I will miss it

It’s an odd time of life when so many things are coming to an end, all converging somewhat unexpectedly at the same time, and you are left standing still blinking into the unknown.

Wait, what just happened?

Many of us grow up, get married, have children and pursue careers and passions. The entire orchestra of life coming together with its many different instruments playing the background music of our lives.

Some days are a bit off key, the notes making us cringe or turn away, shielding our ears. Others are exciting and invigorating, giving us hope for the future, and promise of better things and times ahead.

But there are those times during the concert when part of your orchestra moves on, they choose another performance hall with a different audience. Or maybe a new audience chooses them?

It’s hard to tell.

Life is full of new beginnings and endings, some are positive and exciting while others are almost too painful to digest and deal with. Death, divorce and moving sit at the top of the list for most people, on both sides of the emotional pendulum, depending upon the timing in your life. You can have directly opposing reactions to the exact same situation just because of the timing or the ability to choose the timing or situation.

This next life change is not about choice so much as it is about growth and new chapters. It’s always been expected, but expected or not, it still kind of sneaks up on you when it happens.

Two of my kids are moving on to the next phase of their lives.

The first one moved out to another state, only a few weeks ago, to begin his first job in his chosen field. He put in the work at school for a year straight – without a spring break or summer break and not many holidays – even with a two week stint suffering through a horrible virus that gave him a 103 degree fever for eight days straight, he did not miss one day of school and graduated with honors. He did the training for another four months out of state and graduated at the top of his class, again with honors. He’s a dedicated and hard worker. He found his job without much input or coaching from me. He found his own apartment, too! I could not be happier or more proud.

My second son is leaving for college in a few weeks, also in another state, a state that takes over twenty hours to drive or two flights to get there. It’s the typical summer before college feeling like most families, I’m sure. He’s busy working and spending time with his girlfriend and friends, not home very much. Even when he is home he has someone over to play video games or he watches endless hours of “South Park” in the basement.

Some days it feels as if he’s already left, he slips in and out of the house repeatedly each day, but then I find the gallon of milk with a swallow or two of milk left in the jug sitting in the fridge or look into his room at the clothes strewn floor while he sleeps in until noon on his days off, and realize that he is indeed still home. But he will be gone soon.

By the end of this summer my house will be less busy, less full, less messy, less loud.

And I will miss it.

I will miss the family dinners, I will miss the talks in the car, I will miss saying good morning and good night to each of them with our usual kiss and “mmm” hugs (that’s a family thing, too hard to put into writing, you’ve got to experience it) I will miss the inside jokes, the laughter, the boys working on cars in my driveway, their friends all hanging out in my basement watching movies and eating me out of house and home most times.

I will miss being a mom of boys. Plural.

I know, I’m still a mom of boys, but not an actively engaged mom of boys really. It’s a game changer, and it shifts the balance of my life in a way that I never imagined. It redefines who I am, once again, which at this point I couldn’t even begin to tell you where that leads.

Divorce was a game changer and redefined me in ways I never knew were possible. This feeling is part of the fallout from the divorce. The gift that just keeps giving.

I didn’t expect to become an (almost) empty-nester alone (almost because I still have one more child at home to kiss and hug currently) I expected to still be married after our kids moved on. My “job” duties would change of course, but not completely, because I’d still be caring for a husband and a house and all of the responsibilities that go along with it. I’d still be taking care of all of the details of our lives, making plans, handling projects, running errands just like I had been doing for twenty years.

We would be moving our boys into their first apartment or dorm, together.

And maybe, just maybe, we would have made more time for each other and taken advantage of this new stage of freedom? Isn’t that part of the reward for raising and launching your children into grown up life, regaining your own grown up life together? Rediscovering your relationship and each other?

Then again, that probably wasn’t going to happen anyway. Let’s be realistic.

I didn’t have this timeline, or status, in mind while my kids were growing up. My first two are only two school years apart, that would still give me a breather in-between goodbyes. Time to get used to one less sitting at the dinner table, and walking by an empty room each day trying not to let it bother me. I raised them, and expected them, to leave eventually and go off to college or start a new career. That’s what you’re goal is supposed to be as a parent. To raise them to be functioning adults.

But I expected them to leave in order, one at a time, with time to get used to the changes.

And I know how lucky I was this past year or more. I was lucky that I had that extra year with my oldest at home, commuting to school, before he moved away for a job. It was a blessing to have him with me during my toughest times, to feel that while everything in my life was changing and I couldn’t stop it, some things were not. My boys were still around me, buffering the ugly world for me sometimes, giving me a sense of purpose and reason to keep functioning. I needed some sense of normalcy and familiar patterns these last two years, some control, while my life was turned sideways and upside down.

Thankfully I was given that gift.

That doesn’t make it any easier. If anything, it just makes me want to hold onto it more.

I need more time.

Don’t we all? It sounds cliche, but it’s true, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. But I did know what I had. I had a beautiful and loving family that I helped create and shape, and I loved it.

I do know what I will be missing. I really do.

I have held back from being “that mom” during this time. You know the one, “this is our last time to…” fill in the blank while she takes pictures of everything you do together or plans some crazy road trip or treats every weekend like it’s a new holiday. I’m not her.

You’re welcome (to my kids)

No, I prefer to turn it inward and soak it up secretly. I appreciate the moments that we do have together, the days that I get to spend time with each of them one on one are the best. I look at them and marvel at the adults that they are becoming and my heart swells with pride. They are good people, they are people I not only love but I truly like.

That’s something I can use to look towards this new future, a future where they are successful, functioning adults and I get to enjoy the show from the best seats in the house. Change is hard, even if it is good change, but it gets easier as it becomes the new normal. And it can also lead to other changes, changes that you never expected or thought you would welcome, but it all comes together eventually. Doesn’t it?

It is a time for celebration, and a pat on the back for a job well done – look I didn’t ruin them! If that’s not a reason to celebrate I don’t know what is.

It’s a new chapter, maybe even a new book with new voices to author it, and one I am looking forward to being a part of even if I will miss the one we are living now. But isn’t that the sign of a good book, you can’t put it down and you don’t want it to end?

This has been one of the best books of my life.

 

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Unpacking the boxes

One thing that seems to reappear repeatedly over the last six months, is the idea that once you are divorced, and “enough time has passed” that you should be “over it” and get on with your life. The amount of time is a sliding scale, depending upon who you’re talking to, it can range from six days to six weeks to six months or more. Getting over it can relate to anything from the idea that you still cry sometimes for no reason at all, you still cannot speak his name without feeling sick, or the crazy idea that you haven’t started dating yet. What are you waiting for??

Why are you so stuck? they wonder.

At least that is what the message feels like in most of these instances. People mean well, I’m sure…or at least I hope. That would just be one more insult to this entire injury. They really do want what is best for you, what will make you feel better and make you happy once more. Divorce is often compared to death of a loved one, the grief is almost the same they say, there are stages and no two people experience it the same. The only difference is that the so called loved one is still around, alive and well, just not with you.

But I think it’s more comparable to moving to a foreign country, without knowing the language or the customs, and being expected to jump right in and feel at home almost immediately. And you’re expected to not only understand it all, but accept it as your new normal life without any further expectations or allowances. You can handle it, right?

The only problem with that scenario is that moving to a foreign country is not the seamless experience we’d all like to believe, or hope, it to be. And neither is divorce.

First, when moving to another country there is most likely a language barrier. Before you move, or even accept this journey, you realize that there will be a new language to learn and navigate. Of course, you’re usually assured by many caring souls that “everyone speaks English, you’ll be fine!”

Well, that would be lovely if it were only true.

And I think we can all agree that working with a room full of lawyers, paralegals and other divorce professionals, there will be language that will be more than confusing and anxiety inducing. It’s not your regular run-of-the-mill grocery list or coffee chat, is it?

Then there are the customs. Some countries expect a kiss on the cheek when you greet people, others expect a kiss on both side of your cheeks, some shake hands with their left hand, others with their right. Some bow, or avoid eye contact all together. There are so many possibilities, and so many nuances, to each set of customs that it can all feel overwhelming when you are first learning the ways of the culture.

It doesn’t come easy.

The same can be said for the journey through divorce, really. You go into it thinking you know how it’s going to go, how people are going to behave, believing that you will all be in agreement for the most part, and understanding where everyone is coming from basically. You will work together because you know each other and you think you share the same customs and values. But it’s not that easy, at least not usually. It may begin that way, and last for the first couple of months, but somewhere along the line you realize that you both have entirely different expectations, and the people guiding you have a completely different playbook than either one of you possess.

You all have different cultures with different customs. And you need to agree somehow.

Oh sure, there are those incredibly amicable couples who basically make up their own agreements, sign them, take a selfie with their divorce document and then go have a drink afterward to celebrate…that’s more than moving to a foreign country, more like moving to another planet! But let’s be honest, that’s not the norm by a long shot.

Then the big part comes, the unpacking.

If you’ve ever moved, which I have numerous times including overseas, you remember the never-ending packing and unpacking that goes along with moving.

Packing those boxes is easy enough. You fill each one until it’s full, tape it up, label it and move onto the next one. You carefully place the delicate items together, wrapped in paper and bubble wrap, to protect them. Sometimes you even hire professionals to do the packing, to make certain that it all gets to the next destination intact (this isn’t always a guarantee, of course, as I’ve learned too many times to count!)

But then, once you arrive in your new destination, your new foreign country, you now have the herculean job of unpacking it all and placing it where it “belongs” in  your new home. Sounds easy enough, sure. Just put it…somewhere. Of course you need to make some decisions along the way; which room, what shelf, which cabinet or drawer. It takes organization, and patience.

And time.

Usually, the normal timeline for one of our major moves was about a year to completely unpack and feel “at home” in our new location. It sounds like a long time, doesn’t it?

It’s not. It sometimes flies by, and sometimes drags by, all at the same time.

Because you still need to learn the language and the customs of this new place while you are unpacking. You still have to go on with “normal” life, grocery shopping and taking care of household details, figuring it all out as you stumble along in this new world. Your phrase book clenched tightly in your hand, panic rising in your throat almost daily, hoping to meet someone who understands you.

There is a lot of unpacking to do after a divorce.

Not just the material things from the life you have just untangled, but the memories and the moments you shared. As a couple, as a family, with your friends. They’re in boxes. Not always physical boxes, but boxes in your mind and in your heart. In the dark corners of your memory, too. Some are unlabeled, others are dusty from being ignored for so long.

In the end, you need to unpack and place it all. Sometimes you give some of it away, or pitch it entirely. Other things are too sentimental to get rid of, but too painful to keep. Those things end up in the basement, or crawl space, to be found at a later time by someone else.

After you die, if you’re lucky.

It takes time, sometimes more time than you ever expected. More time than other people expect, most definitely. Sure, some people are great at unpacking and hanging the curtains and artwork within days of moving. They’re hosting luncheons and cookouts within weeks, they’ve painted, decorated, joined clubs and planned the next holiday almost immediately. They’ve made it a “home” without missing a beat, without missing anyone or anything from their previous home. They adapt easily.

Others of us need more time. We unpack carefully, place and buy furniture thoughtfully, to make sure we will like it for a long time. We are not hasty decision makers, we don’t hang just any curtains to cover the windows or buy just any couch to furnish our living room. We take the time to research it, shop for it, compare it, to find the best fit.

We need to be sure. We want it to be right, to be exactly how we want our home to feel.

And just when you think you’ve unpacked it all, the boxes and the wrappings have been removed and everything is in it’s new place; you’ve started to smile and laugh again, you feel lighter and more positive about your future…you stumble upon another box. It was hidden in the back corner, under a rug or a blanket. It’s small, easily overlooked because it’s been buried for so long. You didn’t even think you moved it with you, or remembered that box being there.

You have to open it though, you know you do.

This box is a memory, or a scent, or a photograph that’s fallen out of a book. It’s a number in your telephone that you come across as you scroll through your contacts, it’s a wrong service call to your house instead of your ex’s, it’s a song on the radio, a name on a street sign. It’s simple, unassuming, and yet so complicated and heavy.

For such a small box it carries a lot of weight.

This isn’t the only box you’ve missed or forgotten, there will be more unpacked boxes along the way, boxes that will open whether you choose to or not. Some of these boxes just burst open, completely unexpected and take your breath away. Blur your vision, get caught in your throat, stop you in your tracks.

Pushing you back to the starting line.

Some you just stumble across accidentally, others are opened by family or friends without any realization that the contents could be toxic, unwelcome or even hurtful.

There are so many boxes that you don’t even know exist. Until you do.

So, the next time it is suggested that I should get over it, move on with my life, start dating again to find someone new, or hear suggestions that enough time has passed why am I still so hung up? I will have only one response to offer.

I’m still unpacking the boxes.