Last weekend after a particularly tough week of parenting I went to see a late showing of the movie Babel. Although I still can't decide if the movie was actually good or not, I can tell you that the images and the themes of the film have stayed with me since I got out of that theater.
Babel raises all sorts of interesting issues about parenting and family relationships. The plot line that I've been pondering in recent days involves Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, a married couple who leave their two kids at home in the USA and embark on a vacation in North Africa, with the goal of reconnecting to one another. Their relationship is obviously strained (almost to the breaking point), and initially this vacation does not seem to be helping them rebuild their marriage. There's a powerful scene when the couple are eating at an outdoor cafe in the Moroccan desert wilderness, and the wife says "Why did you bring us here?" The husband replies "So we could be alone," as the viewer sees them surrounded by dozens of other American and European tourists.
As the plot unfolds, the entire theater feels the tension and stress of parents who are isolated from their children, literally across the globe and unable to be present for their kids at a time of need. Rarely as a moviegoer have I carried the burdens of fictional film characters as much as I did in Babel.
I think the good intentions of Brad Pitt's character mirror those of many people who wish to bring some healing to their own marriages. I can imagine his thought process: "We'll go as far away as we can from our jobs and children and responsibilities, take a few weeks to be together, have LOTS of time to talk and connect, immerse ourselves in beautiful and foreign scenery, and this extreme change of location and schedule will allow us to be ALONE together in a powerful way." Yes, it makes sense on paper. What this plan forgets, however, is to account for the added levels of stress and inconvenience that this type of vacation brings about, which ultimately will create even more distance and animosity between the couple.
Imagine the issues that surface when a couple goes on an epic vacation without their kids: childcare, money, communication limitations (what if there's no telephone? what if the kids need to reach you, or vice versa?), loneliness, massive geographic separation, and especially that heartbreaking feeling whenever a parent is away from their kids for an extended period of time. Watching Babel might make you change your travel plans if you're currently setting up a two-week-long Caribbean cruise while leaving the kids at home.
Since my daughter was born three months ago, my wife and I have not had any free time together (other than one dinner date over Christmas break). Our daughter spent most of last week waking up every two hours all night long, resulting in two parents with severe sleep-deprivation. In fact, my wife Dawn had not slept through the night uninterrupted since the second trimester of her pregnancy...when was that...sometime in July? Yikes! On top of all that, my own tolerance of stay-home-parenting has been significantly diminished in recent weeks, so as a couple, we've been pretty desperate for a little relational re-fueling.
Thankfully, my Mom arrived last Thursday to help watch our two kiddos, allowing Dawn and I to enact a Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt scheme. However, rather than jetting to North Africa and getting shot at by goat herders, we instead reserved a room at the lovely Staybridge Suites in Bloomington, MN, five minutes from our house. That's right, we went on vacation in our own neighborhood. And let me say, it was A W E S O M E. Nothing huge, nothing expensive, nothing elaborate...just a nice hotel room, dinner at a restaurant (Big Bowl...how Edina of us!), personal time, hot tub, cable TV (E! Entertainment television, anyone?), free breakfast (with eggs, chocolate muffins, fresh fruit, yummy), time to actually TALK like real adult people, and yes, EIGHT HOURS OF UNINTERRUPTED SLEEP.
We got to the hotel at 7PM, giggling like seventh graders. We felt like we were doing something illegal! It was really wonderful. By 9PM, we had only been on our own for a couple hours, and we were talking about how great we felt already...it only took 120 minutes to feel significantly refueled...and we still had half a day to go! By the time we got home at Noon on Saturday we were like different people. In fact, we both agreed that the physical feeling was not unlike the way we felt after going to a yoga class...refreshed, tall, good posture, calm, and profoundly relaxed. All these benefits, and none of the stress or guilt from the Babel movie...'cause we knew our kids were five minutes away if they needed us.
I guess it wouldn't have been much of a movie if Cate and Brad left their children and got a $80 hotel room down the street from their house, but for the rest of us in the real non-fiction world, let me recommend the LOCAL vacation if you'd like to reconnect to your spouse. Thank me later.