I’ve been out of conditioner for the past few days and so I’ve been using some of the kids’ stuff. I might switch to theirs because it’s pretty great to be sitting there doing whatever and get a whiff of grape bubblegum and think, Hmmmm, what smells like HubbaBubba? OH! It’s my head!
The kids started their third week of summer camp yesterday. They are spending their days outside in a redwood forest on a mountain. They swim and hike, paint their faces, make bracelets, sing songs, climb trees. They come home covered in dirt and sweat. The first week and a half or so they’d also be a little sunburned despite the constant sunblock applications, but now they’re just getting more and more brown. I hug them at the end of the day and they smell like summertime. They are so worn in the evenings that they are almost mellow and will just stretch out on the floor watching videos or reading a book.
If I am honest, this is really hard for me. It’s the first summer that I haven’t been a part of. They’ve made dozens of new friends, learned how to climb up ropes and ride a zipline between redwood trees. Willow’s learning how to swim. Sophie will put her face underwater now. At the end of the day she wants me to wiggle her lose teeth and tell her when they’ll fall out. I grab onto her teeny little tooth and move it back and forth and remember that those top teeth came in when she was six months old. Wasn’t I just running my finger along her gums feeling for them to come in?
I keep typing and deleting because I can’t get what I want to say to not be clumsy. The thing is, I know that they are having a really lovely summer. The sort of summer I want them to have. If I were home with them we’d have fun in our own way, but it wouldn’t be this magical, kid-centered, electronics-free existence of creeks and dirt and lizards and campfires. Summers at home tended to feature me trying to find something to keep the kids occupied so I could do stuff around the house and keep the kids out of the kitchen long enough to clean it. Outings were a pain in the ass because one kid was still pretty little, another would get upset and bolt across parking lots, somebody always had to pee when there wasn’t a bathroom, and on and on. So, okay, me not being here with them has allowed them to go off and have a proper kid summer. What kid wouldn’t pick a zip line over making homemade popsicles as the highlight of the day?
And then there’s me. For as much as I desperately miss my kids, I love having myself to myself again. Love it. Lex will be twelve this fall, and since I was twenty-six my focus has been on my babies. That’s not a complaint; the very best days of my life were the first few weeks after each of the kids were born. Except Willow, because that was too scary, but still. I am happiest with a brand new baby curled up on my chest and sleeping: it’s just how I am wired. I chose to focus on them all this time. But now that I also have a life that they are not a part of, I am not completely focused on them. And it is as nice as it is painful to be away from them this summer. How, I don’t know, but I miss them and am relieved in equal parts. It isn’t that I don’t want to be with them. It’s that it’s nice to just worry about myself again. Another way that I seem to be wired is that I feel no end of guilt over enjoying the breaks I have. (Are they really breaks if I am mostly at work during them?)
Like I said; clumsy. What I am trying to wrap my brain around is how this summer that is breaking my heart in two is actually good. The kids are thriving; I am soaking in the stillness and calmness of not being in charge of them all the time. Still, I can’t help but feel sad and like a bit of a failure that it takes me being removed from the equation for them to have this summer that they’ll always remember so happily. I just wish that the summers when I did have them that I’d have been more present and done better by them. I wish I knew it wasn’t going to last.