A colossal problem

One week ago today. Sky, sunshine, travertine, bliss.

So I’m back, and my children have turned into utter cretins.

I exaggerate, but just a little.  Ten days apart has made us a bit strange with each other. In my case, this strangeness manifests as a constant urge to hug and kiss them against their wills, to play actual games involving cards and boards and dice with them, and to have long, soulful conversations with them, preferably while they sit very close to (or even on top of) me.

In their case, the strangeness manifests as a pronounced disinclination to make eye contact, a brusque gruffness of manner, an excessive need for conversation that follows the moment-by-moment trajectory of their own thoughts and desires, yet is blindingly oblivious to the desires, thoughts, or verbal contributions of their conversational partner.  They need attention all the time, but they’ll be damned if they’ll do anything cute or endearing to get it.  They’re determined to fight with each other, but will turn on me in a second should I reprimand one or the other for whatever unfairness was hotly, tearfully railed against a mere second before I dared to intervene.

They’ve hovered around me since we were reunited, acting rude and competitive and surly and emotionally unstable and foul.  I understand.  Home from my happy Roman holiday, where I was as pampered as Caligula, I completely get their sudden ambivalence toward our normal routine. Factor in everyone’s jetlag, which puts them three hours westward and me six hours eastward, multiply by several factors of tetchiness, and the blissful reunion of mother and offspring nosedives still further.  They’re not hungry when I am.  They’re not sleepy when I am.  They’ve just spent an eternity in the bosom of their father’s family, where they were spoiled rotten–I approve of this sort of spoiling, by the way, it’s what long-distance grandparents are for–by my mother-out-law and her kin.  They skiied.  They went in hot tubs.  They played ping pong with their father, who probably regressed a bit as well, given that his mother was footing all the bills and fixing all the suppers.

I know we will settle back into our own routine.  I know they’re defensive because they missed me.  I know they’re not bad kids.  I know it’s hard to go from household to household, particularly if one household is stricter than another, particularly if going home coincides with going back to school, with waking up on time, with having homework to do and piano to practice and baseball to play and chores and thank-you-notes to complete in a timely fashion.  I know they miss their father and feel conflicted, and I know they want things to go smoothly with me, but can’t remember quite what that entails.  I know they’re testing my limits, trying to remember just what kind of mother I am, trying to see if I’ve changed, hoping I haven’t.  I know they want to get away with murder and I know they don’t want me to let them.  I know these things, all of them.

I remember what it was like spending five weeks a year with my dad, when I was a kid.  I both dreaded going and couldn’t wait to go–my whole summer led up to and away from the visit.  I’d spend a week or so fretting about leaving, making presents for my stepmother and father and their kids, and then I’d fly there by myself (which was thrilling and also terrifying) and spend the first week horribly homesick, missing my little brother and sister, crying at night in my bed in secret.  I remember taking great comfort in looking up at the moon every night at a set time (my mom had promised she’d do the same–”It’s the same moon!  So we’ll both be looking at it, and I’ll be thinking of you!” she told me.  Apparently the telephone had not yet been invented.)

And I remember how I’d snap out of homesickness and into feeling at home, and then spend the last week at my father’s both dreading leaving and being impatient to leave. And when I got home, I always missed my father and stepmother and their kids terribly for about a week, and I’d cry secretly in my bed at night for them, too.

And then all would right itself and I’d be back to normal.  As will my kids, probably by the time I post this.  Still, there’s no question the transitions are hard.  I wonder how other divorced families (or, hell, married families coping with distance–commuter marriages, forced absences of one or the other spouse, etc.) make it through the wretched awkward days of transition?  Gritting my teeth just makes my jaw tired, and yelling just makes me hoarse.  Suggestions are therefore most welcome.

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