My husband, 8-year-old son, 14-year-old daughter and I were on our way back to Los Angeles from a trip to Squaw Valley, and we'd stopped in the Bay Area to stay with family friends overnight. As we were packing the car the next morning and getting set for the long ride home, our hosts suddenly invited our two children to stay for the week.
"Don't be ridiculous," I said. "That's way too much work for you." But they insisted that it was the perfect week for such spontaneity. Their own two kids, who are very close with ours, had nothing to do: no school, no camp, no anything.
"Let them all be together and have one last summer fling," the mom said. After a bit more requisite protesting on our part, my husband and I fished our children's bags out of the trunk, went online to buy a pair of one-way airplane tickets for the following Saturday and found ourselves headed back to Los Angeles in a most unfamiliar position: just the two of us, alone.
At first, we felt more strange than giddy.
"Miss them yet?" my husband said after we had been rolling for, oh, three or four miles. But about halfway down I-5, it started to sink in: We realized that we'd been talking for hours and that no one had interrupted us to ask that we turn up the music (if it was theirs) or turn down the music (if it was ours). Or to tell us he was hungry. Or she was thirsty. Or had to go to the bathroom. Or to ask us when we would be arriving home -- over and over and over again.
The next day I wasn't even unpacked before I boasted to a friend -- a bit smugly I admit -- that we were child-free. She answered back: "You must miss them, though."
"No," I replied, "I don't miss them at all."
"Oh," she said. "Wait a few days. You will."
But I didn't. Not then, not in a few days and not even on my last day of freedom. Frankly, I enjoyed every moment of it.
My husband and I dined out all but one night -- and without the slightest consideration that my daughter doesn't like Thai food or that my son won't try Indian. We ate late, lingered over our last sips of wine and took long evening walks.
I slept in for a solid week, drank coffee and read my morning newspapers uninterrupted. When I sat down at my desk to work, my computer was not set on RuneScape, my son's favorite online game. And my scissors, pencils and pens, pencil sharpener, dictionary, notepads and Scotch tape were exactly where I had left them the last time I used them. Miracle of miracles!
When I went to take a shower, no wet towels littered the floor, and I didn't have to step over my daughter's housecoat, blue jeans or discarded shoes to get there.
And every time I looked in the refrigerator or freezer for some juice, a piece of fruit, a bowl of ice cream, whatever, it was there because the hordes of teenagers that usually hang out at my house had not emptied it out five minutes after I'd returned from a $200 grocery store run.
I spent no time on the phone arranging carpools for my daughter or schlepping her to sleepovers, the mall or movies. My son did not noodge me for countless play dates, complain of being bored or pester me to buy him comic books or a Game Boy for his next birthday (still six months away). It was heaven.
I bragged to just about everyone I ran into that we were without our children for the week. Almost all of them asked if I missed them and almost all of them seemed surprised -- some even slightly horrified -- when I said no.
My husband asked me several times, as well, if I missed the kids, though he seemed more amused than shocked by my response: "Not even a little."
Now, before you get your knickers in twist, know this: I love my kids deeply. And I was thrilled to see their sweet faces when they arrived home. But for goodness sake, they were gone for a blink. Next summer, I think I'll try to convince them to go away for two weeks. Or maybe even three.
By then, after 51 weeks of togetherness, my Good Mommy credentials should be reinstated, my membership in the club renewed.
Randye Hoder is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles magazine, The Wall Street Journal and others.