My wife and I sat in our hotel room looking out at the gleaming lights of the Las Vegas strip. We were blissed out after three pool-lounging, bath-taking, sex-having, tequila-drinking vacation days in the desert. It was the last night of our celebratory 10-year anniversary trip and we were tipsy and glowing after a spa day and an opulent dinner.
“I miss our boys,” I sighed.
My wife looked at me, bemused. It took a moment for me to register what had just happened. Then it hit me: Before we left for our trip, I’d challenged us to not talk about our kids for the duration of the romantic four-day getaway. With my wistful admission to missing our children, I had fallen 12 hours short of the goal.
It might seem callous of me to suggest that my wife and I, two engaged and caring parents, avoid speaking about our children. It wasn’t. Our kids consume about 80 percent of our conversations. The other 20 percent are usually devoted to financial matters and figuring out how the hell we’re finally going to start our kitchen remodel. That leaves very little time — you do the math — for talking about our relationship. We do that while we do other things, like shopping or falling asleep. It’s not a great system.
I totally get that those conversations about our children are critical. Talking about our boys means that we are on the same page and aligned in our strategies. And, to be honest, until they are out of our care, raising two young boys into great men is our most important job. Still, everyone needs a break. Every job needs a water cooler. Everyone needs to talk about themselves for one damn minute.
When we were finally able to extract some free time from our schedule and meet the herculean tasks of covering four days of childcare, it made sense to me to use the clean break as an opportunity to catch up. I was desperate to remember who exactly it was I married and place her in a context outside of motherhood for the first time in seven years. Hell, I wasn’t even sure if we were capable of talking about anything other than our children. And banning them as a topic scared the crap out of me.
Would we just sit and stare at one another blankly? Would we realize that without our kids we stopped having anything in common?
Happily, over the course of three days, we discovered that we could, in fact, talk about things other than our children and the responsibilities associated with them. We managed to share a couple of stories we hadn’t already told each other. We laughed about things we’d never noticed about each other: she became entranced with how thoroughly I stir sugar into my coffee, I marveled at how much fun she is when she’s drunk on expensive margaritas. We even spent an inordinate amount of time outlining the plot of a mystery novel with a main character loosely based on my wife.
Which is all to say that it wasn’t difficult to not talk about the kids. That’s why I slipped up. I wasn’t thinking about it. I was just talking, expressing the fact that I missed my kids. I was surprised to be the one to break, but I think it was a natural thing, a return to a relaxed default mode.
“I miss them too,” my wife replied. And with that, the floodgates were opened.
The wonderfully strange part about the kid conversation that ensued, however, was the tone of it. Unlike at home, we did not start talking about the challenges we face as parents. We weren’t talking about discipline, or how we were going to manage their summer schedules or our worries about their progress in school. Instead, our conversation was filled with gratitude.
We talked about how, really, they were very sweet boys with good sensitive hearts. We talked about how much we loved them and loved each other as parents. We talked about how deeply lucky we were to have them, and how, if we really stepped back and looked at our family, we were doing alright. And then, as if it were the most natural thing to do, we began talking about how we could keep these feelings alive when we returned.
The conversation flowed, with smiles and revelations, broken only by sleep, until we arrived back home. Over the next 12 hours, thanks to the liberal application of the remaining tequila, we solved all of our problems. The key, we decided, is that we look at them as problems, when clearly it was all a matter of perspective.
In failing to stop talking about our kids, we managed to have one of the most enlightening and edifying conversations about our kids that we’ve ever had. In retrospect, a week later, as the last warm glow of brief vacation fades from my mind, it makes sense that talking about our kids would be what brought us the closest together and the most joy.
What we had in common before we were married and had children was all ephemeral and superficial. The tastes we shared in music, movies, and books, the philosophies we hewed to, are all dynamic things. They shift and change with our experience. They’re a poor foundation on which to build a partnership. But sharing parenthood of two children is something real and deep. It’s a condition which will bind us until the day we die. Because of that, it’s the strongest thread between us.
On a day-to-day basis, that thread is strained and twisted. It’s subject to the stress of living. But once we were given the opportunity to relax and examine our connection, it was ultimately revelatory.
So the goal from now on, then, is not to find time to talk about something other than the kids. It’s to change the conversation that we already have about them. So in those quiet moments when we might want to complain about their school project due on Monday, we can remind each other how lucky we are to have our kids and each other.