of spring break in North Dakota.
Before we had kids of our own, and before we thought we could afford to join them, I served as the auntie babysitter for a few days during their trips. I morphed from childless and free into chauffer, cook, beautician, alarm clock, snuggler and planner of all the fun things I could think of doing with three little girls I adored. Once, when their parents were gone during Saint Patrick’s Day, I successfully convinced the two youngest that it was the leprechaun who turned their milk and Ramen Noodles green. Another time I bought them matching pink cowgirl hats, brought them to the ranch and taught them all about horses and wildflowers.
A couple months ago my daughters returned from a trip to their cousins’ house with those pink hand-me-down cowboy hats hand. My heart melted in my chest at the memories of the time I spent with the tiny versions of my nieces, who are now hovering on the edge of adulthood, serving as wonderfully willing babysitters to my little girls, which is something I couldn’t even dream about when we were struggling to start a family of our own, holding their tiny hands trying to help them up the sticky gumbo hills at the ranch.
And I’m thinking about this today because my husband and I took that spring trip. We went someplace tropical and we left the kids with my in-laws and those three little nieces who aren’t so little anymore.
Dropping them off with their extended family and hearing the reports from home—the fun they were having swimming, sledding and jumping at the new trampoline park with their grandparents and cousins—reminded me of the times I spent with my nieces as their stand-in-momma when they were little.
I’m not sure if their for-real-momma thought about it or not, but her vacations away with her husband not only gave them a much needed breather, but it provided her children and me with the life-long gift of quality time together, something that has laid the groundwork for a special relationship with my nieces that has continued through the years.
And so it was with those memories in my pocket that I could confidently leave my young children behind so we could lay on the beach in Jamaica, sleep in and converse over every meal, only interrupted by someone filling my drink. Because I understood that time away from our kids meant time for them to spend with the other people in their lives that adore them.
And teach them new words.
And work on potty training.
And spoil them beyond repair.
So cheers Prairie Parents! Enjoy this issue and the tips, insight and inspiration from parents just like you. And as you celebrate Easter and look toward the new, warm season, remember that village is out there waiting for the call to take over for a second so you can breathe in that warm air wherever you decide to escape to!