I've tried over and over for the past hour and 45 minutes. I can't reach them by phone and I am alternately worried, outraged, and annoyed.
Worried: Did they make it home from school ok? Did something happen late last night? Is someone sick? Is everything ok? What if He is sick? I hope He is ok... no, don't go there... What if my son is in trouble at school? Did my daughter have a problem walking home from the bus all by herself? It's been raining, was there some accident?
Outraged: I can't believe it! He got them right after school and took them out and now they'll be late! He's done it before - I'm sure that's what he's done. I've driven 70 miles, it's taken over an hour with the rain and the Friday traffic and now I have to just sit... and wait... and it's one more thing I don't have choice or control or say in. Argh! I hate this whole thing! No, I know, he blocked my number and they can't get my calls. Like before... come ON!!! Aren't we done with this yet? What, did he hide the house phone, take away my son's cell phone? Is this such a joke to him?
Annoyed: Sheesh, they NEVER answer their phone anymore. I'm just "a mom" and my son ignores my calls and texts just like he does to his dad. They never answer the home phone or they can't find it or can't hear it. They were supposed to call me when they got home, this is soooo annoying! Forgetful, air headed, thoughtless teens! They know I'm coming, we just spoke last night and now I've called 5 times and texted twice... watch, they won't even be home or maybe they will but they won't be ready to go... Argh!
But then, as I am getting into my car to drive the half mile to their house from my friends house where I stay when I come to be with them, I try one more time and my son answers. I am short, terse; relieved and with no reason for outrage, I'm just annoyed. My son starts to explain and I cut him off. "I'll be there in two minutes. Be ready to go, OK?" "Yeah mom, we're ready!"
The sight of them coming out the door and down the drive makes my heart feel like it's actually swelling, rising up in my chest, filling up. And at the same time, at the sight of their faces I feel pain so peircing that my eyes well up with tears that burn like acid as I tilt my head back to prevent the spillover. Mustn't let them see me cry. I am the mom, the grownup, the safe stable adult whom THEY can cry in front of.
Our time together is full full full of chatter. Their first few days of school, their classes and teachers and friends and what they've been doing after school and in the evenings and this very day while I was trying to call them.
We eat, we watch tv, we talk. And while I am bitter that I have to impose on my friends hospitality just to have time with my kids, and am simultaneously bound by the limitations of her house and her time, I am oh so grateful that I have a friend so willing to open her house and her heart to three extra people on a Friday night when she is already tired and worn from her own long week.
My son falls asleep on the couch while I play Yahtzee with my daughter. I see his sleeping face morph from the thin cheeked, big nosed, distant eyed teenager into the soft mouthed, sparkly spirited little boy that my heart will always hold. My daughter and I whisper and try to shake our dice as quietly as we can. Her spirit is joyful and radiant as we share this private moment when it is just her and I. I am so unsettled, dissapointed, guilty even, that my son is tired and can't just go to his own room to rest, can't even go home because taking him home means taking them BOTH home and means me getting "in trouble" for not sticking to the committed time of 8pm. I am also elated, fulfilled, and cleansed by sharing this almost intimate time alone with my daughter, time we need, want, are desperate for - this time that is a salve on the wounds we both feel.
There is so much to feel and so little time to feel it in. We have three hours. My emotions are so wide and deep and go from one continent in my heart to another. Balancing that all out to feel the simple joy of mothering my children in the moment takes a heavy dose of denial, a generous amount of not thinking ahead, a foundation seated in not remembering 'before'. Staying present and focused without prejudicing the moment by adding guilt, remorse, and sorrow take effort that leaves me exhausted, drawn, empty.
And I haven't even begun to consider their emotions: those of my sleepy teenage son who has to balance normal behavior with the want and need of a boy for his mom and the guilt associated as he navigates those two huge places in his heart, seasoned with anger and grief; and those of my pre-teen daughter, so needing of me, so genuinely cheerful and open hearted that she'll welcome the attentions of any female in my place, and the guilt she tries to pretend isn't pricking at her sweet spirit, well marinated in confusion and unanswered questions, torn loyalties, and sweet love.
Balancing it all in my heart, tipping the weight of it one way or the other by smile, tone of voice, and the noncommittal even tempered, "mmmm..." until later. Balanced until they are out of the car and through the doors into their own home - the one that is still in my name but I can no longer go inside. Balanced until I am alone and all the work of holding it together comes undone.
I carry always though, the knowledge that my kids do their own unbalancing act. For that fact alone, I am the most full of self loathing.
I am their mom, still, and always. Unbalanced, balanced, and somewhere in-between.