By: Tanya Ward Goodman
For the first time ever, my husband and I boarded a plane without our children. Our luggage consisted of a single rolling bag. Our needs were so meager that we didn’t even have to sit on the lid of the suitcase to zip it shut. We both carried novels. We packed three (yes, three) back issues of The New Yorker.
Here’s what we didn’t pack: booster seats, DVDs of Scooby Doo, watermelon scented sunscreen, Harry Potter books, matchbox cars, small motorized hamsters.
That’s right, we were traveling light. We were traveling without the kids.
And where were we going? Paris? Milan? Seattle? New York?
We were going to Madison, Wisconsin. And we were thrilled.
Upon our arrival, we piloted our (compact) rental car through the deepening evening. We turned on “Packers Avenue” and drove past signs for cheese. We couldn’t help but notice that anything that might ordinarily be called a “house” in California was, in Wisconsin, a “haus.”
Wisconsin is green. The houses in town sit on wide, emerald lawns. Queen Anne’s Lace grows tall by the side of the road. In Wisconsin, your money goes farther than it does in Los Angeles (or Paris or Seattle or Milan or New York.) In Wisconsin, we could sleep in a king sized bed. We could soak in a Jacuzzi tub and eat breakfast in our bathrobes while enjoying a view of the lake. And we did.
We crammed a weeklong vacation into just under forty-eight hours. We had a nice dinner: organic grass-fed beef for him, seared barramundi with fresh, local zucchini for me. The Tai basil ice-cream and fresh pressed coffee rivaled any dessert offerings I’ve had lately in Los Angeles and the tiny, lavender infused sugar cookies presented with our bill were sweet as good-bye kisses.
Back at the hotel, we adjourned to “The Governor’s Lounge” for a nightcap and found that our room rate included a view of the capitol building as well as Maker’s Mark bourbon and a selection of cakes. We turned down the bartender’s effusive offer of “one for the room.” Was it because we were without our kids that the lure of clean sheets was greater than the lure of alcohol?
After sleeping through the night and waking up only when we really felt like we’d had enough sleep, we headed out into the sunshine to find ourselves in the middle of a farmer’s market. Shaded by bright “Badger Red” tents, locals presented a cornucopia of delectable items. Bright bunches of beets and carrots shared table space with rhubarb, chard and cauliflower (in “personal” and “family” sizes.) There were strawberry hand pies and whoopee pies and piles of “squeaky fresh” crayon orange cheese curds. And everywhere people were smiling and talking and greeting their neighbors.
“In New York, if you bump into someone, they punch you,” I overheard. “Here, they tell you to have a nice day.”
A couple of hours later, after changing clothes, we’d driven out to farm country to watch my husband’s college friend marry the girl of his dreams. Cicada song floated in the air and the mosquitoes kept mercifully at bay. The smell of roasted pig mingled with that of cut hay and a distant scent of manure. Local beer was passed in pitchers and when everyone had eaten enough pie, we were invited by a trio of grown men in Lederhosen to “polka ‘til we dropped.” It was a wonderful day.
And it wasn’t over. After a nap (Oh, glorious nap. Why do kids fight a nap?), we headed out to the edge of the lake to meet up with more friends. Fireworks lit the distant shore, shrunken by distance to the size of sparklers in the hand. Bats dived for insects just above the water and the plink, plunk of a tuning guitar carried over from a nearby bandshell. We ate buttered popcorn and sipped beers and talked about all the things one should talk about in the night on a college campus beneath an almost full moon. Much, much later, as we walked home (after midnight – so late!), we marveled at how much distance had passed between us and the drunken college students all around us.
I didn’t miss my youth. I didn’t envy those kids theirs. I felt happy to be an adult, a grown-up with kids of my own. I felt happy to be away from those kids and I felt happy that I would see them again, too. My husband’s hand felt warm in mine and at that moment, I wished the newlyweds all the happiness I had found.