When the Cats are Away…

A few weeks ago, our “cats” were away.

Eight-year-old Elena and 11-year-old Nick love their time at summer camp, and although we miss them terribly when they are away, my husband and I do our best to enjoy our time bereft of the somewhat constant commotion that accompanies their presence.

In other words, when the cats are away, the mice – notice the role reversal – will play.

It seemed the best way to make the most of our empty nest was to fly the coup.  We had an entire week of dinner engagements.

Another couple’s kids were also away, so it only made sense that we join them for dinner and then stay too late at their house (on a weeknight!) afterwards.

Other friends, when learning our kids would be away, insisted that we join them for dinner on another evening… and, if MY kids’ absence is a good enough reason for them to dine out, then who am I to disappoint my friends!  I plan to make a similar suggestion later in the summer, when their kids are away.

One evening after my husband and I went out for dinner, we went to a book store and browsed, without the worry of our children who can be somewhat octopus-like when surrounded by books, toys and sugary cereals.  Oddly, we spent most of our time in the children’s section.

We even accepted an invitation to golf, simply because… well, actually I’m not really sure why, but the choice seemed obvious: stay home on the last night before the kids come home, or spend time with friends and enjoy (what else?) a dinner out.  Besides, my husband likes to golf, and I…well, I like to spend time with friends and I always enjoy a dinner out.

We actually did feel compelled to cancel one evening’s plans because our burgeoning list of things-to-do-while-the-kids-are-away remained untouched; we had barely left enough time to even think about this list, let alone attempt to conquer it.

It really is amazing how much can get done around the house when we’re not wrapped up in our kids’ schedules.  We discovered this last year when the kids were at camp and we accomplished a great deal, and only dined out once.  This year, we were clearly much better at prioritizing.

It is important to note that this level of parental freedom does not come without a price.  Preparation for, and recovery from overnight camp are arduous tasks.

During the week prior to the kids’ departure, stacks of clothing and other items were scattered about our bedroom.  Numerous lists of things to gather and buy littered the counters, more often with items being reluctantly added, than ceremoniously crossed off.

On the eve of their departure it was time to strategically pack all that had been gathered, bought or otherwise acquired.

I provided a running commentary alongside each child while we packed his (15 minutes) and her (2 hours) things.  The kids appeared to listen attentively, but I knew they’d “remember” very little of my long list of suggestions, each beginning with, “and make sure you don’t forget to…”

Last year, many of their clothes came home unworn (dirty, but unworn), so this year we vowed to pack lighter.

This concept was easy for Nick to grasp, but Elena (how I wish I could say they are not typical) had difficulty.  Given the chance, Nick would wear the same clothes for most of the week, but Elena would pack several well-matched, activity-dependent ensembles for each day.

After some discussion, she agreed with my rationale:  mix and match outfits, so there’s less to carry when running to the cabin to get a top bunk.  I felt I had put in my time talking her through her anxiety about getting a top bunk during the past week, and figured that I could now use it to my (um…her) advantage.

The day the kids returned home it was dark and rainy, seriously fouling up my intricately-planned clean-up routine:  dump their bags, complete with accumulated dirt and sand, directly onto the deck, and hang the many ensuing loads of laundry on the line.

Although I was thrilled to have them home, I longed for fresh air and sunshine (incidentally, also amoung the ingredients of a patio dinner) to help clean up from camp and help us all return to a regular routine.