Saturday morning I drove Elise and the kids to BWI to put them on a plane for Washington State. They will be there for two weeks while I stay in Virginia to work. Alone.
Two weeks may not seem like a long time, but it has been over a year since I've been away from them for any extended period of time. When you are used to having someone around, their absence can be jarring. Some people don't have as strong presence as others, and their absence is not felt as acutely as the absence of others. Needless to say, three children under five create a pretty strong presence.
To some, the prospect of not having to wait on three tiny people may seem appealing. I would be lying if I said this time didn't afford me the opportunity to do things I normally can't seem to find the time to do, such as write, run, and go rock climbing. But for the past five years, 98% of my time and energy, nearly every iota of my being, has been committed to either working or parenting. It's all I know. So I feel lost. I feel somewhat without identity when my wife and kids are not around, a little purposeless.
After I got home after having driven back from Baltimore, I decided to go running even though it was already 9:00 a.m. The following forty-five minutes were some of the hottest, most miserable of my life, and the resulting "run" more resembled a pathetic stagger. Wasted, I passed out on the couch for nearly two hours. When I woke, I resolved to run every day first thing in the morning and that I would not nap again.
Before they left, Elise asked me what I was going to do with all my free time. I couldn't answer her, because I honestly didn't know. I joked I might play Legos, build a train set, and go to the playground. Sam suggested I build all the Legos. See, currently, though we have many sets, all the sets are disassembled and mixed together in one large bin. Whenever we want to build a set--the fire boat or the airplane--we spend most of our time sifting through 10,000 Lego bricks looking for the specific piece we need to complete the set. Saturday afternoon, I dumped all the Legos on the floor and began doing exactly as Sam suggested. I'm building all the sets so when the boys come home from Washington, I will have done the one thing they have always wanted me to do but that I never had time to do or was never able to do because I was trying to keep baby Clementine from eating the Lego pieces at the same time.
Yesterday afternoon, I went to the rock gym and took a beginning rock climbing class. I had been rock climbing before, but I never knew how to tie into the top rope or clip in to belay. Now I do. I am not unfamiliar to physical challenges. I spent many years in an almost obsessive pursuit of a faster 10k run, 20 k bike split, or 200 yard fly. I like rock climbing because it is a completely different physical challenge than anything else I had done before. Unfortunately, I only got to actually get on the wall twice.
Unbeknownest to me when I registered online, I took the ninth spot in a nine-person class. The other eight people were members of an extended Indian family who were celebrating a birthday at the gym. When it was finally my turn to belay, I kept a woman three times my size from plummeting to certain........if not death, then definite injury. If nothing else, it tested my belaying metal right of the bat.
The weekend was long. Too long, and when I finally showed up for Tamil class on Monday morning, my mind was complete mush. I couldn't recall even the simplest of vocabulary. I forgot the Tamil word for "or".
The days are lonely. I fill my time with errands, silly little tasks I do mostly to stay busy. The nights, the time I am used to spending with Elise on the couch or in bed, talking, reading or watching TV, are even lonelier without her. The only good thing on is still on HGTV, but it's just not the same watching it alone. The insane curiosity I have knowing whether a couple will love their home makeover or list the home they've outgrown to buy a new one is gone.
The mornings, however, are the loneliest.
The first hour of every normal day is complete pandemonium as I try to get three breakfasts on the table, empty the dishwasher, wash dishes, make coffee, change diapers, get kids dressed, start laundry and somehow get myself off to work and out the door by 7:00. Very literally, Clementine pulls my underwear down to my knees as I make breakfast, and I step over and around three bodies curled into pupae-like cocoons on the kitchen floor as I make breakfast. Not quite awake enough to respond to verbal commands, but awake enough to know they needs something, they are like newborn birds chirping into the air while their eyes are still glued shut. And yet, somehow I miss the cacophony of their demands.
Though they ask me for yogurt, juice, to read a story, giant bowls of cereal, pancakes, french toast, waffles, sausage in both links and patties, water, cookies, to build a Lego, to watch TV, to wipe their tizu when they are done pooping, to find their blankets, to find their Chick Hick matchbox car, to find the orange plane toy, and Lucky Charms, they also say goodbye as I leave for work. They give me hugs and kisses and tell me they love me, and when they are not there, they can't. And for that reason, I don't mind chasing Peter through the apartment to get him to finish his breakfast, or run from one bathroom to wipe Sam's tizu to the other bathroom to pull an entire roll of toliet paper out of the toliet, or do the hundred other things they ask me to do in that first hour if it means they will be there to see me off to work.