While My Husband Travels, I've Learned To Bond With My Son

by Erika Burling
Originally Published: 
Directly above shoot of cute baby and mom on sofa at home.

When you think of SpongeBob, pasta is not the first thing that comes to mind … except in our household. My husband has been traveling quite a bit more than usual, so my eight-year-old and I have gotten in this habit of eating tiny elbow pasta with olive oil and parmesan and watching a SpongeBob movie on the couch while we eat dinner.

Now, you may or may not ask why we eat on the couch and why SpongeBob. My son got into SpongeBob once it appeared on one of our many Apple TV apps and got hooked. We always have pizza movie nights on Fridays where we eat pizza and watch a movie, a tradition we all adore and look forward to after a long week. With my husband traveling so much and evening Little League games, these Friday nights fell to the wayside.

Usually when it’s just me and my son, we eat at the table like usual or maybe go out for a low-key bite. However, one night I made tiny elbow pasta and he asked if we could watch a movie, so I easily agreed. We cuddled up on the couch, me with my Rosé, him with his milk, and we hung out eating pasta watching a SpongeBob movie. Given that my son generally prefers video games on his iPad or Xbox, there was something sweet about watching a good old-fashioned television show together, just us.

After our movie, we cuddled up in his bed and read books; then he passed out quite quickly. I used to dread when my husband would travel. I would get anxious before he left, thinking about what I was going to do with our son every day and on weekends. My husband reads books at night and I knew I’d have to take that over as well, in addition to repeatedly asking my son to brush his teeth and change into pajamas. I got used to not reading as much before bed, so forgot how incredibly bonding and sweet this is.

I’ve started to really embrace my relationship with my son when my husband travels and look forward to our one-on-one time. As soon as I say, “Daddy is traveling,” instead of getting angry or upset, he says, “We can watch a SpongeBob movie and eat pasta,” and I feel a huge sense of accomplishment and also look forward to these nights. I must confess, at this point, I do bring a book to our viewings, but he doesn’t care. He snuggles up to me while I read and he watches his movie or show. It’s so special and it makes me cherish this time that I know will not last too much longer as he continues to get older.

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It’s amazing how something so simple can create so much bonding with your child. I used to always want to take him somewhere or plan an activity, but now I find that as long as I am present, he’s happy and very aware of my presence and we have a blast no matter what we’re doing.

A funny thing happened the other weekend en route to my son’s travel soccer tryouts. It was a hot day and his tryouts were not until 6:15 pm, so by the time we got in the car, he was telling us how tired he was. My husband and I both thought to ourselves, “Uh oh, not sure this will go well.” We got to the field with one tired eight-year-old who was about to embark on 90 minutes of scrimmaging, and he was already in a mood. My husband, who played soccer throughout his youth and high school, said he would give him a pep talk. As the other kids started approaching, I watched my husband talking to my son and could see my son looking around at the other boys. I could tell he was not in it. He just didn’t want to be there.

I decided I was going to jump in. We’ve noticed that when I take our son to soccer games, he tends to perform better — whether it’s luck or my strategy, no one can tell for sure. I decided to use the SpongeBob and pasta approach on him. I pulled my son aside, knelt down to his level, and told him to remember when he played that game two weeks ago and scored four goals. I said to play like that and afterwards we will go home. I promised to make him some pasta, and that he could hang out on the couch and watch SpongeBob. But for now, I said, you must try your best; then you can chill afterwards, and you’re done.

We were going to leave during his soccer tryouts, but decided to stay for a bit to see if he completely melted down. Lo and behold, he got in there and was laughing with the other kids, turned on the power and played his little eight-year-old heart out for 90 minutes. He felt great about it afterwards. My husband asked what I said to him, so I told him, and he laughed so hard about my coaching strategy. I know that when I have something challenging that I need to accomplish, knowing there’s a respite at the end — generally a glass of wine and dinner — I can power through it. For my son, he knew he needed to kick ass, and then he would be able to chill in his happy place. That motivated him for the time he needed to be present.

I felt very good about my talk with him and could see how much our special SpongeBob and pasta nights mean to him — to us, really. It’s not just about watching shows, but it’s about time to really decompress in a safe, happy place. In today’s busy world, over scheduled children and adults need to know they can turn everything off. Knowing you can do that following something that may be challenging or unfavorable is healthy. We can see that light at the end of the tunnel: a break, a rest, melting into the couch after all of life’s demands.

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