by Angela Noel
August 31, 2017
It happens every time. Jackson waves good-bye to me and walks with his dad into the car or into his dad’s house. I drive away or close the door and get on with my day. Then, about an hour or two later, I feel it. A physical pang, like hunger mixed with loss, strikes me. The twinge lasts only a few seconds, but I’ve come to know it well: I miss him.
Being a part-time mom can be delicious. When I began dating again after the split with my ex five years ago, having a few days a week when I could have adult time meant I stayed social. I met new people, did new things, and explored what it meant to be in my late-thirties and single. I also had yet to finish the first draft of my novel and the story still burned within me. Having Sundays to myself meant I had time to write.
On top of all this, the split happened the week before I began a new job. So, along with figuring myself out, caring for the emotional and physical needs of a little person, and trying to finish a novel, I had a new job to learn. A few days off a week was a godsend. Though I missed my little son then, I was preoccupied with what a new life after twelve years with my ex would mean for me socially and creatively.
Except for a six-month period when I had Jackson full time, my ex and I have split parenting time roughly equally. We’ve had a few ups and downs, but for the most part we enjoy a better-than-average co-parenting relationship.
But that’s the practical side of things. None of what’s good about being a part-time mom assuages that feeling of loss. This vague sense permeates my days. I live with a hole in my body that I cannot touch or see, a corporeal thing that has no name, but exists all the same.
Sucked into this hole are the smiles I won’t see. The giggles I miss. The farts I won’t smell (okay, those his dad can keep). The bedtime kisses and early morning cuddles I won’t get. The homework I won’t review. The new discoveries I won’t see. The lost teeth. The skinned knees. Sniffles. Monkey-bar crossings and zip-line races. Birthday parties and vacations. These all live in the hole in my body, the blackhole place where he lives a life outside of the life he shares with me.
Every parent has a child move away. That’s what they do. We raise them to be independent, to make their own way, to be productive members of society. But part-time moms and dads have a preview of this event. We watch our child or children leave us over and over. It doesn’t get easier. I celebrate that he has a life outside of my world. I want him to be with his dad, to gain all the benefits of his father’s love and the experiences he can have with him that he’d never get with me. But I want that with my head.
My heart wants to cuddle his little body close to me every day. It wants to know he’s safe in his bed and if I say his name out loud he’ll answer. I want to feel his soft cheek against mine every night at bedtime, and to hear his slightly-lisping voice read yet another Star Wars book before we shut off the light. I’d even put up with the farts if I could have his blond head bobbing next to me every day when we take the dog for a walk. But I put all those thoughts in the blackhole too.
Life isn’t perfect for full-time moms or dads either. And most of the time, I relish the moments, like right now, when I have a quiet house with only the sounds of my dog licking the side of the refrigerator to disturb me. But, the hole opens up and swallows me sometimes. And I feel the absence of my little boy like a spectral something waiting to devour me.
The hole, though, is as essential to me as anti-matter is to matter. It reminds me to relish the sweetness of life. The moments like when Jackson’s running across a grassy field with a plastic sword slaying clumps of mowed grass. A nothing moment. An everything moment. The hole reminds me to take notice.
Gratitude for the life I have today, with all the peaks and valleys, gives me peace. That, and the sure knowledge that no one way is THE right way to raise a child. Start with love. End with love.
Loving him is why I feel his absence as I do. The presence of pain isn’t always a sign that something is wrong. Sometimes, it’s a sign that something is right. Love asks us to do not the simple, the easy, or the selfish thing, but the right, the beautiful, and the courageous thing. Watching the receding back of my little boy as he walks away breaks my heart, but it also helps it grow.
Your turn: Are you a part-time parent or know someone who is? Have you experienced having your child leave home?