One summer a few years back, I stumbled upon a brilliant act of self-love. I arranged for both of our boys to be away from home at the same time.
Our oldest departed early Sunday morning on a road trip with his girlfriend, while our youngest was scheduled to be dropped off at camp that very afternoon.
On the drive over to Waubanog, my husband turned to me with a giddy whisper, asking What do you want to do AFTER…!
I could barely contain my delight and hoped my son wouldn’t see or sense it from the backseat.
Mostly we slept, and went out to eat, and enjoyed lots of summer cocktails.
A week later, we’d also learned some things about ourselves; things we could no longer blame on the kids:
1. We make lots of messes.
2. We use lots of glasses.
3. We depend on their noise, demands, connection & love to direct our days, our emotions, our very thoughts.
4. We’d do well to focus more on our own shit. Inside and out. There’s plenty there.
5. They apparently keep animals away from our gardens.
(Either that or they arranged for the groundhog to eat all the greens so that they wouldn’t have to.)
6. Casey & I still enjoy each others company more than we do anyone else. (Following some initial turbulence.)
7. We can’t wait for them to leave, and when they’re finally gone, we miss them. (Duh.)
8. We have softer edges without them, but much less dimension.
9. There will always be an Aidan and a Lloyd shaped empty space in our hearts once they’ve grown.
(Sappy, but true. OUCH.)
10. Even without the distraction, disturbance & delight of children, we don’t “get done” what we imagined.
11. Our lives without them will easily out distance the day-to-day we’ve shared as a family.
At the end of that summer, our oldest and his beloved set to repainting his walls. Their youthful abandon spilled out of his room and down the stairs and into the kitchen; as did the palpable presence of endings–he would leave for college that week and they would break up rather than endure a long distance relationship (and I was not to ask about how or if we would see her once he was gone.)
Add to this the juxtaposition of my baby sister’s first born who had just celebrated his first birthday. His milestones seemed to be engaged in some kind of parallel dance with those taking place in my home.
I hold no regrets. I have lived well and loved our years with children; and I am proud to see them spread their wings; though what is also true is that I can barely breathe at the thought of a completely empty house, or imagine one that doesn’t begin and end with camps and semesters and vacations.
When the boys were babies, Casey & I would race up the stairs to be the first to arrive after naptime–to be that holy recipient of their precious waking gaze of delight & devotion.
At the end of that week apart, instead of a set of stairs, it was a steep hill, and the baby was 13 and he was smelly, carrying all of his gear from a week in a tent. Casey wore flip flops. I chose sneakers. I may have pushed him off the path. More than once.
What I’ve learned most from my time with and apart from my children is something I feel a bit embarrassed to share…
A deep & abiding love for myself, and the pleasure of my own company.
Which alas, grew out of my fierce love for them–both in their comings and their goings.
This past week, in another brilliant act of self-love, I sent my husband off on a trip to retrieve our youngest from his time at the shore with his young cousin–who is now 4 years old.
It was a hard decision not to go along. I missed his little sister’s second birthday. I missed spending time with my entire extended family. I missed a beach trip I’ve taken every summer since we moved to the mountains 23 years ago.
But I also felt conflicted about leaving because it was my oldest son’s birthday, and even though he lived three hours away and planned to spend his 21st with his friends instead of coming home, I wanted to be here. Just to the hold the place of home if nothing else.
I also wanted to write. And to find myself. And to hear my own thoughts. Especially as my first born came of age.
After the initial pangs of emptiness, I settled into a delicious morning of word and bird song and green tea.
Cue the phone.
Guess who’s coming home.