Did you ever run away when you were a kid? I was catching a ride home with one of my coworkers the other day, and she told me about the time when her son announced to her and her husband that he had finally had enough and was moving on. He packed his bags and headed to the best place he could think of to escape the challenges of his four year old life – his grandparents’ house. I was instantly reminded of the time my brother had done the same thing. Because our grandparents lived just beyond walking distance, that option was out, and instead, he had to settle for the community mailbox as his new makeshift home. This location was appealing because it was not only far enough away from our house that it wouldn’t be the first place our parents would look when they noticed he was missing, but it was also close enough that he could probably sneak back home if he got hungry or had to use the bathroom.
I was going to write that I don’t know why the idea of running away is so alluring for children, but I realized that that would be a lie. I totally get it. For starters, there are so many books and movies about kids running away and having incredible adventures sans parents that it would be impossible not to think that you, too, could disappear for a while and not face an unfathomably dire punishment upon your return home. Running away is also a test for your loved ones. You are making a very bold statement about your unhappiness and waiting for a very specific response. You want people to worry. You want to be missed.
My brother and I grew up in a quiet town in the 90’s, which meant we were actually encouraged to go outside and play with our friends without immediate parental supervision. The Internet wasn’t a thing for us, everyone in our neighbourhood was friends with each other, and life felt pretty safe. This is an absolutely ideal scenario for a child growing up, except when you are running away from home and would like someone to acknowledge your absence. My brother discovered this when he packed himself a few snacks and headed to the mailbox one afternoon. As he sat in the hot sun waiting for our parents to come racing down the street in a panic searching for him, he eventually realized that this wasn’t going to happen within the time frame he had scheduled for his disappearance (i.e. the amount of time it would take to eat two pudding cups and a granola bar). He soon became bored and decided to return home where he decided things weren’t so bad after all.
Even though I never actually had the nerve to run away when I was younger, it was definitely something that I thought about once in a while. How great would it be to have everyone realize that life just wouldn’t be the same without you and fall to their knees crying out in regret for all the times they had done you wrong? If they could only have you back, your parents would never make you do chores again and would gladly sacrifice the family car whenever you needed it to go out and enjoy your newly extended curfew. There would be no limit to the lengths your family and friends would go to to shower you with their love and affection from that moment on.
I’d like to say that the sparkle of this dream has begun to fade as I’ve gotten older, but that would also be a lie. Every once in a while, when I’m facing a mountain of dishes, dirty floors, stinky diapers, bills, report cards and just overall exhaustion, I indulge myself in the runaway fantasy. Be honest. You do it too. Everyone would like to feel just a little more appreciated by their spouse. A little more missed by their friends and family. A little more loved by their kids. Sometimes it feels like the only way to rouse those feelings in the people who mean the most to us is to disappear so they realize just how much we mean to them. But here’s the Catch 22. They probably wish we’d do the same.
I know that getting excited about my husband’s hobbies would mean as much to him as his helping out with chores around the house would mean to me. My parents and grandparents would probably love it if I called more often. My son wouldn’t be sad if I ditched my phone for a few days and gave him my 100% undivided attention while we played outside. I’m sure my friends would love it if I put myself out there and actually tried to make plans with them once in a while. It’s easy to forget how important it is to show our appreciation for other people when we’re busy trying to figure out all the ways that they should be appreciating us.
This wasn’t meant to be preachy and this wasn’t actually the direction I had initially intended to go in when I started writing this, but it’s just hitting me now. Instead of trying to run away in the hopes that people will realize what they’re missing when I’m gone, I want to try to start doing the opposite, and be more present for them instead. Rather than disappearing so the subtle things I do might be more recognized and appreciated, I want to do things that matter in ways that are a little more obvious to the people I love.
For instance, maybe the reason why no one is giving me a gold star for washing the floor for the 8th time this week is because they really, truly wouldn’t have noticed if I had only done it twice. It’s not because they don’t appreciate it, but maybe they just aren’t as anal about footprints and Cheerio dust as I am. Yes, gourmet dinners are wonderful (thanks, Gwenyth Paltrow/Pinterest/The Food Network for my classical training), but no one’s going to die from eating cereal for dinner once in a while. Maybe sometimes that time would be better spent just enjoying life and doing things that are actually fun. It’s a bit of a hard concept for me to grasp, but having fun is actually important (maybe even more important than scrubbing the ring around the bathtub, but I’ll have to get back to you on that).
I need to learn to tell the difference between the things that I think matter and those that really do. If I can do that, maybe I can stop contemplating what drastic measures I need to take so that they will be recognized in a more timely and congratulatory fashion by those around me. It won’t be an instant change, and it’s something I’ll need to figure out as I go, but I think that life could be so much better this way – running towards the people I love, instead of away from them.