The silence is almost painful. It's a cruel reminder of the fact that I don't own my children, that I have simply borrowed them from their very own individual futures and someday they will hit the ground running, leaving me with the stillness their departure leaves in its wake.
Every now and again I get a taste of life without them, and most often it's a welcome respite from the fighting and bickering, the neverending requests and demands. Tonight, the little girls are at Gramma's, the oldest at a sleepover. It is the dead of winter, the calm after a storm of winds so severe they blew barrels across the highway at our car, the snow a fresh and blinding blanket covering a whole universe of promise.
But that silence -- that's what covers me. It makes the hairs on my arm stand on end; they are listening too.
I know my good fortune -- I never waver in this. I am coming down, emotionally, from a weekend of bonding and cameraderie, of love and meaning and joy as we snuck away to a campy and cozy inn in the middle of Maine with our closest family friends. I know how rare and beautiful this is because I have been seeking it and waiting for it my entire adult life.
I stopped at least a dozen times -- while the kids were gorging themselves on pancakes and homemade pizza, or dancing or singing or having a heated poker game -- I stopped then in my tracks.
Pretty soon, these children that I love -- not only mine but my friends' -- will start to go away, and their visits home will become less and less frequent. Many of them have been coming to my house -- for sleepovers, for babysitting, to give their moms some breathing room -- since they were little, some of the friendships are new enough that I am still only starting to uncover the wonderfulness that is them. But whichever way you have it, my love runs deeper than I ever imagined it would.
Deep enough that as each family packed up its SUV or minivan and the grown-ups exchanged goodbyes, I grabbed even the adolescent boys into bear hugs before they had the chance to escape it. And oh how they tried.
Here's the thing. I have loved raising my children. Not every minute of it, but somehow every day of it. I have loved watching them grow and develop into little people and establish themselves in the world -- in my world. And I have loved being a friend, of developing friendships and growing them and sometimes fixing them and frequently walking away from them even if just for a day. I know in my mind that when my kids are grown and gone, there will be new experiences to love but it still looms over me like a loss just waiting to happen.
I am blessed with the chaos and the noise, the bustle and the boisterousness. And I will be blessed with the silence in the aftermath of raising my family -- it's just that the lack of volume is going to take a little getting used to.
My fear is that I will always want these moments back, always be pining for exactly what I have right now.