Parenting Traps

Dad, interrupted

A week alone at home is . . . lonely.

By Ty Burr
August 30, 2009

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I am standing in the middle of my living room, revolving in a slow, perplexed circle. I am looking for the next thing to do, but there is no next thing to do. I am alone in my house for a week, and it’s driving me crazy.

Isn’t this supposed to be a reward? Just as my wife and daughters are taking a well-deserved vacation in the rental property on the Cape, haven’t I earned a little psychic downtime after 14 years of engaged fatherhood? Granted, I’m still punching the office clock by day, but once I step over the threshold of home, a vast sea of personal space yawns before me.

I have no dinners to cook except my own -- eaten standing at the kitchen counter in preferred man-mode. There are no softball practices or sleepovers to which to schlep the spawn. Time has expanded back to the dimensions of my post-college youth, that heady utopia when I could do what I wanted when I wanted and how I wanted.

Problem: What did I do back then? Not a clue; it’s long gone in the memory wipe of midnight feedings and grammar school projects requiring graduate-level engineering skills. There’s nothing on TV that holds my attention. I can’t get past the first five pages of a book. It dawns on me that parenthood slices time itself into an infinite series of small, immediate tasks to be completed, and that those tasks form the comforting latticework in which we rest our lives. We become defined by who we are in the eyes of our families rather than as inviolate individuals. Identity itself becomes nested.

As such, it’s almost impossible to un-nest. Without children setting a household’s rhythms, its defining energies to which we submit with joy and exhaustion, life slows to a halt. I drift upstairs: My daughters’ bedrooms are frozen in exploded stop-motion, clothes on the floor, a still-wet towel on the bed. I fold the towel neatly and put it back on the bathroom rack. I feel as if I’m wandering through a museum of my own life.

Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here.

Send comments to Do you love time away from your family? Hate it? In two weeks: Slow down, Mom Last week: A son’s enlistment surprise

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