When the kid is with dad: The words I've been waiting to hear

Snuggles before he left. Credit: Jessica Ashley/SINGLE MOM NATION

Snuggles before he left. Credit: Jessica Ashley/SINGLE MOM NATION

My son is gone for twelve days, the longest he's ever been with his dad. Even before they took off for two weeks on the other side of the country, I was gripped by familiar feelings of sadness and fear and longing and relief. 

I'd have a break in our time together this summer to dig into my work and home projects. I'd be able to sleep in a bit more, worry about balanced meals a bit less. There would be time and space and energy for the Not Boyfriend and I to spend. These are all the good parts I've grown to love as I've gotten used to visitation, especially during the summer vacation schedules.

But the good stuff is always balanced by the sadness to say goodbye for so many days in a row, by the worry something will happen to my boy and I won't be right there, by the quiet and still that settles over the house, replacing the swoosh of Legos stirred up from the bottom of giant bins and terrible tween TV shows and a thousand questions asked ten minutes before a work deadline lands.

I put on my brave mama face, go about our goodbye rituals, hug him tightly, kiss him too many times,  take lots of silly selfies, spin the "I love you"s over and over and over. Then, when he skips down the stairs with his dad, I turn away and cry, call my parents, bury my face into the Not Boyfriend's comforting shoulder.

A few moments later, I am OK. I have learned ways to breathe through the anxieties and separation -- writing immense to-do lists, making plans, taking naps, bringing those good parts of visitation back into balance -- so that I can greet him happily and with excitement during our nightly calls that last anywhere from two minutes to ten minutes.

Our check-in calls have never been long. Sometimes, they've felt awkward and stilted and I've had to pull out of him simple things, like what he did that day and when he had the most fun. We always say a prayer for restful sleep and quiet minds and sweet dreams, and some calls center on rattling it all off quickly so he can get back to the other parts of his family and whatever mysteries they engage in while he is far from our home.

Snuggles. Credit: Jessica Ashley?Single Mom Nation

Snuggles. Credit: Jessica Ashley?Single Mom Nation

Sometimes, the calls go on a bit longer and he details the day and funny moments and dialogue from a movie he saw or a nonsensical nine-year old joke. I piece it together, mostly listening and laughing along to the cadence in his voice and that he's relaxed enough to share more with me. 

But this trip, the calls have taken on a different tenor. It could be that he is older, more able to navigate his way between two very different families stretched across many miles. It could be that our family is changing here, now that we live with the Not Boyfriend, are expecting a new baby and he has had space to process and invest and grow. It could be that he's having a fantastic time there and wants to share that bliss in ten-minute blips with his mom. It could be all of it, wrapped up in singular phone calls just before dinner each evening.

Whatever it is, I've heard the words I have been waiting to hear for six summers. 

"I miss you, I love you and I am having a great time!"

The two thoughts here are linked by a critical AND.

I want him to be able to miss me (and now, us) and love me (and of course, us) AND have a great time. The sentiments are not mutually exclusive. I want him to go off with his dad -- and later this summer, to camp, and later in life, to college and travels and on adventures -- to explore and get and education and figure things out and be with his friends and families. I also want him to feel securely tethered to home -- to this home -- and to know there is an anchor here of love and hope and happiness and stability and Annie's Mac & Cheese. 

I want the two to go together. Even when I long to see his face at my front door, even when I miss him terribly, even when the fear keeps me awake until he is sleeping soundly in the bed across the hallway.

This trip, for the last seven nights, he's said it in some form or another every single call. Each time I've heard that AND, I've felt filled up.

I've tried to foster the AND myself with my own sentiments in Crayola marker notes and whispered farewells and on the phone, saying something like, "I miss you and I love and I am so happy you have this time with your dad!" or "I miss you and I love you and I am so thrilled you raced down that Alpine Slide!" or "I miss you and I love you and it sounds like you are having the very best time!"

In that, I want him to know that I also have a life while he is away. The wording has carried over to my travels for business or conferences, and even back when the Not Boyfriend lived far away from us. 

"I miss you and I love you and I am excited and nervous to make this big speech today!" "I miss you and I love and the Not Boyfriend and I are having lots of fun hiking this afternoon." "I miss you and I love you and I can't wait to tell you all about my new client when I get home tomorrow night."

Visitation and vocation have given my son and me this gift, this Venn diagram of a full life together, held in by a bursting circle of love and little daily moments, snuggled up to lives with other people and activities and weekends and weeks away, overlapped by an AND. 

I want the AND to be bigger than my fear. Bigger than the tough stuff kids of divorce have to contend with all the time. More than the missing. Or missing out. Or filling in. Or filling up. More than one trip, one phone call, one hasty little prayer sent up across states and vacations.

One day, I may count his time away in months rather than days. There will be more silences and details left out of those calls. The prayers will be whispered into the dark rather than into the phone. He will be off AND running. Out AND about. Onward AND upward. I am sure I will have more tears, more to-do lists, more to contend with in meditation and therapy and the stillness about what it means for him to set off to his own homes and decisions and adventures.

I will be looking to the AND to carry us through that time, too. For today, for this one trip, I am grateful to hear the words I always hoped he'd feel. Safe AND free. Here AND there.