Sometimes it’s only after they’ve rushed out the door and climbed into their father’s car that I realize I didn’t hug them goodbye, not for any real reason except that Evan was complaining about his shoes again and Kostyn was chasing after a squirrel, and there were jackets to remember and backpacks to exchange and reminders about Picture Day tomorrow at school. And then the car doors were closing and I was yelling “I love you guys!” and they were yelling back “Bye, Mommy!” and “Love you too!”
Every time they leave, I stand just inside the front door and watch them back out of the driveway and speed off. I wave every day, even on the days when I know they’re distracted, telling Daddy about their day or marveling at a new toy he’s left on their seats for them. I see their little hands fly up at the last moment and I know he has just said, “Wave to Mommy,” because he knows I’m standing there, and he knows what it feels like.
It’s not hard like it used to be, like it was last year. The goodbye hugs used to be dreaded embraces carefully orchestrated inside my heart. They had to be not too clingy and never sad. They had to express love and assurance without a hint of “please don’t leave me,” lest their little minds linger on the fact that one parent might be lonely without them. So the last-second squeezes with my wiggly boys would be motherly but quick, as I’d breathe them in and feel them nuzzle their faces into my neck just for a second. Many times I had to fight back tears, knowing that when I saw them the next day they’d be just a tiny bit bigger.
It is easier now. Some days I look forward to the silence, the sweet end to the bickering for a bit, and the ability to make dinner that nobody will complain about. It has become routine, this back and forth life we lead. It is not ideal, but we tell ourselves that they have adjusted beautifully, that they never missed a beat in school, never acted out at home. They know and feel great love from both parents, and they believe that we are still a family, just different. We’re grateful that they’ve had each other, that in a sea of changing lives and new homes and dinners for three, each boy could count on one constant – his brother.
When their silver car is out of sight I turn back inside and close the heavy front door, walking toward the kitchen to start the transition. There are always remnants of our day left to pick up, capes and Nerf gun darts and stray Trio blocks and always, always one more marble. On this day their snack plates and cups and crumbs are still on the table. Kostyn’s homework is in his dad’s car, finished and neatly tucked into his backpack, but his pencil is right here on my kitchen table where we were working on rounding up and rounding down. I smile thinking about how in the middle of adding and estimating my third-grader suddenly dropped that pencil, stood on his dining room chair and turned toward me, his brown eyes wide and his smile spreading.
“Mommy, stop what you’re doing and open your arms!” he commanded like some sort of pint-sized game show host, and I had two seconds to drop the backpacks and lunch boxes and take-home folders I was just gathering up at the table before he was flying at me, his bony legs grabbing for me, his arms around my neck. He clung to me like a koala cub, like those little stuffed animal figures whose legs and arms pinch open and closed and can snap onto just about anything.
For a second I had the usual knee-jerk parental reaction, huffing to myself that I was just in the middle of something and can’t he see how busy I am doing all these things for them and I know this is just his way of avoiding his homework and I am not some tree to climb whenever one of them feels like jumping on me. Huff. Sigh.
But I didn’t say any of that, I swallowed that first instinct and went with the second one, which was to hold on tight. Because he’s mine. And because he’s still young enough to want to jump into my arms, and he’s still small enough for me to catch him, and he’s still smart enough to know I always will. And math homework can wait.
Forty minutes from that moment I will realize that the flying leap of a koala bear hug, the one right here in the kitchen with his brother jumping up and saying “Mommy, my turn!” and Kostyn giggling into my ear and threatening to stay like that forever, that was our hug goodbye today. And I am grateful that it doesn’t have a hint of “goodbye” in it.