The house is so quiet. I had planned to spend the afternoon putting Christmas decorations away, vacuuming the dog hair and grit from the floor, stripping sheets off the kids’ beds, the guest-room bed, the pull-out couch. (We had a full house here last night.) But I know that when I get up from my spot at the kichen table and begin all those tasks, it will mean that the holiday we’ve had together really is over. When I went to bed last night, around 11:30, Henry and a couple of high school classmates were sprawled on the couch with afghans, watching old episodes of The West Wing. Jack was upstairs chatting on the phone with a friend. My eighteen-year-old niece Caitlin, who’s been staying with us for a week, was putting the finishing touches on her college applications. The fire we’d nursed all afternoon was burning to embers in the fireplace, the dishwasher was running its second load, a pile of sodden boots sat in a widening puddle by the back door, an unfinished game of Bananagrams lay abandoned on the floor, laptops and iPods were scattered about the kitchen. The place looked lived in, definitely.
Early this morning we said good-bye to Henry’s best friend, I took Henry and Caitlin to the airport, and Jack left as well, to drive back to school with his dad. I am behind in everything, truth be told, with two weeks worth of unaswered e-mails on my computer, a deadline to meet, an empty refrigerator. It’s been days since I exercised, or picked up a book, or wrote so much as a word. There’s plenty to do. And yet, alone for the first time in weeks, I am a bit unsettled by the silence, almost bereft, already missing everybody.
One thing I’ve found this year is that the partings don’t get easier, no matter how many times my sons come home and go away again. But I’ve also learned how important it is to appreciate all the moments of their being here, even when those moments are not exactly the blissful “family time” I always envision. The house gets messy, best laid plans go awry, the days fly by way too fast, and suddenly it’s time to haul out the suitcases again, grab the last load from the dryer, say good-bye.
I guess that there’s just never going to be quite enough time, no matter how long their time at home lasts –not enough time to do all the things I look forward to doing, or to launch all the conversations I hope to have, or even to relax into our old, comfortable routines. Certainly the things my younger son and I used to fight about and wrangle over seem pretty silly now, a waste of precious opportunity. And if Henry never does stand up straight, or chew with his mouth closed, so be it. Instead of being bothered by things that used to drive me crazy, I’m aware that our time together is short, my sons’ imminent departures always right around the corner. And so I remind myself to see what’s good, and to appreciate what is. At seventeen and twenty, my sons definitely have their own ideas about what they want to do, and when, and how. I’m learning to accept that, too. To simply say “I love you,” rather than, “Why don’t you. . .”
We didn’t read Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” this year, or sing carols, or walk the New Year’s labyrinth at Town Hall. We never made it to see “Avatar,” nor did we even manage to shoot a family photo before everyone scattered out the door–all things that were on my agenda. But we did light candles last night, and hold hands for grace around the dinner table. We rang in 2010 together, had lots of laughs and wonderful visits with family and friends, and bestowed sweet hugs and kisses all around this morning as we went our separate ways.
Upstairs, the scent of Old Spice still lingers. Snow is falling. The empty house settles into late afternoon shadow. And I allow myself this thought: the time we did have was perfect, just as it was. And the quiet, now — it is perfect, too.