"Don't tag me in that."
He looked at me, startled.
Our restaurant check-ins chronicle our outings and help us remember places we enjoyed and places to avoid. He likes to unlock badges and compete with his colleagues for check-ins. Why would I suddenly not want it to appear as if I was at the restaurant with him?
"It's just...I don't want people to see we don't have the kids...again."
Every. Other. Weekend.
Three simple words that have forever redefined family for me.
Our social networks paint the picture perfectly. It's a harsh juxtaposition when you see them together. Family weekend. Kid free weekend. Crazy, messy, stressful suburban bliss. Calm, classy, intimate yuppie paradise. My life has become a series of comings and goings. Hellos and goodbyes. It's the Band-aid that I lie to my children and say will not hurt if I rip it off quickly, but that's a lie every mother tells. It always hurts. It might hurt for an instant as opposed to an hour, but the hurt is real, and then you are left with vulnerable, still healing skin which is tender to the fresh air.
Picture a home filled with noise, spills, arguments about bathing, flossing, and sharing. Now picture a very different home with empty, quiet bedrooms. Beds that are never unmade, jazz music instead of the sounds of video games, Pop Tarts that never need unwrapped (OK...that's a lie I eat the Pop Tarts when they aren't here). This is the weekend where I don't ask anyone if they need to poop. This is the weekend where none of the eateries will have play places. There will be no children's birthday parties to attend, no bounce houses, no one will tap our bedroom door in the middle of the night because they heard a noise.
You're thinking where do I sign up, right? And you're right. It's AWESOME. Our kid-less weekends are like these wild, romantic rendezvous. There's candlelight, adult conversation, excursions and interludes. We got married right away. Within a year we were hitched. So now we have all that dating time a sensible couple who dates for years before they commit would have. I fall a little more in love with him every other weekend. My girlfriends are envious. They see our Instagram posts, our check-ins, our selfies taken at places you could never bring kids. They tease me when we get together about how we have it made. We don't have a sitter, we don't need one, joint custody is our babysitter. We don't plan anything that would require a sitter on the weekends we have the kids. We decline offers from in-laws and relatives to babysit and give us a night off because...hello...we have two weekends a month off. I tease back that everyone should get divorced to get the set up we have. But my heart is also aching. I fear the wear and tear is taking years off my life.
I stop being mommy every other weekend. If there is a nightmare, I don't know about it. There are no foods for me to cut up into manageable bites. No one is giving me hugs and kisses to butter me up before begging for something. My husband needs no assistance tying his shoes or remembering what drawer pajamas are in. There's a big hole in my person. We skipped the community Easter egg hunt because we were without the primary audience. We turn down family events and holidays centered around the kids when we don't have them because their absence is palpable. It's a great time for mom to get sick, and sometimes it works out that way. It's a miracle to have a debilitating headache on a kid free weekend. I really am fortunate. Quiet house. No Play-doh to scrape out of the carpet fibers this weekend. I avoid the Facebook updates of my friends who are out making family memories on my off weekends. Sometimes I post pictures from the previous week to make it appear like the kids are with us.
And then they'll return like a stampede. I'll be complaining that I can't get it all done. How can I transport everyone to gymnastics, dance, Tae Kwon Do, and soccer? How will I make three cakes for the school fundraiser and volunteer at the library? It's bath night again! Ugh I need a break!! I'll over plan a weekend family outing that feels more like torture for the adults. They'll argue, they'll talk back, they'll spend too much time on tablets...and poof they'll be gone again.
It's like someone is playing with the light switch. Off, on, off, on, off. Light, dark, light, dark. House full of laughter and screams and bickering and silliness. House full of whispers and documentary films and philosophical debates.
I remind myself I am lucky. Every other weekend means they have two sets of parents who love them. I am lucky to have a beautiful family in whatever capacity I can get it. I remind myself being a mother does not define me. I was a whole person before them, I would have remained a whole person had I never had them. Heather exists every weekend. Not every other weekend. It's just a different existence, and sometimes existing in two worlds can be arduous for the traveler. And that's what it boils down to, for it is not the children who travel every other weekend, it is I. So I raise my glass to you, my fellow every other weekend moms. This weekend I raise my wine glass, next weekend I raise my Capri-Sun to you. Happy travels.