Twenty-six years to the day I graduated from high school, I found myself seated on aluminum bleachers in a covered stadium, drenching rain giving way to scattered clouds and a gorgeous sunset poking through stands of Douglas fir trees. And then “Pomp & Circumstance” began playing, and history repeated itself.
It all feels a little bit surreal. When your kids are born – or in some cases, when they’re still in the womb – if you’re like most parents, you quickly figure out the year they’re going to graduate from high school. And from that point on, it becomes a mental countdown of sorts. I guess it’s because high school graduation is such a rite of passage and marks the transformation from childhood to adulthood, especially since it coincides so closely with your kids’ 18th birthday. So way back in 1995, we knew that our son would graduate in the year 2013. It seemed incredibly far off and distant at the time. God, I’d be ancient then, I figured. And I’d probably get to his graduation ceremony in a flying car.
But my life didn’t turn out as expected. Divorce threw a wrench in the works. The kids only live with me part-time.* These events conspired to make the Big Day feel…well, a little less big than I’d imagined it would, I guess. It doesn’t mean I’m not proud of his accomplishment or eager to see what sort of life he builds for himself. But the whole thing just sort of felt anticlimactic, for lack of a better word. At the same time, it’s huge. Last night marked a true turning point. Everything is changing, and that’s where the * comes in. Both kids will be living with their mother full-time now, and I don’t know how to feel about that. Rusty was ready to move on, and it’s clearly time. But Audrey…well, Tara and I both hoped she’d choose to stay with us. I selfishly think we have a lot more to offer in terms of stability and responsibility, and would love to see her grow and mature without being in the shadow of her older brother. She would benefit from becoming her own person. However, she’s old enough to make her own choice, and I always said I wouldn’t be hurt if she picked “the other house.” Tara reassured me that it was nothing personal, that kids tend to gravitate toward their mothers, that she gets along very well with her stepfather’s extended family, and that our door is always open for her should she choose to come live with us at some future point. I love her for saying those things, because the truth is, despite my words I was a little down this morning when I read the e-mail from my ex confirming Audrey’s decision.
The only life I’ve known has been one that included kids, at least part-time. And yes, we’re still working out the arrangement, and it’s not like they’re never going to stay with us again, but it won’t be the same (every other weekend maybe? I don’t know yet), and that’s going to feel weird. I remember the fall of 2006, when we first separated and moved into our own townhouses. My ex was having surgery, and the kids were with me for those first three weeks. In the months leading up to that, without going into detail, I was pretty much there for them full-time, as well. And then came the first Sunday in which our shared custody kicked into gear, and I had to drop them off at their mother’s house for the week. It felt very strange. The house was quiet. I was lonely. I missed them terribly. I blogged about it then, and wrote,
I can feel the absence of my kids very strongly. The emptiness weighs upon me. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suffocating beneath a cloak of depression, no, it’s nothing so dramatic as that. Just a little bit of separation anxiety. I miss them, which is totally natural considering I haven’t been apart from them for longer than twelve hours or so in four and a half months.
I dropped them off at MA’s place around 6:30. It was bizarre, pulling up beside her condo and walking them to the door, Rusty and Audrey pulling suitcases filled with a week’s worth of clothes, while I helped with their backpacks for school. Talk about surreal. Life wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.
I just keep thinking, now I’m going to miss half their lives. A little melodramatic, maybe, but…half their lives.
That isn’t sitting too well with me right now.
Everything was new and weird then, and it was an adjustment. And also a novelty. Lest you think I spent months wallowing in despair, that simply isn’t the truth. By the end of that first week I had written,
My first kid-free week is nearly over. Wednesday night, I was eating leftover pizza on the couch while drinking a Mike’s Hard Lemonade and watching Boondock Saints on DVD, a movie that is chock full of blood. And I couldn’t help but think, the single life isn’t all that bad, after all.
It all simply became part of a new reality, and I won’t lie – I grew to love my freedom. Quickly. It was nice being a full-time dad one week, and then being able to kick back and do whatever I wanted the following. The arrangement enabled me to discover my true self, and become the person I was always meant to be. I’m convinced of that.
So, this is simply a new new reality, and it too will be fine. Looking at the bright side, hey – at least now we’ll have a guest room! Come visit, you out-of-towners.
And bring booze.