Sunday, January 2, 2011

My Boys in Brazil

It’s my last day of being the daily mom to only two kids. For over a decade my household has revolved around the needs of four separate children. Four different developmental stages. Four different academic, emotional and physical needs. Then suddenly two of my boys boarded that plane to Brazil.

We have family friends there and have traded kids back and forth for a few years now. My two oldest boys, ages 14 and almost 18, fought the crowds at JFK on December 17th and left my cozy nest for almost three weeks. They are having an amazing visit, as always. We Skype them every few days, and their tanned faces and wide grins keep me from worrying.

But our household completely changed the day they boarded that plane. For the past few weeks we’ve been the parents to a 19 year old and a 10 year old. And because the college girl comes and goes on her own independent schedule, it really meant we were down to one, very lonely, ten year old.

No big brothers to bug him, playfully punch him, tell him what to watch on TV, take apart his treasured Lego creations, or make him do their chores. He’s not been banished to the back seat of the van when we go somewhere. He’s had the whole couch to himself when he wanted to watch his shows. He got to pick what we had for dinner so many nights in a row that he lost interest in the process.

And I’ve felt the change too. There have been days in the past week that I did no laundry (gasp!). In our household of six I don’t dare let the washing machine take a break. It just means I’m forced to spend an afternoon catching up again. But in the past few weeks my laundry room has been eerily quiet.

One of the reasons comes down to two words - sheets and towels. I changed the sheets on the beds of my two traveling boys the day they left and they are still fresh and clean, waiting for their occupants to come home. There are two fewer sheets in my laundry and four fewer pillowcases (not to mention blankets that the cat covers in fur when he sleeps with one of them).

And for the first time in years there has always been a clean towel waiting for me when it was my turn to shower. One of my biggest pet peeves used to be reaching for a fluffy fresh towel in the morning, only to be greeted by an empty shelf…after spending so many of my day time hours washing and drying loads of them. Since the boys have been gone, that shelf has overflowed with towels, ready and waiting for the next person to shower.

My pantry has also been eerily full. I brought home the huge load of weekly groceries almost a week ago, and there are still some left today! There are crackers on the snack shelf. There is ice cream in the freezer. Heck, there’s cereal (the good kind!), in the top of the pantry. And milk. For almost three weeks there has been at least one full gallon of milk in the fridge, in that same spot where there’s usually a jug that’s one gulp away from being empty.

I had to stop my habit of buying a gallon at the local quick stop every day. About a week into my social experiment with just two kids, I brought home a gallon and discovered we had two others, almost full, already in the fridge. I honestly stood in front of the open fridge, letting all the cold air out, mouth hanging open, unable to process this new turn of events.

It’s been so quiet around here that I’ve started thinking of Sam as my grandchild. Our days are mostly centered around the activities of two old people (me and hubby) and this little guy just happens to live here too. It’s a lot like I imagine grandparenthood to be.

But before you misunderstand this to mean I’m liking the fact my boys are gone, let me set you straight. My boys are gone. GONE. Half of the offspring that I’ve been in charge of for many, many years, are not here. As quiet and ‘good’ as it all could seem, instead it mainly feels ‘off’. Our household has lost its electricity, its energy, its intensity. I’m always aware that something, someone, is missing.

When we go out to dinner and there are only four of us around the table, I can pretend that the boys are away at a track meet. Or at a friend’s house. These were common circumstances this fall. But once we get home, and I dare to open the fridge and see a full gallon of milk, I am reminded. They are not gone for the night. They are gone for weeks. And it hurts my heart once again.

I am very aware that our family dynamic is changing rapidly, as we have older kids who are heading off to college and finding their own adult lives soon. But I had mentally prepared for it to be in steps. One would go. Then the other. Then we had four more years before the next one went. I had time to adjust. Time to make peace with the new circumstances. Time to get used to it. This idea of putting two kids on a plane and not seeing them for weeks doesn’t fit my plan.

This time tomorrow my chaos will be back. My nest will be full. My milk jugs will be empty. Because after a long trip south, to that crazy land called JFK, my mommy heart will be full again. Life will be in balance.

Because, at least for a little bit longer, my boys will be home.

1 comment:

Cathy said...

I am just beginning the separation process with my oldest at 15. This past Christmas break he went with another family skiing for the week. His bed, too, sat clean and made for a week.

I enjoy the quiet - the angst and arguing were severely diminished, but it seemed unnatural.