I drink the dregs of the hot cocoa left on the stove, nibble on the last bit of egg from the bagel sandwich. All the lights are on. It’s 6:53 in the morning and all my children are gone. The house feels deserted, a little disastrous. In two hours I’ll invite prospective day care families into my living room. First I have to clean the counters, tidy the house, wash the dishes, shower, dress for the day.
My son left for his girlfriend’s place near ten last night, loaded with clothing and snowboarding gear for a birthday trip to her family’s place in VT. He’s gone for awhile, a chunk of his winter break has passed, last conversation between us was about ordering his books, sending him home (to school).
My second son and daughter left at dawn with a teenager from school, on their way to the first Wachusett trip of the year, also loaded with snowboarding gear, lunch and breakfast, the traditional cocoa in a paper travel cup with bagel, egg, cheese, bacon for the boy, a carnivore, not for the girl, the veggie, this year one for the driver, too, bacon for her as well. As my girl was sitting at the table waking up while I bustled around the kitchen, she thanked me for the breakfast, for getting up so early to see them off. “Sure,” I said, “I enjoy it.”
“You enjoy it?,” she smiled, wondering.
“Yep, it’s part of your life and I want to be part of it, too, right?” Sounds hokey but it’s true. Last year I missed these early mornings on snowboarding days when my kids were in their new home across town with their dad and he had this early morning pleasure of rising in the dark, making hot breakfast and cocoa, seeing them off in the snow.
My house is quiet and the first thing I think is not relief, as some might, but mild despair. They’re gone. I think of my colleague at SVS who said to me this fall, “You’re a mother, aren’t you?”
I was one of those mothers who worked at home to be with my kids when they were born, who nursed a long time, never introduced a bottle, who held my babies a lot, who rarely hired a sitter, who provided after school care for other families so I could be with my own. Saying good-bye to my tween and teens still feels like separation, and I think about this as I walk back through the house after the car pulls away. I can relate to these new families coming to visit today, thinking about dropping their kids off with us for the day, maybe for years. It’s a big deal to say good-bye to our kids, to anyone we love. We do it again and again and again. For some of us, I think it’s harder. Maybe not, maybe so. Still learning not to judge others’ experiences, to figure out my own.
Last night I went to bed on the early side, aiming for a good sleep before the early rising, only to find on facebook that a helicopter was circling the neighborhood, searching for an armed suspect. I hadn’t heard the loud whirring until I read the post. Once I heard it I could hear nothing else. I wondered, nonsensically, if my older son was really on his way, though he’d been gone an hour, or if he might be out front loading the car, vulnerable to attack. I wondered if the doors were locked, front, back, front back, basement. There are lots of doors. I wondered if my children could hear the roaring, if they, like me, lay fearful in their beds. I wondered if the suspect had been caught, or where he might be hiding with his gun, how close to my home the investigation was moving. It was hard to go to sleep. I was up too late. I wasn’t alone. The kids were in the house. The friends and neighbors posted updates on Facebook. The covers were warm and heavy. Eventually, I fell asleep, only to rise in the morning in deep dark, to a dream in which I was trying, against all odds, to shepherd my daughter, my mom, and her two oldest (elderly) siblings, one who has been dead awhile, through London, from a plane to a train, ending up on a ferry, and then separated again and again from the ones I loved, trying to carry my daughter, who was an infant at points, to grab hold of my mom, to get her to grab hold of her siblings, to guide them with my voice, with gestures, with panic. My cousin, closest to me in age, had gone off on a different train. Intermittently, we’d talk by iPhone, struggling to keep the connection, strategizing about what next.
The alarm woke me up before we were all back together and on our way. In the dream, as in the night with the helicopters whirring, and in the morning, with the dark rising and the day ahead of snowboarding, when I want to say, “Don’t crack your head open!” each time they go off for the day to the mountain without me, as they always do, since I haven’t skied for over twenty years, I feel responsible for the safety of the ones I love, and often, unable to assure it. As long as I’m feeding, or holding, or talking with, or in sight of them, or even when I know they’re in their beds sleeping soundly, life is almost always good. Beyond that, I nearly always wonder.
My neighbor the alderman made a post on facebook sometime after I fell asleep, and I read it this morning after saying good-bye to the kids. The armed suspect has been caught. He was found without his jacket by the K9 squad, hiding on the ground. I picture him cowering in someone’s yard, helicopters overhead, lights searching the city, with dogs rushing at him. I’ll include the suspect in the group of those for whom I worry. Knowing the dogs got their target doesn’t feel great when I picture the scene up close, though I hope the gun is gone from our streets, and that the and his buddies from who he was separated when they were all caught stealing a car, and the car they stole and the one they stole it from and the dog that found him are all as right as they can be, and that their mothers are, too.