Who Am I Now That the Kids are Gone?
The house is quiet.
Emptiness waits at the end of the hall, to the door on the left, in a large room with a twin bed that is abandoned except for unmade sheets. The walls are littered with nails and darkened Christmas lights. Posters stand guard on the wall, safe in the promises of not taking them down.
I stood in the middle and stared at nothing. Our dog, Buckwheat, stood next to me, his tail slowly wagging as he waited for someone who would not come.
It’s different this time. Not because I loved one more than another, not because they all won’t need me in other, more grown-up, ways; but because no one will say to me, “It’s ok Mom, you still have Sammi,” and then “It’s ok Mom, you still have Jacob.” All the kids are gone. Moved out, moving on, chasing their own dreams with all the gusto I had hoped to instill in them.
I’ve had well-meaning words come my way, “This is what they are supposed to do.” “You raised them to be adults and that’s a good thing.” “You’re still their mom.” And I smile. Because I appreciate that they say something rather than nothing. But I also cringe a little because they have no idea what it feels like. They will go back home to read a bedtime story, do bath time, and say “I love you” before their kid goes to sleep. They will know exactly where their kid is, what they had for dinner, if they are closing their eyes in a good mood. I don’t know any of these things anymore.
Of course, I knew this day was coming. I honestly thought I was prepared, well, as prepared as you can be. I have a fantastic relationship with my husband. We have our own dreams and plans in motion, plans I am excited about. Here’s the thing though – nothing gets replaced, it just gets rearranged. It’s not like all the energy I put into mothering is now redirected and focused on my own goals. Mothering is mothering. It does not go away. It is instead, told to wait.
You wonder if they are ok and by ok, I mean, you wonder if they are cold and have a jacket. You wonder if they are hot and drinking enough water. You wonder if they are making friends. You wonder if someone is driving to close behind them and freaking them out. You wonder if they remember how to pump their own gas. You wonder if someone will hurt them and how they will respond. You wonder if they are packing enough lunch, having trouble sleeping, remembered to buy toilet paper, or feel afraid in their different life. You wonder if you taught them enough. Did I teach them to be polite and strong and brave and helpful and independent and caring? Did I teach them to be friendly and still watch out for strangers? Did I teach them to listen to their gut and slow down and it’s great to win but it is also great to lose? We learn things here.
And in the middle of trying not to go crazy in all of your wonderings, you wander around your empty house. You think about calling a friend, or reading a book, or taking a nap, or driving to the taco shop, and none of these things seem quite ok in a world where you are not thinking about how every decision you make will affect someone else.
Who am I? Who am I now that all the kids are gone?
You ask it out loud.
And the empty holds its silence.
I don’t have any answers. I am still living in the middle of it. I can tell you what I am doing.
I am shopping. Online purchases have doubled in the last 30 days. I know it is wrong. I know it is instant gratification and it will only make me happy for a second. I don’t care. I buy it anyway. So far I now have, the softest sheets on the planet, a fluffy comforter, beautiful curtains, and more leggings than I know what to do with. My husband thanks God every day I am a Target shopper.
I am eating lots of sugar and carbs. My body is in some kind of shock because I have basically told it we are in the throes of pms, but instead of lasting 5 -7 days, it has lasted all month. Give me all the mint&chip ice cream, and please bring tacos.
I am furiously exercising to chase away the guilt of eating so much and also hoping all that treadmill running will help me catch up to my sanity. We are neck and neck. It is an ebb and flow, usually dependent on whether or not I’ve gotten a text lately.
I am listening to music really loud. Like, “I am twenty years old” loud not “I am forty-one years old” loud. It keeps the wonderings away and I am screaming out the Foo Fighters like it’s 1993.
I am crying. Yesterday, curtains I ordered from Pier 1 showed up and I turned on the music while I pressed out all the creases. I started to talk to God as I steamed along and next thing I knew, I was blubbering like a baby. I wasn’t counting on that but it’s ok. The soul knows what it needs.
I am praying. I am praying all kinds of prayers in all kinds of places. Panic prayers while I pee. Repentant prayers while I drive. Worship prayers while I vacuum. I am so glad I tossed formality out the window a long time ago. Otherwise, no God-talking would get done. He loves me hands-up at church with my hair washed and he loves me scrubbing the tub, hair reeking of bleach, while I wear stained sweatpants.
I am letting myself laugh and getting my nails done.
Here’s the hardest thing I am facing - every day, life keeps going. It does not matter how much I miss my kids. It does not matter if the silence is making me want to scream. It does not matter if one, or two, or all three kids call me the same week and my heart beats a spastic pitter-patter of delight; Life. Keeps. Going.
When I was surviving the hard things, it seemed cruel that life didn’t at least slow the eff down so I could catch my breath already. I have to tell you mama – it’s the same when life is good. It does not slow down. Life is no respecter of persons or circumstance. It just keeps coming. It does not ask if you are ready. It does not count to three. One minute their tiny fingers are gripping yours while they nurse and then the next minute they move to another state. It happens that quick. Before you can take your next breath.
I don’t have a lot of mama friends in this stage. I don’t know if this feeling is normal or if I am some kind of freak. I am doing the best I can. That’s all I can ask of me, right?
Who am I? Who am I now that the kids are gone?
I’ll let you know once I figure it out.