The kids and I just returned from four days and four nights in Branson, MO.  We were house and dog sitting for Grandma and Papa while they were on vacation.  It seems odd, but I’m fairly certain that this little trip was the longest I have ever been “alone” with my children.  The idealist in me thought that this might be a sort of mom and kid retreat.  We would spend our days visiting friends and doing fun activities, and I would have the evenings to myself to write, read, or maybe even get a workout in on Grandma’s Wii Fit.  This  setting would allow me time to really focus on my kids and my mothering skills, allowing me to practice yelling less and laughing more. When I first had this thought, I couldn’t actually hear my inner realist laughing at my inner idealist, but by the end of day two in Branson, the knee slapping and hysterical cackles coming from my inner realist were ringing in my inner ear.

This trip was less retreat and more boot camp.  The visit to the science museum ended after two and a half hours of trying to chase two kids in two different directions while also trying to visit with my friends and former colleagues who work there.  My back hurt, and we were all tired and hungry.  To complement the fast food that I had bought them when the snacks ran out on the way to the museum, on the way home the kids each had a strawberry ice cream cone.  I began to question my retreat idea when I realized that I was buying my kids ice cream to keep them from screaming in the back seat, which they were doing because it was bedtime.  By the time we got home, wiped the sticky mess off of all of us, and I got the kids to bed, it was 9pm and I was fried.

Visits to the homes of friends and family were much nicer and less stressful, although my mothering skills were still tested by disrupted eating and sleeping patterns that left the kids begging for dinner at 4pm, taking 20 minute cat naps in the car, and screaming-fussing-whining their way through several hours of the day.  Callen woke up at 5:30am every morning.  One day Carina refused to take a nap, and woke Callen from his nap during her protest. Grandma and Papa’s  house is full of fun toys and is surrounded by acres of garden, yard, and farmland to explore, but that didn’t stop the incessant need to play with all low-lying breakable objects, and to climb things that weren’t meant to be climbed.  My quiet evenings never materialized, as I was usually too tired to focus on anything by the time the kids went to sleep.

In the end, we had a great trip, filled with the normal amount of non-scheduled, chaotic fun and resulting meltdowns that we get when we travel. Instead of yelling less, I yelled more, because there wasn’t a second parent there to pick up the slack. But, I learned that I can manage two kids on my own for a semi-extended period of time, even with two high-strung golden retrievers added in.  I found ways to think creatively about the nutritional merits of strawberry ice cream.  I realized that the witching hour, that late afternoon time when we all drive each other crazy while waiting for Daddy to get home, never really arrives when there is no one to wait for. I upped my already high level of respect for single parents.  I reconnected with many old friends, and the kids did too.  We all missed Daddy.

The retreat finally did happen.  It only lasted a couple hours, but when we arrived back in Little Rock, the kids played nicely and happily together and with me.  We  re-familiarized ourselves with our home and its accoutrements while we waited anxiously for Craig to get home from work.  When he finally did get home, we were all happy together, and I marveled at the way our children teach us about ourselves.