33 days. That is how long three of our children were away. That is how long our family felt incomplete. That is how long we counted down to their return.
They are home!
Yesterday morning, David and I, with Madalyn, Meredith, Josiah and Charlotte, jumped in the Enterprise (the family van) and drove to Orlando to pick up Grace, Hope and Faith at the airport. We were so excited that we booked it and ended up arriving at the airport early. This means we were in OIA with two 6 year olds, a 4 year old and a 3 year old who had just ridden in a car for an hour. We had the brilliant idea to take the kids through some of the gift shops to entertain them while we waited. After the Kennedy Space Center, SeaWorld and Universal Parks gift shops, we decided just waiting with them wouldn’t be so bad. David had started to walk to a fourth store and I shook my head with begging eyes. All the touching-my clenched jaw couldn’t take anymore. He was happy to oblige. The wait wasn’t much longer before we saw the girls come around the corner. As soon as we all had each other in sight, we picked up the pace in approaching each other. When we met there was pretty much a hug fest right there in the middle of the airport. After we had all had the chance to greet each other, we left Grace, Hope and Faith alone with their other mom and walked just around the corner. We wanted them to have the chance to say goodbye without all of our chaos around. One by one they ran over to us after they said their goodbye. I was holding Faith as we began to walk away. I turned her around to wave goodbye one more time and felt something I never thought I would feel: compassion for their mom. It will be five months before she sees them again. She made choices, but I know being separated from a child is never easy. My heart broke a little for her as we headed to the van, but my joy over having them back was greater.
We had an hour drive back to where we live and we spent it hearing all about the trip from Grace’s mouth. After she had recounted a good bit, attention turned toward the house. The last time they saw it, it was just a foundation and wood frame. We had decided to have them wait and see it rather than tell them about it and we greatly enjoyed teasing them. When we got back to town, we drove past home and right to a place we have decided is our family spot. It’s a little pizza place called NY Pizza Spot. We have been quite a few times and always sit at the same table. This would be because it is the only table in there big enough to seat us all! When we walked in this time, they knew exactly who we were. We were directed to our table and laughed when we found out that they pretty much have our order memorized now too (including which is kid cut)! We had a wonderful lunch together talking and laughing and catching up.
After lunch, it was off to see the house! As we drove down the street, I turned in my seat so I could watch the jaws drop. The girls were so surprised to see how far the house had come. There were men there working on the tile so David went up to ask if we could go in and show them the progress. They said we could and we saw more dropping jaws as we all marched in there. After showing the girls around (and seeing a few new exciting things ourselves) we headed back toward the front door. One of the workers asked about our family so David gave the short hers, mine and all ours story. He asked if we wanted any more and David told him we would probably have one more together at some point. He laughed and said, “You gonna build a bigger house??” We all laughed and assured him that would be a no. We thanked them and headed back out to the van.
We decided since we were out there to get an idea of what life will look like for me this year. You see, we will have kids at three different schools and they are all in three different directions with the house just about in the middle. We drove from the house to the public elementary school where the twins and Hope will have to be at 8am every day. From there, we drove to the private school where Josiah will have to be every day at 8:15am. From there we drove to Dunkin. Why? Because until we move into the new house, I won’t be able to go home between drop offs so Dunkin is where Grace, Charlotte, Faith and I will hang out for an hour in the mornings. Still why? Because coffee. We then drove to the public middle school where Grace will have to be at 9:30 every morning. As we headed back to the main road after that stop, David looked at me and told me he didn’t envy me and all this driving. I told him that wasn’t the half of it-Josiah would have to be picked up at 11:30am every day (and then driven to speech at the girls’ elementary school one or two times a week), the girls would have to be picked up at 2:30 most days (1:15 on Wednesdays), and Grace would need to be picked up at 4:15 most days (3:00 on Wednesdays)! And until we move to the new house, these schools aren’t around the corner. We decided that the Enterprise will need to temporarily just be called The Bus.
After this fun reality check, we headed to our current homebase. We spent the afternoon checking out new toys and new clothes on both sides, watching a movie, and trying to enjoy the time. Seven hours after finally feeling like a complete family again, Madalyn, Meredith, Josiah and Charlotte headed to their Dad’s for two days. I closed the door after they left and turned to David saying, “Well that was nice while it lasted.”
Our pastor spoke about divorce a couple Sundays back. One of the things he said was that the pain from a divorce never goes away completely. Divorce should never be looked at as a way to be free from something because it is replaced by different hard things. While David and I didn’t choose our divorces, that is something we see to be true in so many ways. This is just one of those ways. People look at us and see the love story, the beautiful family that came together, the redemption. Those things are real, but we still feel the ache oh so often of our family being separated, disjointed, missing pieces. The kids feel it too, and not just when they leave us, and some more than others. It hurts watching them hurt. We choose to see the positive as often as we can: alone time every now and then is good for us, focused time with smaller groups of the children can be used for good things. However, will never be free from the torture of saying goodbye to our children over and over.
Painful as it may be, it is something we have accepted. The joy of them coming home outweighs the pain of them leaving. Our girls are home after a month away and we are overjoyed. On Thursday, our other four will return home and we will continue on as our big, beautiful, blended family-making memories and savoring each second we have all together. Spending time apart just means we are even better at that. We stuff as many “I love you”s and hugs and family time as we can into the days we have all together. And often, we thank God that those times make up the majority of our lives, not the times apart.