The Break that Refreshes

When my first-born was just a toddler back in the early 80s, I remember taking a rather unexpected – but well-needed – momentary break from married life. After some trivial disagreement I had with my husband that I blew way out of proportion, I got out of bed the next morning with that “last straw” determination looming in my head. I was ready to take extreme measures. I heaved my small son onto my hip and with $17.00 in cash, a limited credit card, and one small diaper bag draped over my arm, I stubbornly headed straight to the airport to run away from home. “I’ll show him,” I mumbled to myself.

Yes, that’s what I said. I was running away from home. On the way to the airport, I was having flashbacks of a time when I was all of nine years old and did the same thing. I remember slamming the front door, heading down the street with a small bag containing one pair of pajamas, and promising my mother she’d never see me again. We must have had some trivial disagreement and, again, I must have blown it out of proportion. I don’t know. Maybe she wouldn’t let me eat that box of Jello straight out of the box that I wanted. Stomping out the door and heading down the street, I mumbled to myself, “I won’t turn back, I won’t turn back.” But I made it to the fourth mailbox and decided to go back home. I already missed Fritos…and Jello.

But this time, I dug my feet in and swore I wouldn’t turn back. Ironically, I was headed across country to be with my mom. I was feeling the need to return to the familiar, safe, uncomplicated home of my youth. I planned to just show up on my parents’ doorstep unannounced, and I envisioned them giddy with excitement that I was bringing their grandchild for a visit. I would luxuriate in mom’s chicken noodle soup and bask in the smell of dad’s cherry-flavored pipe tobacco smoke, free from the domestic discourse I was experiencing at my own house. I wouldn’t have to think about solutions, compromises, or restless sleep for awhile.

First road hazard: My connecting flight left without me in Missouri, stranding me at the airport late at night with a cranky toddler and now about $12.00. Luckily, the airlines put me up in a hotel. But the box of cereal for my son the next day in the hotel cost $11.00, not including the milk. I was left with one dollar to my name.  I won’t turn back, I won’t turn back.

After the predictable warm and welcoming embrace from my surprised parents, there was a momentary walking on egg shells by my parents when I explained why I really came to visit. Well, there was no chicken soup on the stove, and my dad’s pipe had been replaced by a nubby, number-two pencil and a stern yet loving look as he buried his head in his crossword puzzle with that “talk to your mother” look on his face.

Second road hazard: Although happy to see me – and after allowing me and my sleepy toddler to settle in for the night – my mother turned to me the next day and said softly but sternly, “What, you think you have a monopoly on marriage problems? You need to go back home…and fix it.” And with that, she handed me a basket of laundry to fold, turned on her heels, and resumed her domestic putzing, never to say another word on the subject.

Suddenly, I was feeling sorry for myself. I was feeling let down, unappreciated and misunderstood.  I won’t turn back…I won’t turn back. But I did. I reflected on my reactions – and actions – for the next day or two, thought about what my mother had said, and returned to my marital nest. My husband had been sitting patiently at home, waiting for me to hit that fourth mailbox. We had both just learned our first lesson in Marriage Communication 101, and we set to work on fixing it.

Not long ago, my son – now an adult in a relationship of his own – returned to our home for a night to take a break from a similar, unresolved conflict he was having. I wasn’t sure if I should kick him out onto the porch or whip up a batch of chocolate chip waffles. I allowed him to “sleep on it” and cool off for one night. But there would be no waffles the next day. And if there had been, I would have flung one across the room at him and – unlike my delicate, soft-spoken mother – would have shouted, “SNAP OUT OF IT!” in my favorite Cher impression.

Mom would be proud. But, next time, I’m going to at least try to make it to the end of the street. Then, I’ll return home and fix it.

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