The house is quiet now. The Christmas linens have been washed, folded and packed away. The artificial tree shoved in its box. The ornaments carefully placed in the plastic bin. The last bits of wrapping paper heaved into the trash. Invitations for merriment have disappeared from my inbox, and the new year is well on its way.
Yes, the house is quiet now, a welcome respite. The visiting children have been ferried to the airport. The grandchildren, whose shrieks and fights once echoed from room to room, have returned to school, to homework, to routine. We are ready to get on with the business of living.
But with everyone gone, the depth and breadth of silence is so dense and deep that I can see and smell it. I feel it like a wool cloak. It has a sound all its own. For someone who craves solitude, who needs it to do her job, the post-Christmas quiet should come as a blessing, a glorious gift after almost two weeks of noise and motion.
However, truth is a little more complicated. (Isn’t it always?) I have a catch in my heart, a lump in my throat. Another holiday season successfully celebrated means one sure thing: I won’t see some of the people I most love for many weeks, or at least until I board a plane and fly across states to visit them in their own homes.
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A glance at my calendar forces an unsettling reality. Work commitments, speaking engagements, a new grandbaby expected — living nearby, thank goodness — means I can’t leave town at least until late spring. The length of that separation takes my breath away, and not in a good way. When my adult children leave, a piece of my heart goes with them. It takes me a week or so to regain my footing, to recover from a melancholy that settles in the pit of my stomach.
Friends and relatives tease me about this. Many have children and grandchildren clear across the country, even a continent away. So I remind myself how lucky I am that the loved ones who live the farthest away are still reachable within hours. I bury that hoarding-of-children instinct as best I can, which, as you might guess, is not very well at all. I return to my desk with renewed diligence.
This, however, is imperfect salve. As I’ve grown older, I’ve turned selfish. Come to think of it, selfish doesn’t do justice to this cocktail of maternal feelings. Conflicted may be a better description. My children have created lives of their own. They’re independent. They like their jobs, and those with spouses and fiancees have chosen well. When they struggle and stumble, as they invariably do, I trust them to eventually make the right choice. A mother can’t want for more, no?
So I’m happy for them. Delighted, really. And every once in a while I even pat myself on the back. (Heck, I’m not sure anyone else is doing that for me.) I should kick back and enjoy, carve out a path separate from the brambles and roots of decades-long motherhood. Still. I want all of them near, and if not in the same ZIP code, at least a short car ride away.
Parents have been weathering distances for centuries, long before there were airplanes and cellphones. Now technology has shrunk the world and we can connect in ways — Facetime, Skype, WhatsApp — unimaginable only 20 years ago. But for me those alternatives remain a poor substitute.
I want to do better. I want to be more accepting. More careful about my self-serving statements about why they should move closer, about the wonderful perks of having family close by. At the very least I’d like to master the ability to keep a poker face when we say our goodbyes.
I’m working on it.
I’m working on it.
I’m working on it.