I asked the children about it and they were sweet. “Go, Mom!" they said. "You never get to do anything fun. We’ll be fine.” My 12-year-old daughter said, “This will be like a second honeymoon for you.”
And it was. I decided to go. My husband and I looked at it this way: if we waited until the children were all grown up to do something like this, we’d be old and gray. I do try to put my marriage first, and our trip to Italy would be like Extreme Date Night with my husband.
I was very grateful to have this special time with him, and I loved every minute of it. Even beginning with the airplane flight over there, I thought: "You mean I get to sit here? And people are bringing me food?" I came home refreshed and happy. Godly woman disclaimer: I am not recommending a fancy trip as the way to find happiness. This vacation is something my husband wanted me to do with him and I had a really nice time. But the most refreshing thing I've ever done in my whole life is spend time with God. Especially read zee Bie-bull. Ahnd zees eez truth.
Every mother is wondering how it went with leaving the children. So that's what this blog is about today, but first I'll address the other urgent issue: "Did you get to take your hair dryer?" The answer turned out to be no, because the low wattage electrical outlets in Italy would burn out and kill our high wattage hair appliances. Italy can't handle our hair dryers y'all. Too powerful for the Roman Empire.
As far as leaving the children goes, it went well. My parents heroically came to our house to stay with the children. If we are going to weep and gnash our teeth in ashes and sackcloth on anyone's behalf, it would be for my parents, not my children. My parents did a marvelous job and loved this time with their grandchildren, but it was a lot of work for them and I think they probably still have a nervous twitch.
It was mostly my two-year-old Rebecca who ripped my heart out when it came to leaving the children. I don’t think I would have left the others at that wee age. Not because I’m more cold hearted now or less attached to her than the others. No, it’s because my older children didn’t have a staff of six people to look after them. My young toddler had my parents and her four older siblings to love on her, so she was a handful but she did fine.
I'm so very proud of my three oldest children, have to say. My 14 year old daughter is like having a built-in Mary Poppins. She's everywhere and doing everything. My son helped with bedtime while I was gone, because his younger sisters melt whenever he pays any attention to them. Big brother is a right hand man and a calming influence over the littles. My 12 year old daughter sweetly pitched in and was extra gracious when all her Lego's got taken apart every time she turned around. All three of them really stepped it up with helping run the household while I was away, as an act of love and gratitude to me.
Their biggest challenge was our sweet, adorable but age 2, say no more, Rebecca.
In the days before I left, I talked with Rebecca about Mommy going on a trip. Her Daddy travels for work so she understands “trip” means you go away for a few days and are in fact coming back. I’d use that word “trip” a lot and when my husband would come back from work. I’d say to Rebecca, "Yay, Daddy’s back from his trip." A child that age really doesn’t have much of a concept of time so I wanted to make sure when we left for Italy she didn’t think I had died or something, and was never coming back. Poor baby.
During the weeks leading up to the trip, I cooked extra meals and froze them, so that my Mom would not have to cook as much while we were gone. The children and I cleaned the house the day before I left so that my parents would not have a big mess to deal with when they got here. When you’re 70 years old, you get tired a little faster than when you’re 40. Plus, I think it must be a weighty thing to keep someone else's children from drowning or getting run over by a train on your watch. They probably supervised the younger children more closely than I do. I arranged for a housekeeper to come and clean one day while we were gone.
I tried to set things up so that mostly what my parents would have to do was look after the children and not have quite as much to do for the yard or house or meals. I assigned extra chores for the older children to do while I was away, such as dog walking duty for our teenage son and laundry for our teenage daughter. We picked a week where school was out, no major recitals or events were happening, and I didn't schedule any appointments during my trip.
Before I left, I spoke to all the children about respecting their grandparents and being obedient to them, and I told them it meant a lot to me for them to be gracious if things weren't the way they were used to. I told them it was a wonderful act of love for their grandparents to come and visit, and for them to honor and appreciate their grandparents for it. I did some role playing with my two argument prone children in how to handle conflicts and talk those through, without needing someone to referee. When I came back I had the children each write their grandparents a thank-you note, sincerely and specifically writing what they enjoyed and appreciated about their time together.
I had left my parents a gigantic document longer than Congressional legislation titled “More Than You Would Ever Need to Know and Then Some,” explaining about routine, activities, and general house rules. Just ones that mattered such as “Rebecca's lovey and binkey have to be waiting in her crib or she won't go to sleep.” I wrote all of this to them in the spirit of trying to make things go smoothly for them, not to be bossy or micromanage their visit.
I tried not to place hefty expectations on my parents or ask them to have sky high standards about movies and treats. I looked at it like a vacation for my children as well. We left money for them to get take-out or do fun things together. I tried to have realistic expectations about what I might be facing when I got back, such as some discipline issues that might have gotten rusty, or a sort-of-potty-trained Rebecca becoming a mostly-un-potty-trained Rebecca. Which turned out to be the case but it’s not anyone’s fault. Things were different without Mommy and it took a little while to get back to where we had been.
Before we left, I wrote letters, one letter for every day I was gone, to my 14-year-old daughter and my 5-year-old daughter. I left those letters with my parents to give to my daughters each day. We texted with our electronically inclined 16-year-old and 12-year-old children while we were gone. This way, the children felt like they had talked to their mother and connected with me each day.
My husband and I did Facetime with the children whenever we had a chance. Tricky with the time change, but we made it work out. Facetime was mostly for Rebecca. I sang itsy-bitsy spider to her and she said "Mommy" a lot. I think it helped her to see me.
So the trip involved a lot of logistics and planning for me, before, during and after, to try to make things go smoothly for everyone in my absence.
Here I am in Italy, Facetiming with Rebecca.
And that hair is not looking bad considering I was
without my hair dryer, which is to say, unarmed.
Y'all don't even want to know.
I had prayed in the months leading up to the trip that God would surround our home with the Holy Spirit, and that He would keep their little hearts happy in my absence. I prayed for my parents and asked Him to give them an over abundant supply of strength and love. I would picture our home, aerial view, and I would imagine armies of angels surrounding it. I’m pretty sure those angels were right there.