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The spring break that really was

Last week, my wife and I got something we haven't had in a long time: a spring break, emphasis on the word "break."

That's because we found ourselves temporarily, and quite unexpectedly, childless - something that has occurred rarely in the 19 years since our daughter was born, and never before without considerable conniving and cajoling on our part. Money usually changed hands, too.

But this time it just happened. My teenage son had already arranged to visit his sister at college, and we got a call from my sister-in-law on Sunday inviting the younger boys to go to Florida with their cousin. She had no idea what she was getting herself into, of course, but it was hardly our place to tell her. We merely acquiesced.

And suddenly - voila! No kids! For nearly five days, we had the house completely to ourselves. This in a household where, on any normal day, you get nothing to yourself, not even the bathroom. A household where my wife and I routinely have to hide the Girl Scout cookies just to make sure we each get a handful.

True, our break wasn't all unmitigated bliss. I had to work three of the five days, and my wife grabbed the opportunity to do some major spring cleaning - which, of course, is why I elected to go to the office instead of taking vacation time.

Still, we did manage to get away for a couple of days, although why we decided to "get away" when we had the house to ourselves I'm not sure. Some kind of instinctive defense mechanism, I guess, a version of the "fight or flight" response deeply ingrained in our fragile parental psyches after years of domestic conditioning. Fighting we've seen enough of. This time, we chose flight.

I have to admit, though, that on the days we were home, the house did seem a little empty. I suppose that's a harbinger of things to come, when we're old and gray(er) and the kids have all left home for good. No more noisy stereos. No more bickering. No more can-I-haves. Just one quiet, dull evening after another. The very thought brings a tear to my eye.

OK, not really.

One thing my wife and I learned, though, is that when our childrearing days are over, we'll be fine. We won't be one of those couples who have allowed the flame to be extinguished by the dampers of parenthood, financial stress and hard work.

The first evening we found ourselves alone, my wife and I were watching television when I looked over at her and said, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

She smiled at me and arched her eyebrows provocatively. "You bet I am," she replied.

"All right," I said, getting up and taking her by the hand. "Now where did you hide those Girl Scout cookies?"

Lawrenceville resident Rob Jenkins is associate professor of English and director of the Writers Institute at Georgia Perimeter College. E-mail him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.