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So Long, Pony Life! In Support of the Child-Free Vacation

Illustration of parents driving off in car in outerspace

I now know for a fact that it takes exactly 71 miles to outrun my child’s rainbow-colored, pony-dappled force field.

It was late July and my wife and I were riding up I-5 headed north from Portland, off to a music festival set amidst the Coast Mountains of British Columbia to see one of our favorite bands. We were kid-free and rootless for five precious days. This was supposed to be FUN.

But as we left the city limits and nudged into Washington State, there was a storm cloud percolating over my head. All I could think about was that we were leaving Little E. It didn’t matter that she was staying with her wonderful grandparents (who would no doubt spoil her silly). In my perpetually glass-half-empty world, we were abandoning her on somebody’s doorstep and running off to join the circus.

It is my firm belief that successful couples with children remain successful couples with children by allowing themselves some kid-free time to reconnect. My cousins and I have been able to break the cycle of divorce prevalent in our family largely (in part) by doing just that. My wife and I make time—weekly when we can—for a “date night.” And even if that night consists of simply walking the 30 seconds down to our bar to grab a quick drink, hitting pause on being parents is a great way to remember and appreciate the finer points of this person I’m parenting with.

Given that longer, child-free vacations are such a rare luxury, I should have been embracing this road trip with my wife, right? And yet, as our trip to Canada neared I found myself riddled with guilt and worry instead. What if Little E gets hurt? What if something happens to us? What if she needs me? Am I being selfish?

This wrong-headed train of thought was not a problem for my wife—by the time we were loading up the car she was basically pushing me through the motions of vacation mode. I closed the car door, buckled in, and pulled out of the driveway with tears in my eyes, feeling about as low as a person about to see their favorite band perform against an epic mountain backdrop can possibly feel.

45 minutes later we hit the outskirts of the tiny town of Vader, and for no reason I can think of, all the doom and self-criticism and second-guessing fell away. It was like the Millennium Falcon pulling free of the Death Star’s tractor beam. Just like that I was free to enjoy myself. To have an adventure with my best friend for five whole days. To be okay enjoying my extended child-free time.

What my wife and I did in Canada is largely beside the point. Let’s just say we were left with a few discernable thoughts: Canadians are super nice. Teenagers these days wear way too little clothing. Dance music is junk. We are old. And Pearl Jam is still awesome.

Naturally we hauled booty to get back home to Little E. But we weren’t just fueled by the fact that we missed her desperately. We came back rebooted, recharged, and ready to return to the beautiful monotony of being a mom and dad. It’s not that we had magically become better parents, just that a little quality time away made us more appreciative—both of our kid and of each other.

And while I know I’ll probably still get bogged down in my own personal swamp of guilt the next time we leave Little E behind, at least I know that once we get to Vader…I’ll be fine.

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