Truth is, I was as excited as they were. I had been anticipating the moment for weeks, and I could literally feel the stillness and silence of the empty house—no kids jumping on the couch and landing on their heads, no siblings fighting over inane objects, no juice being spilled, no mud being tracked across floors, no one asking for this or that. No one asking me to be more than me.
I reveled in it, deeply. For a while…then I got hungry and headed to a local sandwich shop. I placed my order and waited.
Standing next to me in line was a mother with three children. The kids were goofy, moving constantly, doing everything she asked them not to do. She looked at me helplessly, apologized, and asked if I had kids.
I told her I had three kids, who had left for camp that morning. I tried not to look too gleeful.
Then, with her children listening, she gushed, “You are so lucky. So, so lucky. Last year, my daughter went to camp and it was so nice.”
I felt sick to my stomach.
I felt sick because she was speaking aloud the very words my heart had been murmuring silently, just moments earlier. I felt sick because, as she verbalized my silent delight, I watched her children’s ears perk up and then their faces fall. And I felt sick because, although I’ve never uttered those words aloud, I wondered how many times my own children had perceived them in my irritable reprimands and weary sighs. I wondered how many times my own kids had sensed me wishing they would go to camp or somewhere else or anywhere else.
I wanted her kids and my kids and every kid everywhere to somehow be reassured our shortcomings as parents have nothing to do with them.
When we become parents, we don’t stop being human—we remain fragile, imperfect creatures with all sorts of needs. We have legitimate needs for boundaries and space, but they are often paired with more selfish desires. We, too, were kids once, full of dreams, with lands to conquer. We had plans to prove our worth to the world. And we had hopes for leisure and relaxation and margin. But inevitably, some of our hopes get buried beneath layers of years and responsibility, and we can easily become resentful of our most important responsibility—our children. They take away our margin to be ourselves, and sometimes, we desperately want it back.
But what are we teaching children about their worth when we subtly or not-so-subtly resent the demands they place upon us with their very existence? And what kind of opportunity are we missing to die a little more to our small egos and self-obsessed worlds?
I took my sandwich home and read a book and did a little bit of writing. And then I got antsy. I looked up movie times and discovered I could make the next showing of the new Superman movie. As I settled into one of the last seats, I looked through the green glow of the coming attractions and down the row of people next to me.
And my heart caught in my throat.
That’s when it really hit me.
I had sat in the very same movie theater two nights earlier with my family. I had looked down the row and watched my little girl entranced, her eyes like unwavering orbs. I had watched my youngest son, picking his fingernails with anxiety, as his heart rode the wave of every plot twist. And I had watched my oldest son munch French fries, scarfing down the food like he does all of life.
I realized I had gotten exactly what so many of us wish for: a sliver of life without my children. And suddenly, I wanted them back.
I realized its okay to wish for more margin and quiet houses and a party of one at a summer blockbuster, but if I get stuck in those wishes, I am wishing away my kids’ fleeting childhood. I realized I want to enjoy all of it while it’s happening. All of it. The laughter and the fun and the noise and the fights.
Lit by the green glow of the coming attractions, I resolved that when my family pulled back in the driveway, I would start living and loving and parenting like it’s already over and I want it back. I decided when the fighting starts and the first cup of juice gets spilled, I will picture my little kids in a big cap and gown. I will picture them in the uniform of children about to leave home, as a way to savor each and every fleetingly wonderful and boring and overwhelming moment they are at home.
Already, when I think of my toddler in an Adult Large graduation gown, I ache a little and giggle a lot. Maybe, just maybe, in the moments when my kids are pulling each other’s hair, screaming, or boycotting dinner, I will be able to giggle a little, too.