It is the small things really.
The sudden realization that I am alone in a house that is usually filled to the brim with comings and goings, with long teenage bodies sprawled over couches and floors, with shoes tossed in corners and jackets hung on the back of chairs and dishes always in the sink and laundry needing to be done, with young adults coming home from school, from work, from places they need to be or want to be or have to be, but on this weekend I am alone and it is the small things that remind me of this fact—the clocks ticking into the silence of the kitchen as I sit at the table, the way things stay tidy and dishes stay done, the goldfish that needs to be fed, swimming, content in its container, as if unaware that the other residents of the home are, temporarily, gone, and my attention that is usually aimed in the direction of family has no outlet except the care and feeding of one lonely fish, a disappointing yellow that cannot really be called gold, marking endless circles around the gleaming glass bowl, and I wonder how, in my middle years, I have come to a space where instead of craving the quiet I instead mourn the loss of busyness that surrounded me when my children were young, how I have learned the capacity for letting go, how I became the custodian of solitary fish in silent rooms.
The fish itself was an accident.
An answer to a date acquired by my teenage son. A fifty cent gag gift that we can’t quite give up. There was, at first, some joking about toilet bowls and watery graves, but despite the joking, the fish, named Jeffrey, which showed up on the doorstep on a cold January day, in a naked bowl, has been cared for. Has been fed. Has had the water changed semi-regularly. My husband showed up one evening with rocks for the bottom of the bowl.
There has been discussion of castles.
A container of fish food has taken up permanent residence in the kitchen.
This fish has been cared for, almost by committee, the entire family suddenly invested. Interested. Concerned. There is a metaphor in that I think.
A way of looking at how the fragments of effort from each one of us combine and connect to create something more…something meaningful.
And now Jeffrey the fish (and I) have been left home for a quiet weekend while my husband and son drive cross country to help my oldest daughter move to Florida, so many miles and minutes away. While my other son travels to New York. While their sister is busy with work and dance and school, present but seldom there.
Around the silence questions arise, a pause stirs thought, and space opens.
It occurs to me in the quiet that what I am missing is my community—the family that has been the center of everything for two decades, the framework off which everything has hung; PTA, and school community council, and bake sales, and teacher dinners, and after school activities; plays and concerts and football games; service and connections and friendship all tied up in love, and eventually, loss.
I am not, I think, the only one to feel this way. In my online exercise group we commiserate, together. Some of us are, after all, women of a certain age—no longer the mothers of infants or toddlers or young children. We cheer each other on. We message each other as one by one our children leave the nest. It is another kind of community, I think. Another kind of support and care and connection.
Another way of coming together.
There are so many.
The culture of family is one that seems instinctual, bound together through shared experience and interests and passionate hobbies—my children are my people, the ones I love to talk to and with and about, sprawl out on couches to watch movies together, cook and eat and clean and argue and discuss together.
One of the things we forget about our families and our children is that successfully parenting a child means learning to let them go.
In the letting go it is important to seek new communities, new networks of friends and acquaintances, new ways to reclaim the connections that allow us to be a community. To embrace the discomfort and vulnerability of change in order to show up for one another in new and profound ways. To create the places and spaces where we can come together to ask for, and receive the emotional comfort and practical help that we are in need of—and to be aware of the needs of others.
So back to this weekend.
At first the quiet was nice, a welcome reprieve, a break from the ordinary. But a day or two of listening to the silence, and watching the fish swim in lazy circles around his bowl reminded me how much of what I do, and what I write about is taken from the interesting things that go on around me—the conversations and the events and people with which I am usually surrounded. Reminded me painfully of the ways my life—and my family—are changing.
And then my neighbor knocked on my door, a friend who remembered my daughter was moving away this weekend and wanted to say she cared. And another friend messaged me to tell me about her son leaving home, and what helped. And another gathered a couple of others and came over for the evening with chocolate cake and conversation.
And I was reminded of friendship and laughter and warmth, and I suppose, really, that I was reminded of the truth that family is a much larger concept than we think—one that speaks of caring and concern and kindness. Of building relationships that nurture and sustain and support. Building that isn’t done in grand and sweeping gestures, but in individual acts and singular moments.
Because, after all.
It is the small things really.