When he first suggested it back in March, I told him he was out of his mind.
“There’s no fucking way my kids are going to be gone for 6 weeks, Jared. Do you have any idea how long 6 weeks is?”
“But you said they could go visit my parents over the summer…”
“Yeah, I did. And I was thinking like a week. Maybe two.”
“Britt, it’s a 24 hour drive just to get them there. If they’re going to go through all that, it just makes sense for them to stay a while.”
I hemmed. I hawed. I reluctantly agreed.
And then I let the fantasy of SIX WEEKS WITH NO PARENTING RESPONSIBILITIES start creeping in. I planned weekend vacations. I arranged for friends to visit. I made mental lists of errands I would be able to run after work without the worry of making it to the daycare before close.
And then, 2 weeks before they were supposed to leave, a tornado wiped out Parkersburg. My in-laws lost everything, including the home my kids would have been staying in.
You could say I was a wee bit disappointed to have that fantasy taken away. But I made my peace with it, and got on with the business of raising two kids.
Oh sweet Jesus, I am going to miss that business.
A couple weeks ago, after talking to the kids on the phone for a few minutes, Jared’s parents decided that they needed to see the kids again before Devin went back to school. Even if that meant finding room for them in an already crowded house. Even if it meant driving roughly 11 hours to meet us in Nashville. Come hell or high water, they were determined to spend that time with them.
My parents and grandparents quickly jumped on board with the idea and so Friday night it was decided that we would drive up to Nashville on Saturday and hand over the kids to my dad. They were getting their summer vacation after all – three weeks in Iowa.
I had been prepared to send them away for six.
I should be ecstatic, right? RIGHT?!?!
So why do I feel like someone just ripped my heart out of my chest?
Maybe it’s because from the minute I knew they’d be gone I became acutely aware of the sound of their voices in the house. Their mannerisms, their scent, the softness of their hair – I found myself taking note of all of it. I realized for the first time that Emma has started to say “no thank you” with a clarity that pierces me. I wondered when in the hell Devin began giving his sister piggy back rides and having elaborate conversations with me over dinner.
I wanted to cling to them. I did cling to them whenever they would let me. I soaked up the way each of them felt in my arms and tried to imagine what it would be like to go without that peace for more than a few days.
My body ached at the thought.
Jared assured me they would be fine. “And think of how much fun we’ll have!” I wanted to punch him and hug him all at the same time. A part of me yearned for long days with no one but my husband and moments with no one but myself.
It would be fun. They would be fine. They were lucky to get to have this time with their family back home. I was lucky to get a break that most mothers never experience. We would all be fine. Fine. It was fine. I was fine. Everyone would be fine. Fine.
I whispered it to myself over and over again as the car sped towards Nashville.
I repeated it silently through clenched teeth while we splashed in the hotel pool together Saturday night.
I said it aloud on Sunday morning as I repacked their suitcases and reminded them to call any time if they wanted to talk to Mommy while they were in Iowa.
I was thinking it still as I sat down on the edge of one of the double beds in the rundown hotel room and handed Jared the camera. “Guys, come sit by me quick and let Daddy take a picture.”
Emma crawled up into my lap and laid her head on my chest. Her voice was so soft and yet so clear.
“Mommy, I will miss you.”
I squeezed my eyes shut and bit my lip. Hard. I pulled her close to my chest so she wouldn’t see my face. I choked on the words, “I will miss you too, baby. I love you.”
And then I couldn’t hold it back anymore. My heart exploded in my chest and with it came the rush of emptiness and love I’d been fighting back. I sobbed silently into her hair and began to rock her back and forth in a desperate attempt to calm myself. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t. I could not let them go. Not like this. Not for this long.
She started to cry.
“Mommy… mommy….” there was confusion and naked fear in her eyes when I faced her. I saw my own grief looking back at me and for a moment I thought it might swallow us both. And I wanted it to. I wanted it to envelope us and keep us together so she wouldn’t have to leave me like this.
“Mommy!” she wailed.
Her face was red and her eyes begged me for answers. “It’s OK baby, it’s OK.” I swallowed my heart. I wiped away my own tears first, and then hers. I forced myself to breathe as I looked in her eyes and promised her everything was fine.
“Mom, we gotta go!” Devin was standing in the open doorway, clearly annoyed with this whole scene. “We love you and stuff, OK?”
It made it easier to laugh as I pushed Emma’s hair out of her face.
“Ready baby?” No choking. No tears. No grimace. I put on the best God damned smile I’d ever worn in my life as I stepped back from her.
She leaped off the bed and ran towards the door. “Let’s go Papa! Let’s go!” and just like that, the moment was gone. And so were they.
Tomorrow I will sleep in a little later before I have to get myself ready for work. At 5 I will get off work and go… somewhere. Maybe I’ll get my nails done or wander around the mall. I’ll come home and eat whatever I want and do whatever it is one does when they are alone in their house with their husband.
Tomorrow, I will be fine.
But tonight… well… tonight I am still saying goodbye.