To not fall apart

Saying good-bye each morning is a drawn-out affair.

After hugs and kisses to both babies (who, yes, are nowhere close to babies anymore), I gather my things and from the kitchen offer a last, “Bye! Love you! Have great days!”

My son, 9, sometimes says, “Bye,” if he’s already at the table for breakfast; other times, he’s fallen back to sleep in his bed.

My daughter, though, that 5-year-old sweet pea, begins her ritual marathon.

“Bye, Mom! Love you! See you in eight hours!”

We blow kisses, each of us catching the other’s and sticking it on our faces or in our pockets. I inch closer toward the back door, and Paige continues her chorus: “Bye, Mom! I love you! See you in eight hours!”

It’s not unusual for her to repeat that line six or seven or eight times. “Bye, Mom! I love you! See you in eight hours!”

Last night, I drove the kids to Vail where we meet their dad for his visits. Usually, he takes them to his place in Denver, one weekend a month.

But I’m in the midst now, at the very beginning really, of the time of year I dread most: the month the kids spend away from me.

Our divorce agreement says my ex-husband will have the kids for a month each summer.

One day down. 29 to go.

Oy.

A co-worker yesterday said, “A whole month? What are you going to do with all that free time?!”

And, yes, that is the way I need to look at it. I need to embrace the time to be me, to be a wife, to be a friend, to really engage in all those things I don’t get to fully devote myself to when I’m being a mom.

But still.

In reality? That blows.

Yesterday, as I stood in the parking lot of Qdoba in West Vail, squeezing my daughter for the last time in what feels like a long time, she said, “Bye, Mom. I love you. See you in a month.”

Not eight hours. A month.

And I did what I could to keep it together, to not fall apart, to be a grown-up. On the drive, I could tell the kids were worried, or anxious, or just doing what they could to cope with the impending transition. I imagine these sorts of questions may have been on their minds: “Is Mom going to lose it when we say goodbye? Will she cry so hard she can’t talk like last year? Do we just leave her like that?”

I remember what it’s like leaving one parent to go with the other. I always felt so much pressure to help the situation go smoothly, to make sure both parents were OK and to somehow manage my own emotions in the midst of it all. I remember the pull kids of divorced parents will likely inevitably always feel between Mom and Dad, the way your heart wishes the world was different and you could somehow see them both equal amounts, that they each somehow were OK without you, that if they say they are, that it might be true.

On the drive back to our house, just me in the big, new car with third-row seating and a DVD player that unfolds from the ceiling, I texted a friend back home.

“Tell me again how you get through your babies being gone each summer,” I asked.

“Focus on how much fun they are having,” she said, “and how important it is for them to have relationships on that side, too.”

Yes. I knew that. And she is so right. The more people who love my babies, the luckier they are.

Still, that doesn’t mean the little pieces of my heart out walking around without me for the next month aren’t noticeably missing.

This morning, I peeked into my daughter’s empty room. On her bed, unmade, she had placed a dozen or so dolls. They were in a line, flat on their backs, how she’d presumably put them down for a nap.

I smiled. And I’m considering leaving them there, just how she left them, a dozen or so reminders of her.

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