My kiddos left yesterday for a 10 day adventure in Seattle with their dad and his family. They’ve been gone 24 hours and 6 minutes…not that I’m counting. I’m glad that they get to go visit their family and create memories with their cousins. We’ve never been apart for longer than a week, though, and try as I might, I can’t stop feeling a little melancholy at the prospect of being 2,200 miles away from them. To top it off, my stepsons went home today after their last summer week with us. I had a wistful little moment about that, too.
The summer evaporated, like water on a hot griddle–one sizzling, noisy moment at a time. It happened so slowly and all at once.
I feel a little lost.
I’m not one of those people who is looking forward to an empty nest. Ask me again when they’re teenagers, but right now, I adore being Mommy. All too soon I’ll just be “Mom,” and one more inevitable door will shut on their sweet innocence. I want to scoop up the moments I have with them and hide them somewhere that time can’t find them. Every time I snuggle my daughter until her eyelids overpower her will to stay awake and talk to me. Every time my son gives me a knowing smile about an inside joke that couldn’t possibly amuse anyone but us, but that makes him smile so much that even his recluse dimple shows. The way my stepsons crave the hugs of my husband, sinking comfortably into him when he picks them up as if they are feather-light. I tuck those moments away, with determination that I will remember every last detail, long after our children have grown up and left our home.
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. –Psalm 90:12
I might be a little lost, but I’ve also found some things.
I may not want an empty nest, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to miss my children. I wrote about the Blessing of Being Alone, and how precious it is to reunite with your family after you’ve been away from them. On the opposite side of that coin is the opportunity to reconnect with your spouse when your kids are away. If you are in a blended family, and you’ve managed to work out the improbable voodoo of coordinating childless weekends, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m not implying that there is a silver lining to being divorced. No–I picture the lining coated with that goo you find on the sidewalk when you walk down Bourbon Street at 7 am on a Sunday morning. You aren’t quite sure what it is, but you sure wouldn’t walk around in it in flip-flops. That being said, if there was a silver lining, this would be it. The time I have just to be alone with my husband is pure magic. Sitting in a clean house (hallelujah!), eating food our kids wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, laughing at our own inside jokes—it is a balm for the soul. When our nest is empty, we are only going to have each other. Thank goodness we like each other AND love each other.
On a more practical level, I’ve also found time to go to the gym for as long as I want. I did two sets when I lifted weights tonight. TWO WHOLE SETS! As if uninterrupted gym time wasn’t enough, we’re going to catch a baseball game with friends and have dinner with another set of friends. We’re actually going to remember what it’s like to be social–with real, live grownups, you guys.
*Note to self: do not refer to the restroom as the “potty” and PLEASE don’t ask grownup friends if they have to use it every time you walk past one. Also, please DO NOT refer to yourself in the third person as “Mommy.” Please, Lori. Don’t.*
Blended family or not, I hope you can find what is so easily lost in the hustle of parenthood.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, Mommy needs to take the dogs to go potty.
One of my friends used to lament to me that “everyone aspires to be a business traveler–until they get their wish.” I have to say that I agree with that statement for the most part. Something struck me two trips ago, however, that I have to share with my fellow parents and wives (working, stay-at-home or somewhere in between): There is great blessing in being alone. Sounds crazy, but hear me out. I am not talking about being lonely. I am talking about having time alone. And by “alone”, I mean without your family. You can be surrounded by thousands of people, in the middle of Times Square, and still be this particular type of “alone.” I can almost hear your maternal gasps of horror from here. Relax. You can be Supermom and admit that you need time to yourself, away from your spouse and your little Dewdrops from Heaven.
When I travel for work, my second goal, aside from providing value to my employer, is to see/do/find/taste/experience something new. I have visited Prairie Dog Town and the Buddy Holly museum in Lubbock, Texas; I have rigorously taste-tested gelato all over Little Italy in NYC; I’ve walked the Freedom Trail in Boston; explored cemeteries in New Orleans– you get the idea. If there is a “World’s Biggest” or “Guinness Record Holding” something in a city I am scheduled to visit for work, I’m there, iPhone in hand, photo-documenting every bit of it. If you have to leave your family, manage the childcare jigsaw puzzle, and suffer through the delight that is traveling by plane in 2014, why not make the most of it?
About a month ago, I had to travel to LA. As usual, I spent a few minutes on Trip Advisor, researching the area in which I would be staying, and discovered that Redondo Beach was a) where they filmed the TV show “Baywatch” and b) that there had been an unusual number of great white shark sightings lately. Sold! Alas, I didn’t see any sharks, but as I was catching up on emails from the beach, I looked around at the vacationing families and laughing children, and was hit with a surge of love for my own family, which was immediately followed by the realization of how desperately I need my sporadic alone times.
In the summers, we have all five of our kiddos every other week (and two every week). I am so grateful for the extra time as a family of seven, and I wouldn’t trade one day of the crazy, ear-splitting loudness. However, I have to sheepishly admit that sometimes it just feels like too much while I am living in it. We’ve all had our moments of martyrdom, where being the mom, the maid, the chauffer, the bank, the personal attendant, the provider, the referee, the counselor and the disciplinarian feels like it is going to crush you. I had plenty of those moments this summer. More than I would even like to admit. However, sitting on that beach in LA, I realized just how much I desperately love and need each member of our crazy family. Distance and separation have a way of bringing clarity to your heart and mind in a way that counseling and Prozac never could! If you are in the middle of one of the “crazy moments”, where it’s all just too much, I would encourage you to find some creative ways to give yourself the gift of a little smidge of distance. It’s medicinal, and it works.
If you don’t have the sort of vocation that calls for periodic jaunts to the 4 corners of Earth, here are a few ideas:
1) Don’t undervalue the healing power of a few moments with a friend. Doesn’t have to be out of town– make time to have coffee or dinner with that one person to whom you can be completely honest about how crazy you feel at the moment, get it out, and then enjoy the perspective that only distance can provide.
2) Take time for something that is just for you. A fitness or art class, or a cup of coffee and people watching–whatever it is, schedule it into your calendar like an appointment and set the expectation with your family that this thing is just as important as a medical checkup or work obligation. You’ve heard that “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”, right? Truth. Everyone will benefit from your rabid insistence that they honor your “alone” time. Do not feel guilty about this (and do as I say, not as I do while you’re at it…).
3) If you do travel for your job, I encourage you to step outside of the hassle of it all the next time you go somewhere, and breathe in the sights and experiences around you. Take note of the good and the bad. Enjoy the strangeness of navigating a new place by yourself and on your schedule. Let yourself miss your family, and enjoy the opportunity to miss them.
It’s such a strange dichotomy to let yourself bask in the chance to be independent of your mom-ness and wife-ness for a moment, but for your heart to long for your family. That is the blessing of being alone. I am grateful for the distance that allows me to refocus on what is most important in my life, and return to it with a renewed spirit and mind and with gratitude for being trusted with the exact life I have been given. I hope you can use your “alone” for the same purpose.