In my poor planning and idiotic reliance on a tax refund, I hadn’t realized that I’m only weeks away from the end of the school year. Less than a week and Abbi’s out, moving onto Senior year . . . just like that. Hannah will head to her final year of middle school. I let it slip by, ignored the dates, and my father hit me with the question he’d asked over and over again: “when do the kids get out of school?”
The girls were the first to visit their grandparents. It started the year we moved to Sacramento. My folks missed the kids horribly and wanted to spend time with them. When my folks wanted the time to get longer and longer it weighed heavier and heavier on my wife. She didn’t like being away from the kids. I think part of her really didn’t like my parents having any influence over her kids, which I believed then – and firmly believe now – was a foolish thing. My Mom is definitely a take-charge kind of woman and my Dad has his opinions. They might very well take over and run things if you let them . . . but that’s the key: if you let them.
The longest the kids ever stayed with my folks when Andrea was alive was a month. Andrea hated it. Even 2 weeks was too much for her. You have to understand as well that when we got to California she had a very unrealistic view that her Mom would take care of the kids while she worked . . . and I think she believed her Mom would take care of her when she got home. The hardest thing in the world is to grow up and see the weaknesses and flaws in your parents. To you, particularly in those most formative years, they are indestructible. Andrea always fought them but secretly wanted her Mom to take care of her. The worst thing in the world was when she realized, as an adult, that her Mom was neither willing nor able to do that work – not when she was a kid, and really not now when we had our kids.
Look, I know this sounds harsh and I’m not trying to be mean. Four kids . . . it’s a hard number to wrap your head around. I even told Andrea she had no expectation – nor no right – to try and make her Mom take care of bother her and the kids. I had raised a red flag saying that the agreement her Mom would watch our kids would never come to a good end. I had seen the reality by how many times Andrea had been disappointed in our marriage with too high expectations and I expressed my worries to both her and her parents. I was assured they were unfounded. In the end, they weren’t. It led to major bouts of depression and anxiety on my wife’s part. It also led to my having to try and calm down both Andrea AND her Mom on some days, something I was not equipped to handle.
Now, I’m faced with doing the very thing my wife hated: sending my kids away for the summer. My dilemma isn’t whether or not they can handle it, though I have that worry. It’s whether or not they’re bored or hurt by having to be there. That . . . and I’m not sure I can handle it.
I was in a fog when I got back to work last year. When I changed jobs (by necessity, not choice) I probably should have taken even more time off. When July came last year, I took a pilgrimage over 1 weekend . . . on my birthday . . . to avoid being here. Now I hit my 2nd summer and I’m not sure what I’ll do alone in the house.
I know I could go to Nebraska and visit the kids, and I will, but it’s not the whole summer. I could surely work my behind off, hang out downtown, do a bunch of things, but it’s not changing the fact that I’m faced with the fact that I have 2 and a half months where I’m left to face the fact that my house is empty. It’s like looking at my future and realizing that it’s where I’m heading in the next 9 years. I don’t know what I’m going to do from here. I love my job, but do I love it here in California enough to stay after the kids leave? Will I continue to be an investigative journalist?
I know it’s not easy to face these questions, and I shouldn’t. But I’ve come to realize that I’m only just now, in this last few weeks, looking more than a day ahead. I got through last year, last summer, all of it by looking only at each day . . . trudging through the morning, the afternoon, getting through to the night, and then starting it all over again. It became routine. But the routine isn’t effective when it’s having to change constantly. I will have 5 more years with Hannah and then it’s me and the boys. After that, what?
It’s hardest because, the weeks that the kids would spend in Nebraska I always wanted to take advantage of. I wanted to grab Andrea and head to LA or to London or anywhere . . . I wanted to find some of that spark again, the thing that had us so amazed with each other, unable to stop holding hands or kissing in public, damn the stares. But she wouldn’t do it. She was obsessed with the fact the kids weren’t here, wouldn’t travel, and counted the days until they were back.
I now face those summer days alone. I don’t have a choice. I can’t work if they’re home alone and it’s not fair to my oldest to keep them home and make her watch them . . . that, and I’m not sure she’d do it right. It’s easy to be coddling and attentive when you’re babysitting. It’s easier to ignore the arguments and head to your room when it’s your siblings. To survive and pay for everything these kids need I have to work and keep them watched and cared for. My parents volunteer to do it. I also love the influence they have and the feeling that my childhood home, to these kids . . . is home.
It’s the one thing that gets me through the summer. Where they are far away, they are so happy and cared for. I’m happy they have such an amazing summer ahead of them.
And perhaps I’m a little jealous.