Jack was sobbing, his face pressed against his bed.
It had been about ten minutes and I wondered why he had not emerged fully pajama-clad from his bedroom. I pushed into his room, and found him, red faced and bereft.
“I just miss Daddy too much to put my pajamas on,” he cried.
His father is away on business for five days. He’s never been away before. Jack has enjoyed many a sleep over with his adoring grandparents, but he’s never experienced a night at home without his father. They have a nightly ritual at bedtime of stories or games on the iPad, and then my husband stays until Jack drifts off to sleep. It has been that way since Jack was very small.
“Jack, honey. Come to Mama.”
Reluctantly, Jack came to me. Tears slid down his face.
“Nothing feels right without Daddy,” he wept.
A very small and very cynical part of me thought, What am I, chopped liver? Come on kid. I grew you from scratch in my tummy! I can do take care of you just as well as Daddy!
But most of me felt the weight of my small son’s sorrow.
Earlier that night, Jack announced, “You know, a Happy Meal is in fact not happy without Daddy.” It had been a steamy, exhausting day and I took the atrocious way out and did a drive through. Neither Jack or Emily were particularly happy and picked at their grease bags. (In all fairness, I fed them fresh fruit and smoothies made with coconut milk and more fresh fruit all afternoon, sooo. . . Yeah, I know. I still suck.)
Jack came home from karate chipper enough, but quickly decompensated facing the alteration of his beloved bedtime routine. We called my husband and the three of us talked about our feelings on speaker phone. My husband texted Jack some photos of the view from his room while we were on the phone so Jack could see what he was seeing. Jack talked until he was ready to say good night. Then, I tucked him into my bed, and rubbed his back until he fell asleep.
It is hard to be Jack. He feels everything so intensely. In the long run, he will be fine. Parents travel, and their children are none the worse for it. I know he will be fine. But it is hard to watch him wrestle with big and complicated emotions.
Holding my solid, nearly-seven-year-old in my arms, I remembered when he was a newborn. He was colicky and always hungry and he terrified me. His needs and demands swallowed me. I feared I would not rise to the occasion of being his mom. I would pass him off to his dad when his cries overwhelmed me.
In his father’s arms, Jack quickly settled. My husband experimented with music and white noise, and discovered that the sound of the kitchen faucet turned on just so would chill Jack into a hypnotic trance if we stood and rocked the baby back and forth.
One time, I found my husband holding a placid Jack in front of his computer, watching a screen saver of swirling lights and listening to classical lullabies. It nearly enraged me how easily my husband could calm and comfort Jack, but once my postpartum hormones settled, I learned a lot from my husband about being grounded and compassionate as a parent.
Jack and my husband have always been close, and their closeness fostered a culture of closeness for our entire family.
We argue. We bicker. My husband and I drive one another crazy with our little quirks. (But I mean really, he wears like the same four outfits every week– why don’t they fit in his closet, and why must they be all over the bedroom, and why can’t he clean the other stuff he does not wear out of his closet?!) Jack and Emily squabble and squall. But at the end of the day, we are a family so close it feels eerily off kilter if a member is missing.
Maybe we are crazy and enmeshed, but watching Jack writhe in the dark with the pain of missing his father brought this family intimacy into light for me. It also gave me yet another opportunity to rise to the occasion of being Jack’s mom.
For every experience, there is a reason.