It’s quiet in my house. Way too quiet. It’s the kind of quiet that usually means that something really bad is going down in some remote corner. You know what I’m talking about–the quiet that means that one kid is sitting on another kid’s head, muffling the screams, or one kid is systematically dismantling the other kid’s Lego creation while kid #2 is off happily peeing and not flushing the toilet.
But this time, the quiet just means there are two empty bedrooms in my house for the week. I don’t want to think about this quiet. The lack of pounding elephantine footsteps at an ungodly hour in the morning means that my two boys are off for the week on spring break with their father.
It’s disorienting, to say the least. After all, it’s what most parents say they want–just some peace and quiet. “Oh, that sounds SO nice,” other parents tell me, fantasizing about having a few days where 2/3 of their kids are out of the house. Maybe they’d use the time to catch up on spring cleaning, or a novel they’d been meaning to read. Or work!
But I know the truth, from experience: maybe you’d do that stuff not because you want to, but because you’d hope it might take your mind off the quiet. Everyone wants an escape from the chaos of the day-to-day–but an escape that is within your control, with the carefully-planned perimeters of babysitters and grandparents, not something forced upon you. No matter how often it happens–even though it’s been five years–there is still a part of me that feels as though my babies are being yanked out of my arms.
Divorce means a lot of things, but among them, it means a revolving door vacation schedule. I get winter break, he gets spring break; I get Memorial Day, he gets Labor Day; until the next year when it alternates again. It’s a do-si-do that will continue for about 11 more years.
The vacations I get to have with the boys are a lot of fun. We’ve taken them to Boston, to the Jersey shore, to Colorado and to that pilgrimage point of Disney World. Sometimes, we just stay home for the week and enjoy what many married couples take for granted: a week where there is no schlepping on the Turnpike, no custody choreography, a week where we can just be with one another.
Before I met my new husband, I actively fled these weeks when my boys weren’t home. If my boys were going to be gone, I reasoned, I didn’t want to be reminded of their absence by their empty bedrooms. So the boys left, and I ran away from my reality as far as a plane ticket would carry me. I shouldered my backpack and went by myself to Iceland and to Argentina. Once I met Jon, I took him with me on these boondoggles, and we hit the road together for California, Japan, China, and Maine. I threw myself into new places so as to not have to think about the boys’ absence.
But for a variety of reasons, we couldn’t go away this week. So here I am with Jon, Baby G, and a mostly-empty house that doesn’t feel as much like home as it usually does. I go to the supermarket and buy less food. The kitchen table has no homework spread over it. The incessant pounding of my son’s basketball in the driveway has ceased (much, perhaps, to the neighbors’ delight).
Baby G may miss her brothers, but she’s definitely loving the solo attention. I go on long walks with her between writing, and cuddle her, and change her diapers. I try to teach her to talk. It feels a little like I’m having an affair–because the love I am lavishing on her alone really belongs to her only in part, and the other 2/3 of the recipients are getting ripped off.
Of course, that’s not true. I don’t love the boys any less because they leave: they have to go, like it or not. I see them on FaceTime, and can tell they are having fun.
I will never regret divorcing their father–certainly not now that I have found the person I am meant to be with, and have built a new “addition” to my family with him. But even now, five years out from the divorce, it still isn’t easy to say goodbye to my boys, or to handle it when they are not here.
I suppose it never will be or should be easy–not even on that far-off day when they move into their college dorms. These absences are comparatively short, but they feel like training wheels of a sort–training me for how to deal with life in a future era, life when I will not be as omnipresent in their lives as I am now.
These little premonitions, through their absence, of their growing up, ache and sting. They make my family momentarily incomplete. What I need to focus on is how they make it much easier to take a deep breath and savor their presence when they come back.