Getting Real With Amy Larson
I was knee deep in diapers, bottles and Big Bird re-runs. I had three kids under the age of six, my marriage was complicated, and I lived right next door to my mother-in-law, who had just retired for the rest of her life. Feeling like I lived in a bubble where everyone else could observe my mothering and housekeeping skills, or the lack thereof, nothing I did seemed to make any difference. I sensed the opinion of inadequacy from all sides. I was so numb, tired, and frustrated that I couldn’t have even cried if I’d wanted to.
My husband and I had always split our tax returns in half, half for him, half for me. That year, it turned out to be far more than just a few hundred dollars. My half was in the bank; he’d already spent his half. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my money; I had no time for hobbies or, it seemed, for myself for that matter. It was just nice to know it was there, waiting for me.
A good friend had been pestering me to come and visit her and her husband in Hawaii, where they were living. ‘All you’d need is the plane fare,’ she told me, ‘We’ll take care of the rest.’
I was mildly tempted, although knowing that this was a silly dream, not even a possibility.
My friend’s younger sister returned from a visit to Hawaii one day, and brought me a fresh pineapple.
“…Since you’ll probably never be able to go yourself,” she told me. Reverse psychology or not, telling me what I wouldn’t or couldn’t do was always defined by me as a personal challenge. I decided right then and there that I was Hawaii-bound.
The next day while the kids were down for their naps, I called a travel agent and booked a flight to Honolulu with my awaiting tax return money. Risky, yes. I had nothing else in place for my children, and my husband didn’t yet know of my plans. I could only imagine what his reaction would be; I’d never done anything this gutsy within our relationship.
Next, I called my mother-in-law. This woman had been supervising my mothering skills for years, and it was apparent to me that I wasn’t passing the test in her eyes. I figured if she wanted the job so badly, she could have it all to herself for seven days. One ace in the hole: She rarely said no.
She said yes. With a long sigh. Then she added these words:
“It’s not really your season for this sort of thing.”
The next hurdle was my husband.
He went out with his friends constantly, took extended trips out of state, went hunting and fishing regularly, all while I had dutifully stayed home with our little ones. It was my turn for a break. Since I’d already booked a flight that departed in two weeks, there was no backing out. How glad I was that I’d arranged things when I did.
“Honey,” he told me on the night I planned to drop the bomb, “Sorry to inform you that my truck needs new tires. I guess you’re going to have to give me your half of the tax refund too. Sorry.”
But my half of the tax refund was spent. I let him know, adding a sweet ‘sorry’ at the end of the sentence.
He stood in the middle of our living room, scratching his head and looking dazed. It was the first time I’d ever told him ‘no’.
“Ha…waii?” he said, then repeated the word. It didn’t seem to be soaking in completely. An argument ensued, but there was nothing I could do; my tickets were non-refundable…I made sure.
Two weeks later found me kissing my young children goodbye at Grandma’s (among multiple, audible sighs) and lugging my suitcases to the checkout counter, accompanied by my husband.
The lady at the airline counter asked to see my I.D. I fumbled through my purse for the necessary documentation.
“No, not that one,” my husband said impatiently over my shoulder, “She asked for the other thing, don’t you even know where the other one is?”
I was so used to that sort of talk, I hardly noticed it was happening until I happened to look up and lock eyes with the woman at the desk. She briefly looked at my identification, then said gently and with great, completely understanding warmth in her eyes:
“You have a very nice trip, ma’am.”
My husband briefly and stiffly hugged me goodbye, not waiting until it was time to board my plane. I saw him dramatically roll his eyes and shake his head as if in disgust as he was turning away from me.
I was greeted upon arrival in Honolulu with a generous Hawaiian lei from my friends, warm hugs, and lunch. Each and every day there, I was treated like a Hawaiian island princess. I wore sarongs and swam in the eighty-degree ocean. I napped on sandy beaches. I dined luau-style, purchased cheap puka shell necklaces and snorkeled amongst tropical fish and sea turtles.
For the first few nights I called my mother-in-law’s home to check in with my children. She answered the phone each time, sighing and making sure I knew that one child was developing a cold, the other’s stomach was upset, etc. I was spoken to in a clipped tone. No one asked how I was doing, and my husband was often ‘unavailable’ or ‘out for the evening with friends.’ After the third day, I stopped calling. The kids were in the supposed care of their other parent, and a grandparent. I didn’t need a constant reminder of how ‘bad’ I was for leaving for a few days and giving myself a much needed, well-deserved break, my first in the decade since I’d been married. No more phone calls, I decided. I was suddenly able to relax much more.
Late night talks, my first taste of sushi, and learning to hula dance were just some of the experiences I had. Little by little, I was beginning to feel like me again, the me I’d forgotten all about.
I truly believe that my island getaway got me through the next ten difficult years of my marriage. Whenever I felt upset, I would take myself back to the day I napped on the white beach in perfect peace and safety. When I felt like I wasn’t important to those around me, I remembered the late night chats with my friends in their island apartment when I felt noticed, cared for, and vital to them. I remembered feeling youthful as I hula danced and laughed like a young girl. Those memories carried me.
“It isn’t your season for this,” I was told.
It’s been sixteen years since my visit to the tropical paradise. Going, I was told (and leaving three young children with Grandma) had made my name mud among the in-laws for years, not to mention really ticked off my then-husband. No matter. They all voluntarily exited my life down the road anyway, quite predictably, when our marriage finally drew its last quivering breath, ending in a divorce. I can say with great confidence that had I not taken the opportunity when I had it and ran with it, I would not have seen that part of the world while I was still relatively young enough to enjoy it fully.
So I ask the question to myself, and to anyone else: If this isn’t my season, then when exactly will it be?
Every season is our season.
Enjoy it while you can, when you can, and if you can. Every season, every time.
I have zero regrets.