Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Finding Home

It all looked very manageable on paper. Once the reality hit, that our ‘recession story’ would include how we couldn’t seem to sell the house in New York, so we could move to Colorado, we knew it was time to make new plans. The school year was looming and our two youngest needed to be out there, in our new hometown, so they could jump in on time. The only answer was that I deposit them in an apartment with dad and fly back to New York to continue selling the house.

The plan made perfect sense in theory.

But theory doesn’t always take into account emotions. Emotions like ten year olds missing their mamas and mamas missing being a part of the family.

A good friend reassured me, back in early August, that it might be a good time for me. With long stretches of time alone in our empty house, I could dig up my old writing projects. I’d have time to scan the 26 boxes of print photos into the computer. I could get to the gym every day, no excuses. I put out of my head the sad parts of leaving my family out west, and concentrated on these optimistic ideas.

Almost three weeks ago I flew back from Colorado and stepped into this quiet life in our vacant house. The first weekend I was home we weathered a major storm named Irene. Her wrath left us with a huge fallen pine tree in the yard and lots of unused, stockpiled flashlight batteries. The tree was cut up and hauled off into the woods by wonderful neighbors, then it was time for real life to start again.

It was weird, being alone, as I thought it would be. I jumped on the to do list, thinking I’d wrap up the not so fun stuff, like organizing bills and getting the house ready for showings, and then I could dive into my personal projects. Day after day went by and the list never seemed to shrink. People kept asking me, ‘So, are you bored?....What do you do all day?’ It was a tough question to answer.

Because it’s not as easy as just crossing things off a list. I’m living a long distance life and it’s more complicated than I ever imagined. I’m staying in touch with a son who is new to college in Utah. I’m doing my best to help him find the resources he needs to get settled in that new life on campus. I’m setting up services, cable, internet, electricity, for my gang, from 2000 miles away. I’m figuring out our new insurance plans, and whether they really will cover all of us, spread out in three states. I’m cleaning out files, so when the moving truck comes later, we won’t be hauling unnecessary paperwork with us. As soon as I cross one thing off the list, two more are added.

And I spend a lot of my time coaching from long distance. I start the day with texts, and sometimes phone calls, from a ten year old who doesn’t like this new set up. He’s loving his school, loving the new friends, loving the fact his front yard is often filled with Elk in the mornings…but not loving the fact his family unit is fractured.

He’s only known a two parent, nuclear family. He’s only known a mom and dad who generally get along pretty well and enjoy being together. He’s only known being the little guy in a big family, living in the center of fun chaos that having teen siblings can bring. Our family has moved four times in his life. People used to ask me how he adapted so well. My standard answer was simple. Sam’s home is where his family is. It has never mattered to him if he woke up in a big house in Utah or a small room at the Motel 6. If the people he loved surrounded him, he was happy. He was home.

These days he’s waking up in a tiny temporary condo in Colorado, by himself. Dad has left early to catch the bus for work down in the valley. Big brother has showered and left for high school. He’s on his own. Oh, he’s old enough to dress himself and make his own oatmeal. He’s old enough to turn off all the lights and lock the door behind him when he leaves for school. He’s old enough. He just doesn’t like it.

For the five years we lived in New York, Sam and I had breakfast together every morning before school. We had a routine. He fed the dog while I made breakfast. We sat on the couch, watching the Today Show as we spooned the warm oatmeal into our mouths. When it was time for the bus we hugged and high fived and he headed down the driveway. I’d stand at the front window and wave to him, and his wonderful bus driver. Then, as the bus pulled away, my day started.

Sam misses that routine stuff so desperately. Dad’s doing the best he can, as a single dad for the first time in his life. He’s loving and patient. He jumps into kid management the second he walks in the door at night. Dinner to make, school stories to be listened to. Papers to sign. Homework to supervise. The only time he gets to himself in the course of a day is the 30 minute bus ride to and from work, hemmed in by strangers. Dad’s doing his best for Sam.

But Dad’s just not Mom.

When the texts started coming late at night, saying, “But mom, I miss you….but mom, I need you…when will I see you again?” and I knew he was texting me under his covers, when he was supposed to be going to sleep, I knew something had to change.

His big brother, the only other child we have left at home at this point, is adapting well. He isn’t crazy about his new school, but only because it’s school, and not anything like riding mountain trails on his bike, which is his first love. He’s made good friends and often texts me pictures of all the wildlife they are surrounded by. If he’s not off on his mountain bike, he’s hanging out at the skate park on his BMX bike. Colorado fits him pretty well.

But once Sam started to struggle, I realized I was struggling a bit inside as well. From the time I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to be a mommy. And for the past twenty years I’ve lived out my dream. It’s not always easy and some days they nearly drove me crazy, but down deep, I’m happiest when I’m mothering someone.

As we began to discuss the option of me joining the family in Colorado, and selling the house long distance, it opened up new ideas to me. I started to think more about what I could do there, with them, than all the great projects I could be working on here.

I’m sure they are surviving just fine, as three bachelors on their own. But I miss adding the personal touches that only a mom usually does.

A long time ago I heard Dr. Phil’s wife say she told him, early in their marriage, “If you work hard to make a good living, I’ll work hard to make our living good.” That comment struck something in me. I know it sounds very sexist to a lot of modern women these days. But to me, it’s not about feeling like I have to be barefoot and pregnant while the big strong man takes care of me.

I have my interests and my strengths, outside of this family. I love being in the classroom and I love every one of my writing projects. But the times I’m feeling the most balanced in life is when I have some time for my interests, but also plenty of time to nurture the people I love and these four miracles I’m lucky enough to parent. I actually enjoy keeping this household running smoothly. I love the fact that my children come home to a (mostly) peaceful space because mom’s been there, keeping the balls in the air.

I love making their living good.

What I crave, right now, is a chance to add the mom touches to my boys in Colorado. I want to wipe down that bathroom sink every morning, knowing that if I’m not there, it will be cleaned only when it’s got a week’s worth of toothpaste stuck to the edges. I want to throw a festive autumn tablecloth over the kitchen table, to add a spark of color to the all white space they are living in. I want them to walk up the stairwell to our condo unit, breathe in deeply, and wonder where that amazing smell is coming from, only to open our door to find it’s coming from home. From their home.

I want to sit on the back balcony with them at the end of the day and hear the rambling stories, about how they saw this really sick bike at the skate park or how stupid their English teacher is because he expects them to read (read!) a whole book by next week. I want them to find clean, fresh smelling clothes, in their closets. I want to set up the family calendar spot so we never forget the night we were supposed to go sign up to play in the band or what time the ice cream social is next weekend.

I’m sitting here in New York, missing the good stuff.

Ironically, it’s the stuff that can make a mom feel unappreciated. That thought has not escaped me. How many times have I loaded the dishwasher, grumbling to myself that I wouldn’t have to be doing it if the child in charge of that chore hadn’t left the house and forgotten? How many times have I wished that the never ending stories, especially the ones about dreams, would just finally…end? How many times have I thought to myself, “If I could just get a minute of peace and quiet….’?

Now I have the quiet.

But I don’t have the peace.

Because deep in my heart, I’m a mom. And the dog is getting tired of being my only mothering project. I’m needed by my offspring. One is very aware of his need, the other won’t realize he needs me until I’m out there, making his dinner so he doesn’t have to.

My new goal is to get to my family. Get this house wrapped up and get on the road. It’s time for us to start this new chapter of our life. Together.

It’s time to be a family again.

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