I have been a mother for 13 years, 10 months and 3 days. Weekday mornings, there is no fighting over the best seat at the table, no complaining that there is no milk or that someone ate the last Eggo, no looking for shoes, or books, or hair ties, no papers to sign running out the door and no one yelling to get in the car.
I get up at 6:15, make my standard breakfast and coffee, sit down on the couch at 6:30 and check my e-mail in silence, enjoying waking up slowly. I get ready for work and I am out the door, every morning, rain or shine, at 7:40.
I have been living alone for a year now; it's hard to believe it has been that long.
On Saturdays I wake up to the heart-wrenching quiet. I woke up one day not long ago, and before I opened my eyes, before I felt the loneliness, I actually thought I was home, back in the house I raised my children in, back when I had a family. I opened my eyes and there I lay, in the apartment, in the quiet, alone.
When I decided to divorce my husband, everyone was shocked; they thought we were so happy, that everything was perfect. But we cannot know the realities of other people's lives. Afterward, when my ex-husband said that he was moving back home, out of state, I was furious. How could he leave us like that, alone? I know, this is a bitter irony, since I was the one who left. Then it occurred to me that our children would want to go with him; they love his hometown, all his relatives, the simpler way of life.
Though they didn't mind living half the week in my new apartment, some distance from where we used to live, they would not be at home until I could afford something bigger; they had no friends here, no family close by, they would know no one, except me, which, let's face it, for two preteens, is not a selling point.
So I made the hardest decision of my life, and I let them go. I did not make them choose — I did not want them to feel guilty about picking one parent over another. I knew in my heart that as a "good" mother, only I knew what was best for my children and where they would prosper.
My family, co-workers and even my doctor were shocked. Why would they live with their father when I was a perfectly "normal" mother? I drove the children up with my ex-husband to get them settled in their new home and they were elated. All the changes were exciting for them; they could not wait for their new lives to begin. I never expected that. I felt so replaceable, so unimportant, as if all the years I had taken care of them had been for nothing because they could leave me so easily.
I returned home and promptly got my tubes tied. Unlike the guilt I had hoped to save them from, my guilt and subsequent self-loathing spread like wildfire, amplifying every decision I had ever made as a mother. My only comfort is in knowing how happy they are, how adaptive they have become, and the fact that as teens, they tell my ex-husband even less than they tell me, which has a way of brightening my day.
In the end, I probably talk to my children more than if I lived with them — you can't stare blankly at a telephone — and they are genuinely excited when we see each other, not a frequent reaction when returning home from school every day. I am also more emotionally present when they are with me, making the most of the time we spend together, something I probably didn't do as much when we were a family and I was always worried about something "more important."
That brings me back to Saturdays and the quiet. I try to trick myself into thinking that the weekends should be relaxing, but for a Type-A personality like mine, that doesn't usually work. The reality is, there are only so many closets and cupboards that can be reorganized, especially when you live alone. So, I have taken up volunteering, and hiking, and sitting in the park reading the newspaper. I am not alone. I have family I visit, friends I go out with, work to do; but Saturdays, without all the noise, just aren't the same for me anymore, except for that one weekend a month when the children visit and I get a little bit of normal back for a few days.
I look forward to the summer, when they will be here and I will wish I had a little quiet. Until then, I remember what my daughter says at the end of every visit, when I am holding back tears and trying my best to smile wide as I wave goodbye: "We will see you sooner than you think!" Little does she know, I see them every night in my dreams, where as long as I don't open my eyes we are all together, in the house, and I am grumpy that the TV and the kids woke me up too early on a Saturday morning.
Florida native Heather Staggs lives in Trinity and works at Pasco-Hernando Community College.