For weeks now, I’ve convinced myself today would be relieving. The next nine days will be kid free, when was the last time that happened?! A vacation of sorts for me with a trip planned to sight-see D.C. I can breathe easy, not having to be the sole parent of three rambunctious children, a break from the bickering over the tiniest difference of opinion, a moment of silence when I attempt to pee in the morning. But it will sadly also be too quiet for me.
We sit on the floor of the airport, the four of us huddled around my phone loudly broadcasting YouTube videos of a very bothersome woman’s voice and hands playing with small Paw Patrol toys. This is what entertains my three-year old these days. Sky and Everest having paint squirted rather inappropriately from a tube on their faces while a shrill voice exclaims “Oh Sky you are so dirty!” I became very conscious in that moment of how we appeared to the strangers passing, each shooting a different version of the same quizzical look, curious to what our story may be.
Our story. What is our actual story? You know, the one you tell the well-meaning stranger when they chit-chat with your oldest child about where she is flying to. My brain has been foggy and busy for days, I’m sure largely in part to this day and the week ahead. I am painfully aware how big this day is for us. This was the first time since exiting my military career I would be separated from them for any extended period of time. I’ve never been away from the baby this long. Today was the day my children began their very first trip to see their West coast family and their father alone, without me. We sat awaiting a plane meant to carry us to Chicago, where their godfather will meet and take them cross-country to their final destination, Oregon. This week will predict a lot for our coming months, holidays, years. If all goes well, it will be the first of many trips to see their father. He talks of jobs and training and moving closer. I’ll believe it when I see it. For my children’s sake though, I hope I do one day.
Sitting here, I stare at my precocious youngest asking if she could eat her yogurt, not moving her eyes from the shrill woman’s hands moving on the screen. My oldest is anxious and antsy, moving from my side to pacing back and forth between our camp and the window. Mama’s favorite little man and the only boy, laid across my lap, requesting I play with his hair, which I happily obliged. Would this become routine for us, shuttling between their father and I for the next decade plus? This was not what I had wanted for any of us. I stare at my oldest this time, closely examining her features. How was this beautiful little girl morphing into such a grown young lady so quickly? She has the same stark features I do: the long, thick eyelashes, gorgeous deep brown chestnut hair, pure skin. She is tall and unlike me at the same age, she has curves I never had until late teen years. She’s going to give me hell and I know it. She’s exactly like me.
My youngest is innocent. She sweetly asks if we’re going to see Daddy and I realize, to her this will be a norm. She won’t know any different. Eventually my son will forget what it was like before, he will grow to accept this as normal too. My amazing oldest love though is struggling. She’s great through airports, great at traveling and always so helpful with her siblings. She makes it easier at bathroom pit stops, and I can leave her sitting close by with bags in view of where I stand to purchase snacks. Once we board, when the lot of us are strapped and belted into our seats in the last row, I begin to see the anxiety, followed by pain, sweep across her face. She and her brother both had already expressed their concern of missing me through the trip. They both shared it didn’t feel “right” to not have me along with them, as every other time we’d flown, I stayed with them wherever we landed. But not this time. This time it was different.
Immediately an attitude sets in, sassy responses begin to flow and irritating her brother becomes an issue. And then the tears. Across the aisle against the window, her brother between us, I watch as she begins to crumble in front of me. We are already on the runway to lift off and I could not go to her, as desperately as I want to hold her and assure her all would be OK. I try to plead with my eyes, signal her I knew how she felt and I was with her. She calms, sniffling for a minute, and composing herself for take off. Snacks and drinks arrive and all three are quiet again.
Before we left, I downloaded the Kindle app to my phone as well as the books sitting untouched in my “library” since pregnancy with the baby. Attempting to read the first, I make it through one paragraph and become distracted. Try the second book. Nope, same luck. By the third, I knew what to expect. I can’t get my brain to sit still long enough to concentrate on the pages as I flip through. I pencil in a Sudoku puzzle which was in the seat pocket in front of me. I sit here typing this now, Pentatonix Christmas blaring in my ears because it’s the only downloaded list on my Spotify. The baby yanks on her car seat straps. My son plays with the ice in his drink. And my oldest sits solemnly regarding her brother being weird next to her. The baby begins to whine, is this flight almost over yet?! She’s been well-behaved, considering. Only a short 30 minutes left on this plane tops and I will have to give what will be the hardest goodbye of my life.
I wonder what this flight attendant thinks, what curious questions about the four of us run through his head. Where is this woman off to? He hooks me up with a free cocktail. “Anyone who flies with three kids alone needs this.” Yes I do I think to myself, just as the baby flings her car seat strap slack into it, causing me to shower in vodka and OJ. That’s it, I’m taking a Xanax as soon as we land. Can he tell I am taking them to see their father? I make a comment about turning around and flying right back, asked if he would be on my return flight but alas no, my new buddy would not be accompanying me. Oh well, I guess I will have to befriend the next flight attendant.
Will their father experience these feelings should he ever make the trip to see them or bring them back? What is going through his mind right now? A question I contemplate the answer to, but won’t dare ask. That’s a can of worms I’m not willing to open yet. Maybe the day will come where we can have such dialogue, but not in the near future. I made the mistake a few weeks ago, attempting to share raw emotion, but was quickly reminded these are better kept to myself for now. I cannot trust them or the reaction they entice.
Divorce is a rocky trail, splitting a life and the three precious products of it, their time, their love and attention. This is a new journey for us, one spanning the next decade and a half at least. Now a family divided, I can only hope it will become integrated again one day. The kids know they will miss their dad’s birthday this year, so have planned to celebrate with him early while still there. They missed their dog’s birthday as well, and want to celebrate her. They have made plans to play with best friends. I will do my best to stay busy, avoid the pain and separation anxiety I’m sure to feel, but I know what I will be missing out on, the hugs and smiles, the laughter and love. They are returning to a life once also called mine. My daughter’s pain is not unaccompanied today.
I am firm in my belief I made the right decisions, not to separate and divide our family, but to relieve of us of the war we were entangled in. I can only hope allowing them to visit their father is the right one, I trust myself and those involved. I trust God to cloak them in safety and peace over the next days. The one I have a hard time trusting is myself. Can I allow myself to enjoy the free time? Can I allow my friends and loved ones to lift me up in this time? That’s where I’m not so sure. Only time will tell.