Thursday, July 30, 2009



"In the Still of the Night"


It was 2:10 a.m.

As is often the case, I was up late. The day had been particularly fun, for—thanks to my aunt, who holds a yearly “Camp Grandma” at their lake home—we were kid free. We’d gone to the Co-op that afternoon for coffee and pie, after which Groom and I enjoyed the rarity of seeing a movie. Then we got Greek take-out and sat on the deck, eating Gyros and spanikopita and drinking beers. Later, we had a cuddle on the couch and watched The Colbert Report. At one point, we looked directly at each other. Two times during conversation, we even completed full sentences.

In sum, during that day, we lived the fantasy of a long stretch of together time, just Groom and me, free of the clamor and interruptions of life with children. Since we were married only 4 ½ months before Girl came along (so precocious was she--*cough cough*-- that she only needed to gestate for 18 weeks!), during Camp Grandma, we play out some of the time we didn’t have together before the onset of The Kid Years. Beyond just wanting to get to know my husband (suspicion: I might like him), there is also the fact that, generally, getting my own self through a day is as much as I can handle. Adding small people into the mix shoves me to a place of overload where I’m chronically late, sometimes snappish, and frequently found holding Clue Junior, soccer cleats, and a dozen eggs, a look of befuddlement on my face. Indeed, I am the parent who waves jubilantly when her kids to go away for awhile, allowing her the space and time to be prone, turn some pages, and fluff her hair. Fortunately, and I am not at all implying that being with Groom is as boring as watching Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky, time with with my husband feels like being alone. With him, I can eat Gyros and still manage to fluff my hair, and it doesn’t feel at all taxing.

So there I was during Camp Grandma, relaxed and pipping and blissed out about a few days with no kids around.

Then, at 2:10 a.m., after a few hours of reading Colm Toibin's Brooklyn and being completely absorbed in a young emigrant woman's feelings of loneliness in a new city, I finally had to honor my bladder’s kvetching.

As I stumbled through the hallway to the bathroom, my glance fell to the left, through the open door to the kids’ room, and suddenly, the rich contentment of that day fell away, leaving behind an unexpected ache.

That room. Usually a brightly-lit, tumbled, tousled visual cacophony of colors and textures, it startled me with its dark quietness. Empty. No shuffles, no classroom of Animal School laid out across the floor, no chatter, no thumps, no singing.

Frozen, I felt the emptiness more than saw it; without the kids in it, their room is a place of lapsed energy, a place without its people. Frozen, I felt the future more than the present; without the kids in it, that room will become an echo of previous times. Even after the kids move out and launch themselves into active negotiation with the world, that room will always be the setting of so much of their everything. I will never walk into that room and not feel the impulse to give goodnight kisses, to pick up a slinky, to help find a glue stick. They will move on, but I’m not sure how my heart will.

Standing there in the hall, the wrench of anguish was startling.

And a sliver of my heart shaved off right then and dropped onto the hardwood.

It's one thing for me to feel exhausted and overwhelmed--to want the kids gone and then savor the vacation of it when it happens. Knowing they will be back shortly imbues the temporary quiet with liberation and celebration.

It will be quite another thing for them to be gone, permanently, of their own volition--because the world holds more for them than I do. Knowing they will be gone for the rest of their lives, with occasional popping-in over the holidays, creates in my crusty little heart an unexpected hollowness.

There will come a day when, instead of their following my every movement around the house, I will be the one tripping at their heels, wanting to carry their suitcases, make their favorite dinners, hear about their new friends. They will hold the power as I offer an adoration that seeks confirmation.

Fighting through melancholy there in the hall that night, I caught a whiff of my fifties, a decade when my kids will become adults, when I could end up spending many a 2:10 a.m. standing in the hallway outside their empty room.

May I not be pathetic, as I offer to wipe their bottoms when they come home from college. May I not be pathetic, as I hold out Clue Junior and a slinky to them over the Thanksgiving turkey. May I not be pathetic, as I sleep in their empty beds at night, clutching a stuffed monkey to my chest. May I not be pathetic, as I try to carve my way into the edges of their new lives.

Because standing in a darkened hallway in the middle of the night, clutching at my bladder, crying about how my children will leave me one day…

I was—just possibly--a little bit pathetic.

Briskly, I wiped my eyes, threw back my shoulders

and swept up the shard of my heart from the dusty floor.

27 comments:

Shania said...

Now THAT, my friend, that's a powerful piece of writing!

chelle said...

Absence makes the heart grow fonder!
You so totally rock.

Erin said...

**Sniffle** That was beautiful. I don't even have kids, and that was touching.

Amy said...

Fine, get me right where I live. My oldest is 16, youngest almost 14--those empty nest days are rumbling forward much too quickly.

kmkat said...

Yup. There is a bit of an empty ache when they leave. But if you are the kind of parent who yearns for and appreciates a bit of peace and quiet, there is contentment, too.

Which is not to say that I -- the kind of parent I just described -- do not miss their company sometimes. They are so darned much FUN!

Liam said...

I wish I could write like that.

Jazz said...

What a great piece...

This being said girl, they haven't hit adolescence yet; after that you might want them gone.

cathy said...

I'm going to call my mum... just as soon as I stop crying.

lime said...

oh my, i am on the very cusp of this myself. it's a strange place to be, let me tell you.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I know a little bit about this. My kids are 24, 19, 16 and 14. Only the younger two are still at home permanently.

When the time comes you are more ready for it than you think you will be. After years of a totally chaotic four child household I enjoy it when we are all home, but I'm also ready for things to settle down a little when the older two leave.

When the younger two leave I think I might be ready for that as well. The key is to start building your outside life back up again when your younger kids hit middle school. You need to have your own thing to look forward to. Mine is the teaching credential I will finish when I'm done student teaching this fall.

Plus, one day there will be grandchildren!

Becky Cazares said...

Well, I'm childless and still that tugs at my heart! I think Jenn's right, you take it in stages and when the time comes, it's "right".

I do hope you're writing a novel. Even if you don't finish it 'til you're eighty, it will be the best one ever written. And I'll buy ten copies... promise!

jess said...

That was beautiful.

Pam said...

Oh Jocelyn - that was a wonderful insight. You know you will manage this. The same as when they start school - it aches for the shortest time! Having only one child, she chose to leave home and work before she was twenty (going back to study later).She was at logger-heads with her Dad. Stepping back into her room that day was awful and I guess a "parental right of passage".I've laughed about it with other mothers since, me on that day,down in the depths of the back yard, hiding behind the rainwater tank with a stiff drink and cigarette sobbing, all hormonal, to the cat twirling around my ankles, "the only one who really understood" I say to my friends as we cackle with laughter. Families, most agree, appreciate each other better after the tidal wave of adolescence recedes, and the kids float off into the distance on the outgoing tide with vision only of what lays ahead.Only then my dear Jocelyn is it time to bring out the deckchair. You won't need to put on the sunglasses to hide the tears,just to look into the light and the warmth of having done a great job... and look behind you, and oh! It's Groomeo! I know your journey. It gets better...but the bladder thing? Haha,maybe not.xx

flutter said...

you really are a gifted writer. you know?

Jeni said...

Brings to mind songs and sayings about how "You're gonna miss me when I'm gone" or never knowing how much you miss something until it is no longer there for ya. However... that being said - there is this thing about children, small children especially (one's one or grandkids too) that you long for the late night hours after they are simply asleep for the peace and quiet that time can bring or, as they grow older, venture off for an overnight visit to this relative's or that friend's place (or for even a longer period of time than an overnighter) and before they go, you make these great plans to enjoy the solitude and unmessy rooms that life with children of any age doesn't usually provide and you revel in it. Until the suddenly the quiet becomes overwhelming, the clean seems to make the house just that -a house, not a home -and a very sterile one at that and the fun, the laughter, and yes, the love too that comes with those kids seems to have quietly snuck out the back door along with the damned cat you're trying your best NOT to let it get out cause you don't want, don't need kittens.
Oh yeah! Kids or no kids -noise or quiet -any way you cut it, the damned piper has a price we must pay.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Allow yourself those feelings. They will build. Then your kid will turn 17 and a natural order occurs. You and they realize it is time for them to go. We justify - our goal as parent is create independent, dependable, contributing members of society. In actuality, none of you can stand one another anymore. Works out great. Then they turn 22 and like you again. A welcome reintroduction. Too much info? Sorry, Enjoy it all.

choochoo said...

oh, I haven't gotten around to sitting down to read a blog for ages. I've missed this place. Now I'm gonna make myself some coffee while I catch up on everything :D

Maddy said...

Ooo yes, you'd better believe it. My eldest is now [almost] 28.

For an alternative perspective [we have my mother in law living with us currently] you'd better hope against hope that you've sowed the right seeds for the future !

[Actually I'm pretty sure you have already]
Best wishes

Patois said...

Wow.

Wow.

monica said...

so before you know it you are the one who is going to visit , and look at the new shower curtain and make small remarks on how hard it can be to vaccuum all the way into the corners...
My 11 year old has declared she will not move too far away, cause her dad must come quickly by whenever there is a spider to kill... and my 16 year old has promised to not move out until he is 32 ( I am sure he was serious...)

secret agent woman said...

You know, of course, that I so get this. I was calculating how many hours before the kids leave tomorrow and give me a little time. But I'll see the first of them off in a mere 2 years to college, and that idea scares me.

Sunflower56 said...

What a great entry expressing what we all go through if we have children. I began pre-mourning one day when my twin girls were 10 years old when one of them said, from the back seat in the van, something about not being able to imagine ever moving away from home. I caught the lump in my throat and eeked out a reassuring "don't worry, you'll be ready when the time comes" and from that point on, tried to prepare myself to be ready. Which I wasn't, but by the time they headed off to college (Carleton, btw), I had pre-mourned enough I guess that its been actually OK since - a wonderful time to rediscover just me, and a great thing for our marriage. Guess that's the glass half full philosophy!

Lisa @ Boondock Ramblings said...

As I read this my heart tightened....my throat felt ...funny...and I felt a piece of my art being shaved away as well.

The tears on my face are not because I'm laughing, as I so often do with your posts, but because you have touched a raw nerve in me -- the nerve that says "I know where you are coming from and like you I worry about the day I stand in my son's room, knowing he is living his own life, separate from the mother who gave birth to him and who loves him more than life itself."

Did I mention...I think I'm falling in love with you....

Er...I meant your writing, of course. :-)

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Your heart won't move on. In a small quiet corner of mine, I am still waiting for my kids to give up this adult nonsense and come home to Mommy's lap. In that fantasy, it doesn't even register that they are all bigger than I, to say nothing of their wonderfully successful adult lives. I am obsolete as Mommy, but I have been blessed to be allowed to be their friend. And that, my friend, is probably as good as it gets.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Oh, picking up the shards of you heart. I know the fear of those days to come. And then one approaches and in spite of your feelings of letting go, you are ready to do so, even though it breaks us. For that is our job - to prepare them to go off on their own. I it is never the same, but it is a joy when they return though your door, filled the their adventures to share. Not the same as rocking them to sleep or having them hold your hand to cross the street, but a joy none the less. Then we have to try to remember what our husband's name is and ask - why did I like you before? Want to see if we can have some fun now?

Don't worry - it will be okay.

actonbell said...

Beautiful post, Jocelyn. It's the essence of being thankful for what we have, right now.

My sister is about to experience some of this; her twin daughters are both leaving later this month for college, four counties away from here. It's going to be very hard on her.

Liam said...

well in about 7 months I will be a father. I'm glad to get a taste of what I will look forward to.

Camp Grandma