Faithful readers of this column know that years ago, when my children were successfully out of diapers, we would send them for a week in the summer to their grandparents in Pittsburgh.
It's not like my husband and I went to a Sandals resort during that week. He was usually traveling to cover the NFL, and I would use the week to go to work on my schedule instead of theirs.
Joe and Jessie never asked to do anything while at Grandma and Grandpa's. No petting zoos. No carnivals. They would just lie in bed and watch cartoons on their own personal televisions, play and eat. Grandma would make piles of mashed potatoes and gravy for Joe, and there were ice cream sundaes for breakfast for Jessie.
At the end of the week, when Grandma and Grandpa returned them to us, their cheeks were fuller and their clothes were all clean.
My husband and I are the grandparents now, and the Fabulous Mikey came to stay with us. For a week we recreated a time whose passing we grieved. Mikey, almost 3 and successfully out of diapers, didn't want to do anything except watch cartoons, play and eat.
For me, it was a chance to have a week like I never had with my own toddlers. No schedule, no agenda, nothing to accomplish. One of the joys of grandparenthood is that the raising of the children is now someone else's responsibility. We are just in charge of nonsense.
But something else happened during that week that I did not expect. I saw my life now in a different way. My nest is not empty. It is simply filled with different things.
Mobility and flexibility, to begin. Going anywhere with Mikey, as was the case with my own children, is like trying to launch a circus into space during a window in earth's rotation. Miss that window, and you are sunk.
Thinking and contemplation are also kind of impossible around children, as is eating a quiet meal. My head is clearer now, and I can enjoy the challenges of my work instead of feeling the guilty tug of my sweet obligations at home.
My husband and I are no longer oxen in a yoke, pulling the wagon. We can talk to each other across a restaurant table without having to cut anyone's meat. He is more interesting than I remembered.
I also regard menopause with new appreciation for the wisdom of nature. It is not barrenness or lifelessness. It is not a curse or a loss. It makes perfect sense. Although we could all do without the hot flashes.
I used to tell young mothers not to chafe at the confinements of toddler-dom. "Your life is out there waiting for you and it will be there when your children are grown," I would say. "And when you get there, you will want nothing more than to have these days back."
I don't think quite that way anymore. This is my life. It is not a life bereft of children, certainly not with the Fabulous Mikey in the world. It is not an empty life. I have not lost anything, and nothing is missing.
It is my life as it is now. Everywhere I look, I can see some aspect of this childlessness that is worthy of appreciation, and I have resolved not to waste the present wishing for the past.
After a week, it was time to send Mikey back. He left me with a head cold, of course. I used to say that kids get sick, wear you down taking care of them, give you the germs and then watch in triumph when you are rendered helpless with coughing and fever.
But when I sent him home to his mother, all his clothes were clean, and his cheeks were fuller.
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