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Empty Nest

November 27, 2011

When my first son was born, after the hubbub had died down and I’d been wheeled from Labour & Delivery to Mother Babe, and settled into bed in a clean gown with my wee one swaddled and sleeping in a bassinet beside me, my first feeling was of intense emptiness.  The journey of pregnancy was over and my baby had begun his own life, separate from me.  This feeling has returned as I’ve watched him grow: learning to roll over, eat solid food, crawl and then walk, the list goes on.  I’ve had this intense feeling of our lives slowly taking separate paths, of him learning to live without me, to be independent.

Now my son and daughter spend long chunks of time entirely separate from me, when they go to their biological dad’s house on alternate weekends.  I send them off to school on Friday morning and know I won’t see them again until Monday after school.  Even though at 5 and almost 7 they’re too old for a security blanket, I stuff their beloved, tattered blankies in their backpacks on the weekends they go to their dad’s.  I hope they’ll nuzzle that familiar smell and sensation if they wake up in the dark, unsure of where they are.  

“Home is where I slept last night, ” my son proclaimed after a few months of shuttling back and forth between his dad’s and my place.  Instead of crying, I swallowed the lump in my throat and envisioned my kids backpacking, camping, and moving to different apartments through their time at University.  I picture them being adaptable, flexible, able to sleep anywhere, anytime, because of being forced to have more than one home growing up.  I tell myself this because it’s a lesson I’d like them to learn, just far sooner than I would like them to have to learn it.

I go home and close their bedroom doors so I don’t have to see their toys abandoned in the middle of a game, or see their clothes tossed in laundry baskets.  I try to push thoughts of them in the present out of my head.  What are they doing right now?  Did they eat a good dinner?  Did they brush their teeth?  I hope they’re safe.  I hope they know they’re loved. 

I try instead to think of them in the abstract.  This is the gift of time away from them.  I pull out their baby books and look over photos of them growing up.  I think about the many facets of their personalities and my wishes for their futures.   The first day that they’re gone I busy myself catching up on chores, and have a mental break.  I paste photos in scrapbooks, mend pants and sweaters, look into extracurricular activities, and sit to drink a hot cup of tea.  By the second day I’m growing used to their absence and catch up on things just for me, but I’m also growing anxious.  By Monday, I’m counting down the hours until I can go meet the bus.

I know I should count myself lucky.  Many split families divide the time up far more equitably.  My kids spend most of their time with me.  My partner and I provide the routine, structure, predictability and reassurance of a stable home.  If I had to trade them back and forth more often, I worry that the separation would ruin my ability to parent.  I feel their absence like a physical loss, like a severed appendage.  I’m not sure how many times it could be amputated and reattached before I’d lose feeling.  I completely understand why one should never touch or try to help a baby animal that appears lost in the wild.  The mother may reject the offspring when the two are reunited.  When my kids return, they smell different, and have picked up words and mannerisms that are foreign to me.  I have to push away feelings of revulsion and be patient while I reacclimatize to their energy and noise.  Getting them back is almost as hard as letting them go.

One weekend my daughter announced that when she goes to the city with Daddy to visit his family, she doesn’t have to ride in a car seat.  I felt nauseous at the thought of her zooming along the freeway, her fragile 30 pound frame secured in the car with only a shoulder belt.  I tried to act nonchalant as I mentally composed the email to my ex threatening that if he ever puts her at risk like that again I’d have to take action to make him respect the car seat laws for kids.  I’m desperate to avoid putting the kids in the middle of these conflicts.  I never thought I’d find myself in this situation, so I struggle with how to handle it with grace.  I strive to take the moral high road and set healthy boundaries, to parse through what’s my ego versus what’s best for the kids.  I’m trying to focus on what I’ve gained instead of what I’ve lost.  I hope my kids will be secure, adaptable and above all, know that they are loved.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Kim permalink
    November 28, 2011 4:13 am

    Well done, you.

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