When we plotted our summer in Maine, I knew it was going to be difficult. I expressed concern about it to Tim on several different occasions – that feeling of doubt that lurked in the background and made me question the wisdom of our plan. I thought about the kids being out of their routine and how much better – happier, better behaved – they are when they have one. I thought about being away from our home and our things and just having our own space. And, obviously, I thought about there being no dad. Which I knew would be hard for us all.
I just didn’t know how hard it was actually going to be. The last week, in particular, has really taken a toll on me. When I thought about all the things that were going to be difficult, I thought about all the obvious ones. What I didn’t think about was how hard it would be to have to be both disciplinarian and care giver: to have two children who are, at any given moment, simultaneously mad at me and yet don’t want me out of their sight. I didn’t think about how much the kids, and Eleanor in particular, would miss their playmates, classmates, and neighborhood kids. Grandma and Grandpas are awesome, but sometimes they are no substitute for another 5 year old who likes to dress up in princess costumes and wear 5 rings on each hand and play house. I didn’t think about the fact that the kids would be deeply saddened by Tim’s absence, not have words to express – or even a real understanding of – those emotions and rather than express those feelings of sadness they would instead express anger. (Directed at me, remember.) And I didn’t consider how much I would miss my routine and how being out of that routine would have unanticipated consequences.
This is not to say that I think it would all be better had we stayed in VA while Tim was gone. Trying to imagine the counterfactual is a bit of a ridiculous exercise and, given school closings and (long) weekends, and how many of our friends were also gone for the summer, and Southern summers generally (read: HOT and humid) I can tell you, with a fair degree of certainty, that staying at home alone with three kids would be much, much worse.
Still, I have felt myself becoming a person that I don’t like over the last week. I am short tempered and impatient. I can’t find my way around Oliver’s acts of aggression (he’s throwing everything he can get his hands on, although thankfully it’s mostly without malicious intent), and can’t even seem to get out of my own way to figure out what other tactics I might use to change his behavior. I feel tired and unbalanced. I’m not getting up early and not sleeping well (both of which I really like to do). And I seem to cry at the drop of a hat. Today I cried while watching a tampon commercial. Seriously.
I have moments of pure brilliance with the kids, even here, even now. I have moment when I handle their emotions, and my own, with grace and genuine peace. I have really loved being home and reliving many of the experiences that I recall so finely from my own childhood. And to give that to my kids feels wonderful. But I miss my husband. And I miss myself with my husband. Because I am a better person with him than without him. This is the most clarity I have had with respect to this idea – and not just the idea of it but gut-wrentching, beautiful, emotion of it – that I can remember.
I know that we will get to the end of this experience and cry that it’s time to return to VA. I know we will look back with such fondness that we’ll start counting the days until we can do it again the moment we cross the NH state line. If that were the only thing to come from these two months I would feel like this summer experiment was a success. But to know – through to my bones – that I am a better version of myself when my family is complete…well…that’s a pretty magnificent unintended consequence. I’ll take it.