I was nervous before they went. My kids were going away for a whole week with their dad, leaving me alone in my house. It was the first time I've been left alone at home since my divorce; actually, the first time I've been left alone at home since I had the kids.
Over the holiday period, no less, when many of my friends were away.
I thought about going away on my own, but I decided it wasn't for me. And besides, there were things I wanted to do at home. Clean out the cupboards. Do some writing. Finish my taxes. And fun things, like see movies and get a massage.
I decided to have a staycation.
My kids left on a Friday evening, and I went straight out to a movie with a friend. I returned home late, went straight to bed, got up the next morning and went out again. I stayed out all day Saturday, went out Saturday night, and then went out all day Sunday, too.
And then I came home on Sunday night to the deafeningly loud silence, and I sat in my empty house. The place where my children live was dark and empty, and I cried and cried and cried.
Even as I cried, I realised I was being absurd. My kids were alive and well and having a great holiday. But I felt unsettled and alone and almost panicked. I didn't know how to be without my kids. I started having wild fantasies, projecting ahead to when my kids would be grown and moved out. How would I cope? What would my days even look like?
The next day I was a mess. I tried to work, but I couldn't concentrate. I met a friend for lunch and tried desperately to fill in time. I went out to a movie that night, and was thrilled to get through another day.
The following morning, I took myself for a pap smear, arguably the most tragic thing possible to do on a holiday. After the appointment, I took myself out for lunch and realised: I had only four days left.
Four days only? I decided to enjoy it.
And so I did. I made plans with friends. I downloaded movies and watched them in bed. I got a massage. I took naps. I drank wine. I read books. I ordered Chinese food in vast quantities and ate it all myself. I went to Ikea and bought things I didn't need.
And I enjoyed myself. I really did. I had a good time.
But something was missing. As strange as it sounds, I felt like I wasn't fully alive. I was laughing and socialising and eating and smiling, but something was missing. In the innermost chambers of my heart I felt empty. With my kids so far away, I could be cheerful, but I couldn't fully embrace joy.
It shocked me, because I am not someone who defines myself purely by motherhood. I have my work and friends, and interests, and a full rich life away from my kids. But I need them here to anchor me. I need them here to make me feel whole.
Happily, I have at least ten or twelve years before I'm facing an empty nest. In the meantime, I plan to enjoy my children while they're still here, whilst preparing myself for their inevitable departure.
Oh. And I'm totally going to finish my taxes. With all the crying and wine drinking and massages and naps, I didn't get around to doing that after all.