I managed to corral all three children and lure them to Florida for the holiday, although my sons could only stay until Wednesday. And it was Monday night when the realization hit me that I would soon have to say goodbye.
Of course, I always knew that, but as the preparations for Christmas faded, the imminent departure of my sons made me woozy.
It didn't help that these boys, now men, would stop as they walked through a room to put an arm around my waist and squeeze me against them, or would wrap me in a full-blown hug, whispering against my hair that they were going to miss me.
If we found ourselves sitting next to each other at the family game, we'd reach over and squeeze hands.
We had finally become an affectionate, made-for-TV-movie family and now I was throwing it all away to live in France.
I didn't really think that. My boys have always been huggers, but generally just when arriving, leaving or heading to bed. The extra attention came because we were abandoning them.
That's what Tucker accused us of when we first started discussing this plan. He is the youngest and he was probably 19 at the time that we began to put in place the plan for Earl to retire and for the two of us to move.
"So you're just abandoning and I'm going to be homeless?" he asked in his surly teenage tone.
"You don't live with us now," I had pointed out.
"Yeah, but Grace moved home after college, now I'll never be able to do that."
"But you don't want to, do you?"
He had moved out as soon as he started earning enough money to be on his own. He had gone to college, moving into a dorm, then returning home, then moving to an apartment, returning home, before he decided that our home town, Columbus, was the right one for him. So he moved in with a friend and attended college in town. He's currently working on a degree in Interactive Media with a videography certificate, but won't finish until next December.
Since he's in school, we pay his rent and his phone bill. He works full time and pays everything else. He is quite independent, more than the other kids were at his age, but as we sat down to find him health insurance since Earl's company wouldn't provide it during retirement, I could understand why he felt like the safety net was being pulled from beneath him.
His attitude has mellowed as my anxiety has increased.
But Christmas night, as I hugged the boys goodnight, something in me snapped. My tears began to fall and I couldn't seem to turn them off. I stayed in the bathroom an extra while then climbed in my bed, tears still flowing.
Could I leave them behind?
Spencer, now 24, had gone to college a thousand miles away. We had already lived apart for months at a time without seeing each other.
Tucker hadn't. We'd never been away from him on his birthday.
What if I can't do this?
Still feeling full of dread the next morning, I messaged my running friends for a lifeline and went for a 5-mile run. Doing something physical helps me water down strong emotions.
I knew we could change our minds. I could get a full-time job with benefits. We could buy a house in Ohio and live the life we've been living with the kids dropping by when they wanted to see us, but that wasn't our dream. Should we throw it all away so the kids, and I, could feel safe and secure?
The day after Christmas (Boxing Day in the UK) was one of those where we took care of necessary things. Tucker and I sat together on the couch, soccer playing in the background, as we downloaded WhatsApp? on our phones. Everyone else in the family has an iPhone but Tucker has a Samsung, so we needed an app. Then we talked about how to videocall each other. He has a MacIntosh computer, so he should be able to facetime from the computer, but it didn't seem to be working.
"What about gmail?" I asked. I seemed to remember accidentally calling someone from my Gmail account one time, but we couldn't find a way to call. He didn't have Skype on his computer either.
"You can call on Facebook," I said, but he had abandoned his Facebook account years ago.
I walked into the kitchen and my phone began to ring -- it was Tucker calling on WhatsApp. It has a video call plan too.
As I sat next to Tucker on the couch, we talked about the status of the country, wondering if the economy could continue strong with such a stretch between the upper and lower classes. Tucker remarked that the last time the U.S. had such a big gap between the two was in the 1920s, and we know what happened then.
"Yeah, I debate whether we should buy a house right away or hang onto the money and wait," I said.
"If I were you guys, I'd buy a house and never look back," he said. That was a far cry from the 19-year-old who accused us of abandoning him.
We set up bill pays and took care of all the necessary items. Each one checked off the list felt like a step toward the end of the plank.
After another run on Wednesday morning, I went into Tucker's bedroom to grab some clothes. Then I climbed into bed next to him and looped my arm across him into a hug.
"Since you were born, you've always loved me the fiercest," I told him. "Thank you for that."
He reached an arm behind him and hugged me back.
"We're always going to be here for you, even if we aren't physically present," I said.
"I know. I'm going to miss you," he replied.
I didn't climb into bed with Spencer to make sure he understood how deep my feelings ran. I did open the door to his bedroom, and he was sound asleep, so I closed the door. He has always been the most emotionally honest person in the family. There's no passive aggressiveness when he's around because he'll call you on it. "Are you trying to make me feel guilty?" he asked when he was about 7 and I was trying to convince him to attend Grace's dance recital. Why, yes, I was trying to guilt him into it, and he is a straight-shooter about emotions. At 8 or 9, he called out a friend for cheating in a chess game. "I think you care more about winning than you do about our friendship!"
Spencer and I knew where we stood emotionally with our departure.
He was at a good place. A full-time job with benefits, an apartment in our small hometown with two roommates who he went to high school with, a steady girlfriend, a new-ish car. He would miss us, but he wanted us to take our chance, to have our adventure.
So I continued with my day, showering, a big breakfast (our southern family's style) with eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy and everyone gathered around the table (except my Dad who was playing golf in his league).
The boys jumped in the pool for awhile then lay in the sun, knowing they were returning to frigid weather in Ohio.
"Oh, no. I can't believe I forgot to say goodbye to Tupi!" Tucker lamented as we sped up the highway. That cat is important to everyone in the family.
Tucker and I sat in the front seats while Earl and Spencer sat in the back, snoozing after just a little while on the road.
I dropped them all at the terminal then parked the car and walked into Orlando Airport to say goodbye. In just a week, Earl and I would be there to fly to Paris, but for now, we had to get through this departure.
Hugs, and more hugs, and group hugs. I placed my palms against Spencer's cheeks and looked him in the eyes, "We'll always be here for you," I promised.
"I know, Mom," he said as he bent down to hug me tight.
And I repeated the action with Tucker, my palms against the dark beard that covered his cheeks, "I love you," I said, and, of course, he loves me too.
|A last minute selfie at the airport, where I am looking much too happy for a goodbye.|
When would I see them again in person?
Our adventure to live in France was getting closer as each tie to our life in the U.S. was plucked off, painful feather by painful feather.