I ended 2017 with nine kid-less days. Nine days, no teens. In odd years, my children travel to Bozeman, Montana, to spend Christmas with their father and his family. My daughter breezed in from college on a Wednesday afternoon and the next day I dropped her and her brother at BWI. Then I sank into my life, the one without last-minute trips to the store for scrapbook supplies for the AP Psych project.
What is that life like? Team sports, pediatrician trips and late-night conversations about dating/drinking/the pluses and minuses of social media have been a significant part of my life for a long time. My kids live with me full time; their dad gave up physical custody and moved back to Montana nine years ago. Parenting for me is truly a feast or famine occupation, with either full-on, full-time duty, or nine, count ’em, days without kids.
The secret, I have learned, is to embrace the teen-free days to recharge. Which means I just nod politely at the parents who have never parented full time, or been without their kids for more than a few days, who say with all good heart, “You must really miss them.” Of course, I do.
But … I have to embrace the time to recharge. Really, this is a mantra. Because here’s what I do poorly every time: I am so busy right up until the time they leave – picture your last day at work before you embark on a two-week vacation – that when they have finally departed, I crash, always wondering, “Did I plan anything for this time?” Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
This year, some home repairs mandated a budget-friendly staycation, so the first day arrived with that predictable what-do-I-do-now panic and I lounged on the sofa, staring at the Christmas tree, convinced I was forgetting something.
But travel plans or no travel plans, days have a way of filling up: Later that day, I wrapped Christmas gifts with my friend Gina and then sat with my friend Nataliya after her mother died (uninterrupted, without worrying about what the kids would fix for dinner). During the remainder of my time off, I finished Christmas shopping as well as our book club pick (I was early for a change), went to the movies with a friend, went to the gym whenever it was convenient for me, watched Mrs. Maisel and finally “The Big Sick” and enjoyed time with my family, particularly my sister and her family.
Did I miss the kids? Yes. But I knew I needed to savor this time. Just like we shed our shoes and dig our toes into the sand on that first day at the beach, I needed to turn off the phone, tuck the lunchboxes away and pretend I didn’t see the dirty laundry in my son’s hamper.
This is hard for us, isn’t it? When we are with our kids, we want a break. When they are gone, we miss them. Sometimes terribly. I have experienced this as a divorced parent, but also now as the parent of a college student. I don’t know that my way of tackling this would work for anyone else, or even me, this time next year or even next month.
But I know when the kids got back, my daughter’s college cold had morphed into a sinus infection, my son had a day’s worth of dental/orthodontic appointments and that AP Psych project, and the cat had to go to the vet. Suddenly staring at the Christmas tree didn’t seem like lame coping, but more like a stolen moment.