My house was abnormally loud on Saturday night. If you stood real still, I think you could probably have seen the decibels bouncing off surfaces and aiming themselves directly at my central nervous system. My houseplants are – no joke – visibly wilted after the weekend, because a certain amount of talking-to might be good for them, but this far surpassed that certain amount and left them defeated and perhaps suicidal.
It was all my fault, really. Because I thought it would be a good idea to host a sleepover, and had forgotten that the laws of pure mathematics don’t apply to children. Somehow four children create about three times the amount of clutter and spills as two. Five ask about 400 times as many questions. And six children, especially when confined to a small space because Mother Nature was in a crappy mood, make infinitely more noise.
It wasn’t entirely a just-for-fun gathering. Carolyn’s husband had spent the majority of the past week in the hospital following planned surgery, and I remembered what a difference it had made for me, when Jenny had taken my kids the weekend I was discharge, allowing me to come home to a quiet house. It’s disproportionately exhausting, just sitting in the passenger’s seat and walking into the house after a hospitalization; you start to become accustomed to the quiet and neutral colors in a hospital, and so the outside world’s normality feels like a chaotic assault upon the senses. By the time you’ve reached your own home, you’re overwhelmed and spent.
I hadn’t been able to help Carolyn, during the week. I couldn’t return her favor, of going over to prepare meals and clean and generally help run things a bit to give her a break; first of all, I can’t drive yet (technically, I’m allowed to, but I’m confident that Willem would full-body tackle me if I were to pick up my keys and head to the car… just not ready quite yet, either of us), and secondly, if I could drive, the effort involved in making that 20-minute trip would have me collapsing for a nap as soon as I got near her couch. So I felt bad, but had to accept that my own recovery rendered me unable to help, at her house. But we were free over the weekend, with Willem here to play the role of Big Intimidating Male (at least, to her kids… mine have long since stopped fearing him), so I could offer that form of help: Carolyn could have a quiet evening to herself, and her husband could have a quiet house to return to on Sunday.
It works out well, really, because her daughter is Emily’s age and her son is just a bit older than Jacob, so they pair off and play/argue/whatever, and they all seem to have fun. But loud, holy crap. And then, to make things even more exciting, Jenny brought her kids over for a few hours on Saturday evening… two more small bodies ready and willing to contribute to the collection of decibels within the apartment.
Everything went well, really, and the kids all laughed more than they cried – plus everyone survived the weekend with no permanent scars – so I consider it a success. But of course there were arguments here and there, and efforts to tattle, and the typical nonsense that seems so crucial when you’re in the 10-and-under set. At one point, the three boys (ages 8, 6 and 5) were playing with Legos, creating some sort of Star Wars setup, and the 6-year-old got upset because the other two were forcing (Hah! Get it? Force-ing? Star Wars? Right? Sorry, apparently I’m still somewhat poisoned by the onslaught of child-humor. Anyway…) him to be the bad guy. He started by arguing, then subsided into pouting, and eventually, when those tactics were unsuccessful, he built it into a full-on crying fit, to which I wasn’t called in to referee until he had switched from,”No fair, I don’t want to play that way,” to, “I want my mommy!”
I’m certain that he was missing his mom, and also certain that he had picked up on the natural stress and worry at home, knowing his dad was in the hospital. So he and I had some hugs, and a quiet talk, and were able to reach a calmer point, once I barked at the other boys for ganging up on him and then convinced my upset little friend that one argument wasn’t worth going home over, since he had been having so much fun beforehand. A Disney movie and a Creamsicle finished off the job, and he persevered through the rest of the night.
But I understood his sentiment, all too well. Because my own mom went back home on Saturday morning, and I really, really miss her. Like, a lot.
I know we’re ready, Willem and I, to run our own household again. I know it will take some time to get through the transition, during which I know we’ll upset and frustrate each other; at first, he’s going to want to step into my mother’s shoes, and I’m going to want him to just somehow know what it is I need, in terms of help and support. It will take some time for him to learn that he can’t and shouldn’t fill my mother’s shoes: he needs to just meet the role of caregiver on his own terms. And for me to learn how to express not only what I need, but why I need it in that way, so that he can understand me better. It’s not like he was completely absent the whole time I’ve been home, but he was able to focus on his work and trust my mom to take care of everything at home, so it’s a major shift in mindset for him, and his last final exam was given on Saturday morning, so that makes for a very tightly scheduled shift.
Still, we’ll handle it. Eventually. In the meantime, though… she just made everything so much easier for us, and she made it look like it was easy for her. We’re trying to adjust to her absence, both in terms of picking up where she left off around the house, and of dealing with the simple, emotional aspect of her departure. There’s always an ache, when you’ve had some solid, positive time with family and then you have to part, and when you stretch that out over seven-plus weeks and throw in the inexpressibly huge clumps of pain and trauma and emotional upheaval that all of us have to sort out, it’s just that much bigger and sharper of an ache.
It was almost funny – maybe it will be, someday – the way I reacted, when she left. One of the things that I have carried away from the whole illness/hospitalization ordeal has been an ability (probably more like a deep need) to live in the moment. I had always valued that and wanted to be able to do so, but it’s only been since I got sick that I have really, fully appreciated the fragility of life and the need to, while acknowledging the past and looking to the future, only really count on the present. So I knew she was leaving Saturday, but it wasn’t until she was driving down the road that I allowed it to sink in that this wasn’t just another trip to the grocery store or something; she was leaving. Like, going home, with no immediate plans to return.
My first meltdown happened then, and while I haven’t cried constantly since, I also haven’t gone more than a few hours without getting weepy. Luckily, Willem seems to understand that my tears are not an expression of doubt in his ability to care for me and run the household. I know he’s competent; I know we’re ready. It’s just that I got used to my mom being here, and I don’t think I ever would have been 100% ready for her to go.
I want my mommy.