Yesterday was the first time I heard my kids’ voices on the phone. They were in the car with their dad and aunt.
“We are going to a how-teowl on the beach,” Lucas, 3, explained matter-of-factly. “I have a water bottle and snacks.”
As a voice on speaker phone, Helena, 5, sounded about three years older than her real age — and a continent away. “I helped Daddy and Tina pack up the car!”
Everyone was happy and good.
I was not there.
This week Helena and Lucas are away for the week with their dad. Five days and it’s the longest I’ve been away from them. They will have a great time, their aunt is visiting from Los Angeles and she’s a lot of fun with them. The kids were extra-cuddly in the days before they left. “Are you worried about being away so long?” I asked Helena. “Yes, I won’t get as many mommy-snuggles,” she said, nuzzling up to me on the couch.
I miss the hugs, of course. But I just miss them being here in the house. The rhythm of family life. Knowing they’re sleeping in the next room. Eating a square breakfast and dinner at a table with people I care for. Instead, I suck on a cup of coffee in the morning and crack pistachios for dinner. This is no way to live!
At the end of it I just feel lonely. I could have done a better job of filling my evenings with adult activities, and I’m looking forward to some shenanigans with this fellow blogger on Thursday night. But being alone in an apartment all day when you would rather not be is just the pits.
I texted my fellow-single mom BFF about how I felt. “Awwww,” she wrote back. “Can you go to yoga or get a pedicure?”
Me: “Done and done.”
Her: “Go for a run?”
Me: “I’m texting you sweaty from the park.”
All this is ennui is compounded by the fact that Helena starts kindergarten in a few weeks. She is more than ready – she is so friendly and outgoing, a naturally confident person. She already reads beautifully, easily sounding out big words and capturing the cadence of rhyming books. Like so many parents, I feel like my little girl is slipping away from me, a full child now in a new phase of life. When jogging along the East River yesterday, I passed a couple with their toddler in a stroller. I sopped, leaned over the rail and sobbed.
All this change makes me consider so many things. It makes me realize how important it is to fill my life with people and interests outside of motherhood. I have mixed feelings about the maxim: At the end of it all, we all die alone. Cynical, but alas, true. My kids are my everything, and yet they are not mine. Reminder to self: I am a person before I am a mom.
These evenings void of anything but dawdling on social media and reading the latest Vanity Fair has real value. It is important to sometimes just sit and be sad. Not jam your schedule with distractions. Feel the holes in your life, and indulge in the sorrow that lies there. Use those feelings as a tool to sort stuff out, set priorities and make changes.
The sadness I felt in hearing my kids’ excitement about their vacation makes me appreciate how tough it must be for non-custodial parents. I have my children with me the majority of the time. Usually, the one or two days I spend away from them during a week feels like a break. Today I imagine how my ex must feel not to be part of vacations and holidays, and I want to build a closer relationship with him. Of course, because that is good for the kids. But it is good for him and it is good for me. Until now being connected with him just meant more contact and more conflict. I want that to change, and I am going to take some responsibility in moving that forward.
And so I will go on with my day. Get all that work done, hang new blinds in the kids’ room. Pet the lonely cat more than usual and indulge in a few extra yoga classes. I will be sad, and that is OK. Then the kids will come home and their hugs will be extra long and squeezy. We will shop for school clothes (grown-up Helena wants flats) and be swept up in life pulling us forward — forward as a family, and forward as people.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money writer, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, REAL SIMPLE, Parenting, USA Today and others.
The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children (Penguin, 2017), was a #1 bestseller and was featured in hundreds of media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, Oprah.com and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.
Her popular blog Wealthysinglemommy.com, and podcast Like a Mother, explore issues facing professional single moms: business and career, money, sex, relationships and parenting. Emma regularly comments on these topics for outlets such as CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, The Doctors, and many more. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” one of “20 Personal Finance Influencers to Follow on Twitter” by AOL DailyFinance, “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and “Most Eligible New Yorkers” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker on gender equality, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality.
Emma grew up in Sycamore, Ill., and lives in New York City with her children.