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Getaway Mom

Getaway Mom

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Getaway Mom

246 pages
3 hours
Apr 23, 2013


What happens when a New York suburban mom grabs a much needed getaway from her family and ends up trading places with her single,  40-something sister in LaLa land? Chaos ensues as life gets turned upside down for these sisters who took very different paths. Mixing humor and insight, the novel explores the choices women make about family and work, and how they cope—or don’t.
Apr 23, 2013

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Getaway Mom - Lori Lee



As EZ gently took Natalie’s tanned arm, smoothly steering her along the ocean’s edge, she got goose bumps at his touch. By the time they finished their leisurely stroll, it was almost six and EZ urged her to stay for dinner. Natalie felt illicit but delicious. This feels like a first date, a great first date. Oh my God, I’m married. What am I doing? Then a startling vision of Mickey flashed before her eyes. Her son was running out of school on the final day. Free, free at last, he screamed, while tossing his Mets cap in the air. And that was exactly how she felt. But then she thought about her husband, Michael.

Chapter 1

Wednesday, June 1, 2005, Long Island

Iraq? Are you losing your mind? Building bridges? Why can’t you have a midlife crisis like every other suburban guy? Buy a convertible. How about a red one? You always liked Jeff’s Mustang. Without stopping to take a breath, Natalie continued. June fifteenth? That means you’ll miss Merrill’s eighth-grade graduation, and you promised Mickey that you would help coach his summer lacrosse team. And what about me? I didn’t sign on to be a single mom.

Just hold on, Michael said, raising his right hand to cut her off. This is not all about me. This is for us, for our family, for our future. In just four months I can earn triple my normal salary plus a hefty hardship bonus.

And what about my hardship? Natalie mumbled. She had been getting ready for bed when Michael came in, closed the bedroom door, and sprang his plan.

Furious, Natalie went on. The army can’t even meet its recruitment quota because it’s so dangerous over there, and you have graciously volunteered to go? Wait a minute. Didn’t you say that Brad Stevens was going?

Stevens should be the one going, but he just found out that they are expecting twins. They did in vitro, and the babies are due in December, and their doctor told them that they might be as much as eight weeks early. That’s why this whole thing came up so quickly. But don’t worry about me. My piece of the job has to do with the plans, the blueprints for rebuilding the Iraqi infrastructure, Michael said passionately. I won’t be hanging from the girders. It’s an inside job in a safe place.

He took Natalie’s hand and sat her down next to him on the bed. Look, Natalie, this is like winning the lottery. Okay—he smiled ruefully—a small lottery, but we can pay off the home equity loan and MasterCard, with enough money left over for summer camps and a family vacation.

Natalie was tempted. Merrill, their fourteen-year-old song-and-dance drama queen—she had seen Wicked, the Broadway musical, three times—had been begging to go to a highly touted theater camp. And Mickey, their ten-year-old athlete, had wistfully pored over brochures from a baseball camp. But at $1,000 a week, the camps were too pricy for the family’s already strained budget.

Michael, you’d put yourself in a war zone so the kids can go to camp? It doesn’t make sense.

He looked at her and frowned. Natalie, I was talking to a guy at work whose daughter got into NYU, and he has no idea how they are going to come up with $45,000 for the tuition and dorm. He makes what I make, which means no financial aid. Do you realize that in four short years we will face eight consecutive years of college costs that will probably top $50,000 a year by then? That’s $400,000. We don’t have that kind of money. You’re the family CEO. You know what our bank account looks like. We’ve been living on one salary and doing okay. I love the idea that you’re home with the kids, but money will be tight when the kids are in college. With the bump-up in salary plus the S and S bonus, we can finally get a little ahead and have some left for fun.

Now Natalie felt guilty; maybe if she had a job, money wouldn’t be so tight. She hadn’t given much thought to going back to work—in retrospect, probably a major mistake. However, she suspected that Michael was motivated by more than money. He had seemed worn out lately from the constant travel and stress of overseeing monster construction projects. Or was it boredom? Maybe he needed a new challenge or a change of pace. But Iraq? Weren’t there any contract jobs in, say, Alaska? Had mild-mannered Michael suddenly morphed into Long Island’s Lawrence of Arabia?

Michael, we’ll figure out the money for college and—

Call the summer camps tomorrow, Michael interrupted, and see if they have any last-minute openings and how much they cost. And while you’re at it, call a travel agent and find a good deal for a family vacation during Christmas break. Perfect timing. I will be back from Iraq, and S and S will certainly let me take a couple of weeks off.

Natalie didn’t think that Michael had heard a word of what she said. He stood in the bedroom doorway, still trying to convince her that working in Iraq was the remedy for their depleted bank account. I can keep in constant touch with satellite phones and e-mail, and the summer will fly by. With the kids in camp, you can finally have some time for yourself without carpools, cooking, and the kids’ scheduling. Don’t you always say, ‘I wish I had a day for myself’?

What about the danger? Natalie asked, ignoring his question. Every day I read about people getting blown up by suicide bombers.

Yeah, yeah, Michael said, brushing it off. I will be stationed at Camp Victory, near Baghdad Airport. There’s even a Burger King on the base. I’ll be in a cement-block building, working on blueprints. Look, I won’t lie. There will be times when I’ll have to visit construction sites. But I promise it won’t be often.

Burger King? Oh, that’s just dandy. Which would I rather? My husband killed by a roadside bomb or a heart attack from high cholesterol?

If there was one thing that Natalie knew for sure about her husband, it was that when he had a plan, he followed it through. Natalie was not only shocked and scared, she was downright furious. Throughout their marriage, Michael had always conferred with her, and his choices—career or otherwise—were joint decisions. From passing on a seductive job offer in Seattle to agreeing to move to the suburbs, personal and family decisions were made together, and he had often put his wife’s and kids’ happiness before his own.

And for the most part, life had been good. Natalie had never thought she’d move back to Long Island after living in New York City, but it was the right place to rear the kids. With a smattering of Wall Street types, most of Garden Park was solidly upper middle-class, with street after tree-lined street of colonial-style houses on small plots. The schools won excellence awards, and every weekend the sports fields were overflowing with kids from kindergarten to high school, playing soccer in the fall and lacrosse in the spring. Natalie liked running into the same parents, whether in the schools or at the library or in the downtown shops. The town felt cozy and comfortable, with everything centered on the children. Maybe too much at times, but this was their life, at least for now.

Even though it was a money pit, the couple loved their seventy-year-old house. Over the years they renovated room by room, working on the designs together, with Michael’s engineering input tempering Natalie’s expensive architectural elements. She did win the argument for Pella windows and the side-by-side Sub-Zero refrigerator-freezer. Good thing I am the family’s chief financial officer, Natalie reflected. Michael would have passed out if he had seen the bills from Calico Corners for all those Waverly fabric drapes, duvet covers, and throw pillows with coordinating trim at fifty dollars a yard. The most recent addition had been a slate patio last spring. She was thankful for the low interest rate on their home equity loan.

For one week after Michael’s announcement, the Iraq plan was not mentioned again. Natalie tried to convince herself that the idea had evaporated, but in her heart she knew better. Then it came to her: Michael didn’t want to cause a brouhaha during the end-of-the-school-year madness, especially before Merrill’s eighth-grade dance, which already had generated enough nervous energy to power a small nation. The dress, the hair, the shoes, the purse, and almost an afterthought, the date. After all the primping, Merrill looked breathtaking, and Michael futilely suggested that she wear a sweater to cover her short dress. Only moments after sweet, acne-challenged Chris picked up Merrill for the dance, Michael went into high gear, pushing to get Natalie’s blessing for what apparently was a done deal.

I got the visa expedited was his opener.

And you think this is good news?

Sure. This guarantees getting back by mid-October in plenty of time for our special family trip at Christmas. Let’s do Disney World.

Disney World? Maybe you haven’t noticed that Merrill is fourteen now, and ‘It’s a Small World’ is no longer her thing. And after the blowup over the computer last week, I don’t think she exactly wants to vacation with us. Anyway, what makes you think that a trip to Disney—or anywhere—will make Merrill and Mickey be okay with their father in a war zone?

Ignoring her scornful tone, Michael replied, No problem. Merrill will get over the computer lockdown. How about Hawaii? Let’s go there. We can split the vacation between two islands if we go for ten days. Four months in Iraq is all they get from me, and then I am back forever with the love of my life and the kids.

Now Natalie was really confused. Michael knew how infuriated she was with him, yet he was trying to sweeten her up. She could always tell when he had sex on his mind because smooth talk was the foreplay. But no way was that going to work tonight. Natalie needed sauvignon, not sex, to get through this.

Maybe Michael knew the kids better than Natalie did. When they heard about their new, improved summer plans, they were thrilled and at first didn’t equate camp with Iraq. The Berkshire Camp for the Arts had a spot open, so Natalie signed Merrill up for a three-week session, and the same with Mickey’s baseball camp. But when Merrill asked Michael why he had to go to Iraq, he slipped and told her the reason they could suddenly afford the camps. At first, the plan sounded great to Merrill. But when she realized her father would miss her graduation and be far away in a war-torn country, she grew less enthusiastic, refusing to talk about it, giving him the cold shoulder. As for Mickey, whatever it took to go to sports camp was fine by him; he was happy, oblivious to the danger.

Chapter 2

Wednesday, June 15, 2005, Long Island

As a civil engineer for Stevens and Stevens, Michael often traveled around the country to oversee massive projects, from bridges to hospitals to industrial parks, generally leaving on a Sunday afternoon and returning home by the end of the workweek. When he was gone, the time whizzed by because they were all so busy. But when his work occasionally took him to Europe and Asia for two or three weeks at a time, Michael really missed his family. Four months in Iraq was going to be hard.

On June 15, when he went to kiss his son good-bye, Mickey rolled onto his back and reached out his arms the way he did as an infant. Trying hard to hold back tears, he grabbed for his father’s neck and tackled him down to the pillow.

I love you, Mickey.

I love you too, Dad, Mickey whispered.

Then Michael tiptoed out of Mickey’s room and stopped at Merrill’s bedroom, lightly tapping three times before he opened the closed door.

It’s me, honey. Just want to say good-bye.

Merrill limply raised her arm and gave a half-wave while muttering something unintelligible into her pillow. Michael moved slowly toward the bed to give her a kiss, but she refused to look at him. His lips brushed the top of her head.

Try to be good for your mom. I love you.

With his battered computer bag slung over his shoulder and a black rolling suitcase in one hand, Michael went to the bedroom that he and Natalie had shared for nearly twelve years. He stopped short when he caught sight of the family photos scattered around the room. On Natalie’s dresser there were pictures of them at their backyard engagement party, of Merrill as a Halloween Tinker Bell, of Mickey as Wayne Gretzky, and a family shot on top of Killington mountain in Vermont. Then his gaze leaped from the photographs to the bed. He fixed his eyes on Natalie and took a mental snapshot of her that would have to last him for the next four months. After a few seconds, he gently leaned over Natalie’s side of the bed to give her an I love you and a soft kiss.

Safe flight were the only words she uttered.

Realizing that there was nothing more to be said, Michael grabbed his gear and off he went. The taxi driver was waiting quietly at the curb in front of the house, obeying the dispatcher’s instructions not to honk his horn.

Natalie got up at 5:30 a.m., shortly after Michael left. It took every last bit of effort and courage for her to start moving. Rather than ruminating in bed, she decided to get up and out. Keeping to her regular schedule was the only way that she would survive this ordeal. I wonder when the gym opens? she said out loud, forgetting that Michael was not there to have this conversation. Her usual routine was to drop the kids at school, grab a freshly brewed black coffee, and be at Better Butts by eight. Rushing to the bathroom to brush her teeth, Natalie saw the first sign that Michael was really gone. She reached for her toothbrush standing solo in the cream-colored ceramic holder. If I leave right now, I can be back in time to take Mickey and Merrill to school, she thought as she attacked her teeth with a vengeance.

She quickly scribbled, Went to gym. Back at 7:30, on a sticky note and smacked it on the fridge, where Mickey would certainly see it as he headed for the container of orange juice.

Natalie drove the mile to the gym in a daze and was thankful to find that the parking lot was fairly empty. Chatty was not in the cards this morning. More often than not, she looked forward to talking to the women while she was doing her cardio but not today. She certainly didn’t feel like hearing the town gossip because she knew that she was the person everyone would be talking about. Most of all, she wasn’t ready for unsolicited advice, which seemed to flow freely from the treadmills and the elliptical trainers. After thirty minutes on the treadmill and feeling more spent than usual, she relentlessly lifted five-pound weights.

Rushing out of the gym before the regulars appeared at eight, Natalie headed home and arrived with time to spare. Unfortunately, the workout didn’t seem to help her psyche because tears blurred her vision during the drive back to the house. Realizing she had to talk to someone—and her mother was out of the question—she contemplated calling her sister, Drey. Looking at her watch and counting backward on her fingers, Natalie decided that four in the morning was definitely too early to call Los Angeles. In their family, a middle-of-the-night call meant that someone had died. Instead, she went to her computer and began writing an e-mail.

Although Drey was four years younger than Natalie, they were best friends. They had grown closer as the years went by, even though for the past decade three thousand miles had separated them, along with a three-hour time difference that never failed to confuse them both. (Why are you eating dinner so late? Oh, that’s right—it’s only eight o’clock in LA!) For years they ran up long-distance phone bills, but along came e-mail and the sisters went digital. Both agreed that e-mail served as a confessional of sorts—an odd analogy for two Jewish girls. Usually the e-mails were sent first thing in the morning or last thing at night, a good time to put a problem on paper. Natalie had dubbed the process computer catharsis. She and Drey discovered that transcontinental e-mails kept them connected and that these missives allowed them to pour out their thoughts and feelings, successes and failures. Nothing was off limits: mother, friends, husbands (past and present), men, Drey’s growing business, Natalie’s kids’ antics and problems, photos of vacations, school plays, sports events, California sunsets. Thanks to e-mail, the two sisters were closer than they had ever been.

Usually, it was big-sister Natalie who mothered Drey, but now Natalie needed consoling with her husband heading to Iraq and her kids soon to be off at camp. Some women might rejoice: home alone at last. But for Natalie, rumbling around the house solo was a daunting prospect.

What will I do with myself? Read every book on the New York Times bestseller list? Clean the closets? Go back to work? But as what?

She had been an architect for five years right after college and loved it, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to start over again at age forty-four. For one thing, she would need to go back to school because so much had changed. Still, working again would be a surefire way to get Michael to take notice. She took a deep breath and started typing.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005 7:10 AM EDT

Dear Drey,

I guess I haven’t told you this because in my heart of hearts I never thought it would happen: Michael went to Iraq this morning for four months to build bridges! Ridiculous but true. He dropped this on me about two weeks ago, and now he’s gone. He left early this morning. He’s meeting up with colleagues in London and then shipping out. Now I can imagine how an army wife feels when her husband is deployed to the other end of the earth!

Would you believe he tried to make it sound like going to Iraq was good news? He thought that the extra pay was going to sell me. Who was he kidding? For 19 years I have managed to keep us afloat, so why would he think camps for the kids and a family trip to Hawaii would make me happy enough to give up my husband to a war zone?

Answer one question for me: How can Michael have a midlife crisis and leave me and the kids? When I signed on as a stay-at-home mom, I didn’t say it was forever. With Michael’s erratic schedule and traveling, we made the decision together that I would be the first line of defense for the family, helping with homework, carpooling, cheering at soccer games, and managing everything from remodeling to buying cars. But it’s been more than a decade now since I turned in my briefcase. When is it my turn?

There has rarely been a time in the all these years that I sat and contemplated what I wanted from life. I guess I thought that I had it all: a great husband, two almost perfect kids, a

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