When I was eight years old, my friend’s mom took us through a bank drive-through lane for the very first time.
It was spectacular, watching the little plastic receptacles shoot through the tubes, departing with a single slip of paper, returning with cash. It was a scene straight out of The Jetsons, and reminded me of the tunnels in Willy Wonka that fed the chocolate river.
After depositing her check, my friend’s mom turned to me and asked if I’d like to replace one of my own dollar bills with a crisp, freshly-minted new one. Elated at the idea of seeing a brand new dollar bill, I hurriedly unzipped the little cloth wallet that housed a week’s worth of allowance, fishing out a wrinkled bill to exchange.
But as I held the old bill in my hands, I faltered. I had earned this dollar. A whole half-hour of vacuuming, and countless minutes of doing homework went toward this particular dollar bill coming into my possession. Yes, it was tattered, torn at the edges from years of travel, but it was mine. It had lived with me for an entire week, faithfully staying put in my wallet, never asking for anything, keeping me silent company as I went about my business. What sort of life would it have at the bank? Would it be lonely? Would it be mistreated? Suddenly, I grew suspicious of this fresh, new bill I’d been promised. I didn’t trust it – it seemed too easy, too good to be true.
I remember looking up at my friend and her mom, their impatient, frustrated faces staring back at me. “Come oooon,” my friend said, “It’s not a big deal!” In the end, I reluctantly passed along my old bill, receiving the sturdy, pristine new one with a feeling of regret. I’d been cheated out of the time I needed to think things through, rushed into making a decision with which I wasn’t quite happy.
As you can tell, I don’t do well with change (pardon the pun). I’m the sort of person who requires a bit of time to adjust my expectations. I like to thoroughly mull over a situation before it becomes my reality. I like to prepare. Children are not amenable to this kind of slow rumination. They grow and develop unexpectedly, changing their habits on a whim. They enter new developmental phases almost weekly, and each brings with it something new, to which you must adjust. I often feel like a mass of sea kelp, floating in the tide – I can see the beach, the stability and predictability of firm land, but every time I get close to it, another wave rushes in and carries me back out into the dark, bottomless sea.
This is why I fear the prospect of caring for my children alone for any length of time. An afternoon, an overnight, no problem. A week or more, and we’re gonna need a bigger boat. I don’t know what to expect, what problems might arise, and I know that I’ll be exhausted and mentally drained when they confront me. So, when my husband mentions a week-long trip to goose hunt, my hair stands on end, and all of the anxiety and fear come out as anger. I regress into a toddler, throwing a tantrum at the only apparent source of my frustration – my husband, with all of his outdoor hobbies and long-distance pursuits.
And that is the situation in which we found ourselves on Wednesday afternoon. After a morning spent in meetings and running errands, we’d planned to meet at home to watch a documentary about a couple with young kids who spent one year traveling the world. It’s something we’d like to do ourselves one day, and we looked forward to the movie as a source of inspiration to fuel our fire.
But as we briefly recounted our morning events to one another before the film, out popped my husband’s plan to goose hunt for one week in the fall. It’s probably a good thing we were planted on the couch, and nowhere near the kitchen, where we keep our sharp knives. I felt panic and anxiety rise into my throat, and we batted accusatory quips back and forth until it became clear we weren’t getting anywhere productive. Without another word, my husband started the movie, and we sat through it submerged in thick tension. I remained acutely aware of every movement my husband made, and every slight shift in his chair resulted in an eye roll, or a shake of my head. I was frickin’ pissed.
As the end credits rolled, we continued to sit in awkward silence, neither of us knowing exactly how to move forward, neither of us ready to apologize. Eventually, I broke the silence: “I don’t know what to say.” Stating the obvious sometimes helps in these situations. We both sat, motionless, waiting for the other to fix the disconnection.
Finally, we got down to feelings, to unpacking the reactions that had happened in the moment. We re-hashed our earlier conversation, going through a play-by-play accompanied by background information that resulted in our respective responses. We could see light at the end of the tunnel, but the clouds didn’t really break until my husband suggested we get out of the house.
It’s amazing what a little change of scenery can do. We left the scene of the crime, and shifted our focus away from each other and toward the environment around us. We picked up the kids from daycare, and at some point the words that we needed to reach an understanding arrived, a little late to the party, but accompanied by the helpful companions of grace and compassion.
Most importantly, I had time to adjust to the proposition of wrangling my children solo. In the end, I arrived at a conclusion I would have reached anyway – that of course my husband can go do something he loved to do, something that recharges him and makes him an even better Dad and partner. I just needed a bit of time to let go of that old dollar bill, and make space for its different, unfamiliar friend.