Confession: I played hooky last weekend, and shirked my typical family weekend responsibilities. On Saturday, instead of joining my family at synagogue and religious school, I took the metro and went downtown to attend the National Book Festival.
And on Sunday, instead of chauffeuring children from sleepovers and running errands and sitting through my son’s baseball game, I went out to brunch with a group of friends to celebrate a birthday (but lest I be thought completely neglectful, I did take on the Sunday night carpool, which entails two additional pick ups and drop offs and sitting for two hours, doing some client work while waiting for the 7th graders’ religious school session to end.)
On the one hand, these were completely pleasurable activities (aside from the carpool.) I got to attend a festival that I have been ogling for years, which is always held on a day that I am usually bogged down with family needs. And brunch with friends? Fabulous. Especially the drag queen sideshow that was part of the package.
But once I was at the book festival, I was struck by how many activities there were set up for young children and families. I had taken my youngest son many years ago, when he was about two, before he was even able to really appreciate all that was there. Not only was there a real Magic School Bus, but you could meet Sesame Street characters, listen to amazing and inventive storytellers, and sit in a reading nook and be introduced to new and wonderful books.
And although being there without kids gave me the latitude to attend any reading I wanted, and to be able to linger lovingly over both history tomes and slim volumes of poetry in the book tent, and to stand on line to get my latest Michael Cunningham novel signed, and to stand not three feet from the great Toni Morrison as she was being shuttled to her keynote reading, it all felt a little empty without my kids dragging me over to the book nook tent (or more likely the food carts.)
Usually, I relish my free time like it’s nobody’s business. I’m never lonely, because I’m almost never alone. Even though I work at home more than half the week, those hours are taken up with ongoing email and other interaction with my office and outside meetings several times a week. And always hanging over my head are three time slots: 2:40, 3:10 and 3:50: the times my kids arrive home from school and I turn into a mom pumpkin while trying to finish out my work day.
Strolling the gravel paths on the National Mall, I was free to stop in whatever tent I chose, and yet I felt a pang of loneliness. Even though my children were still only a sleepover away, I flashed forward to a day when they will be living in other places, pursuing their own lives. And although I fervently hope that they will launch at the appropriate time and make their way in the world joyfully, I will miss having my family as the reason I can’t do anything else.
Don’t get me wrong – I am still in the thick of it. I have three kids at home, and our lives are filled with school and sports and music lessons and religious training and carpools and friendships and dramas and sometimes, if I’m lucky, good night kisses. Sometimes I feel breathless from all the activity in our hive. But my daughter recently started closing her door fully at night (as my teen son has been doing for years) and so the only child on whom I can peek before I turn in is my 10-year-old. They are growing up.
I love having more time to pursue my interests. I am in a writing workshop, and am taking a photography class this fall. I am hoping to take up ballet again. I am working out regularly, and working almost full time. It is easier to make plans to see friends. I am having fun in the midst of the family chaos, something I haven’t been able to say for a long time.
But next to the sweetness of reconnecting with myself is the slightly bitter taste of no longer having a little hand melting into mine. Whether it’s to see Miss Frizzle and the rest of the Magic School Bus gang or Elmo and Big Bird. Or just taking a walk in our neighborhood.
Everything about parenting leads to the letting go. And while I look forward to watching my children take the big leaps that will lead them to their futures, I can’t help but feel a little wistful about the coming moment when it will be all about me … and no longer about us.