As family departs, withdrawal sets in

I’m in withdrawal.

The tee ball set and the miniature soccer balls are gathered on the porch. The new yellow swing hangs forlornly between the cherry trees. And I’m sitting on the patio wishing the air was still filled with yelps and giggles. They have gone and the silence is deafening.

Those were the opening lines of a column dated July 9, 2009. I am once again in withdrawal mode,13 years later. It happens every summer when my daughter, Alix, and her family leave after a week or more in residence.

But oh my, as I reread those words, I was astounded at the difference in the activities, the food, the equipment and how our hours were spent. And I am also amazed at the annual traditions that still must be checked off their list.

Back then, I supplied the usual clean beds and full refrigerator plus the crib, the highchair, and of course, some new toys for the duration. The VW wagon arrived with the jumble of suitcases, a Pack’n Play, a few boxes of Pampers, two totes of toys and games, and two pajama-clad little ones who were tucked directly into bed upon late arrival.

Toddler meal time was always on schedule, determining the day’s activities. Each lunch, followed by naps, became pool time or game time depending on Mother Nature.

In those days, the children ate early and were tucked in by 7 p.m., exhausted. Then Alix, her husband, Ian and I enjoyed a cocktail interlude before a quiet, later dinner. I came to love that sunset hour gathered on the porch with our garden view. Whew … breathing time.

Reflecting on the summers since, the changes have been gradual. The cherry trees are gone as is the yellow swing. The crib and playpen are gone, replaced by built-in twin alcoves. Mealtime is more flexible.

They are on their own now with the breakfast and lunch provisions … I only cook dinner with Alix, my able sous chef, pitching in. And I never have to ask about special needs, because honestly, they eat everything.

But their hometown traditions stay the same. The gang always visits local friends; they always swim at the municipal pool; they always lunch at the Plaza downtown. Tradition. They always play mini-golf golf at Dairy Queen, followed by must-have peanut buster parfaits. And then, gratefully, we always gather for that decompression hour on the porch.

Of course, the children, now 17 and 14 invade the larger hors d’oeuvres and cheese trays. The dinner hour that follows is, essentially, six adults, with my 14-year-old grandson possibly being a reason to stretch meals to serve seven… or eight.

Thankfully, the games have definitely changed. You haven’t lived until you’ve stepped on a Lego barefoot… before your first cup of coffee. I think Medicare forms actually have a checkbox for Lego impalements

Candyland has been replaced by the guys’ historical war games spread across the dining room table. Occasional hooting reaches my ears as I peel cucumbers for supper. And those once-adorable little cherubs have taken to beating the pants off Dear Richard and me at the euchre table. I have revenge plans for Thanksgiving.

Years ago, early morning movies were standard fare. Fortunately, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is no longer playing on a loop in my head. Teenagers don’t wake at 6 a.m. for musicals – they sleep. And when they stir, they run a few miles before breakfast.

My granddaughter has dragged a large bookbag everywhere since she was five. And although the subject matter is dramatically changed, the bag size has not. She is easy … any too-hot or rainy day, she disappears, only to be found curled up with her nose in the latest book.

Former walks around our neighborhood circle have morphed into fully loaded hikes with Dad.

The kids and Ian traipsed the National Forest with water bladder backpacks, lunch, and snacks. They hike routinely in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, so the 11.5-mile trek Ian mapped out here was “just good practice.”

There is one more activity that I look forward to daily. I’m usually in the kitchen when I hear the first deep dulcet tones of Malcolm’s double bass fiddle. He practices on the stringed monster late every afternoon and its notes strike my happiness chord. Naturally, the huge beast has redefined the packing of the van they drive today.

And now, they have gone, and the silence is deafening. Yet again.

The laundry load is similar, leftovers are fewer. The goodbye hugs are not wiggly and soft, but big, strong, and just as difficult. They head back to school, to college applications, to cross-country running and hikes in the White Mountains. And I remain here, wishing as always, that the 525 miles between us were but a mere hop into their everyday lives – and yes, even from teenagers, bedtime kisses.

Marcy O’Brien can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com.


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