Dad Has Rediscovered the Incredible Lightness of Being Alone

This is one in an occasional series of columns written by a thirtysomething father trying to make sense of raising two children in Los Angeles

Dear Skeeter:

You are the last person I should be telling this to. But now that the family has been back awhile and life has cranked back up to normal, the truth must come out. All those plaintive phone calls East, when Leni and the kids were with you and I was toiling away here at home at my lonesome word processor, were not the whole truth. In fact they were a very small part of the truth. In fact they had at best a nodding acquaintance with the truth.

The truth was I had a great time all alone. I didn't expect to. I was sure I'd feel an aching void from the time I put the family on the plane to the time I picked them up. But when I came back from the airport to the empty house I was still waiting for the misery to bear down. Instead I felt a lightness of step, a budding serenity. It was so quiet. There were no cross-currents of conflicting needs competing with the whispers of my own mind. I stood straighter.

First thing I did was go to the market and buy my favorite foods, rye bread and deli meat and real fresh orange juice. The kids run through orange juice like tap water, rare roast beef is $11 a pound and the kids are just as happy with tuna fish, but that didn't matter now. I didn't have to share any of it with anybody.

Oh glory. I ate my roast beef sandwich and New York Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream in bed, switching between college basketball and something called "American Gladiators," certainly the absolute nadir of television programming: simulated war games (down to fake bunkers covered with mock barbed-wire) between selected athletes and living GI Joe figures, endomorphic hunks of both sexes with names like "Malibu" and "Lace," swaggering muscle-bound purveyors of doom.

I was seeing America at its worst and I loved it. No little mind was being corrupted. No tiny voice asked me to explain what was going on. I didn't have to set an example. Next morning at breakfast, I settled down for a long, unhurried ramble through the paper. It would be so much easier and more pleasant to read it without buffeting from the breakfast tornado. But five minutes into it I realized I didn't need the paper. There was no chaos to hide from. Just glorious silence. I ate breakfast on the bed, watching football.

But surely, you say, after a day or two of such childish self-indulgence I started longing for the warmth and passion of family life? No sir. As time went on, I became better and better at listening to myself. Like a muscle that strengthened with exercise, my ear for my own desires became ever more acute. Was I feeling like a nap? How about a jog? It's 4 a.m., and I want to do some work . . . .

I was in control. Things stayed where I left them; when I cleaned things up, they stayed cleaned up. Incremental improvements were possible. Not every surface had to be covered with papers and toys. As days went by, a dim sensation floated up from decade-old memories: this is what it must be like to be single!

The reason I'm telling you this is you've probably already heard about it from Leni, because she was not very happy about being greeted at the airport after five hours in a DC-10 with two young kids by a guy pining nostalgically for the single life. She was most unsympathetic, but I won't say she disagreed with me. Nor was she surprised. She acted as if the secret was out of the bag.

And what of my fatherly instinct? Did it all come flooding back when the kids ran from the plane into my arms, and I picked them up both at once and squeezed them? Frankly, no. But over the last couple of weeks it's dribbled back. It started when Ariel commented that she didn't like airplanes because they didn't take you anywhere. They start out in an airport and they end in an airport. Then I got involved with Eric in building a remote-control robot with his Hanukkah-present construction set, and hearing Ariel's tales of her doll's adventures, and I read to Ariel at nap time, and I watched her talking on the telephone, and I watched Eric in the morning, choosing his T-shirt; and night after night, the comforting presence of Leni's warm body next to mine. That "single" feeling has faded into the mists of my mind.

So don't worry, your son-in-law is back. The hardest part, really, was convincing Leni that I've still got my family bent. Once she was sure I wasn't heading for the hills every time I hopped in the car, her reaction to my adventure was basically, "when do I get to be alone in the house for a week?" I promised her she'd get her chance. And she will. I'm taking the kids--both of them--to the park for two hours this Sunday. I mean, fair's fair.

Ever your loving son-in-law, Jon

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