It gets easier and then it gets harder.
The week before Thanksgiving is always the same. Baking, cooking, arranging, packing. And this isn't even for Thanksgiving. It is for deer hunting. Every year on the Thursday before Thanksgiving Todd packs up and heads to the cabin for a week for gun deer season. Every year I spend a whole lot of time helping him prepare the food for the deer camp. This year I made 150 cookies and a massive batch of applesauce. It was one of my lighter cooking years since I didn't make and soup or a main dishes.
It always makes me laugh how much effort it takes to help Todd leave me for a week. Honestly, I don't mind doing it (most of the time). It is the one thing that Todd really looks forward to every year and I'm happy he can have a little getaway with his friends. I knew this was the deal when I met him and I was prepared for it. My dad had the same tradition and I was used to it.
I wouldn't be completely honest if I didn't admit that I used to love having that week to myself as well. I'd have the house to myself, watch as many chic flicks as I could, take long baths, eat all my favorite foods, hog the bed, sleep extra late (Todd is such a morning person), and be as lazy as I wanted. Many times I would have my friends over and we'd have a girls weekend. Sometimes I would drive to Minnesota to visit my best friend for the week. Basically, the week was a win/win.
Things changed a bit when Todd and I had kids. All of a sudden the week he was gone became a bit harder, especially when we had multiple children. I will never forget the year that Ben was just 6 months old. I had a 4 year old, a 2 year old and a little baby and all THREE of the kids were sick. And Todd was gone. For a week. After I had just spent days baking and cooking for him to leave I was stuck in the house with three small sick children. It was rough.
The first year we moved into our new house stands out in my mind as well. Joey was 6, Tommy was 4, Ben was 2 and Grace was just 3 months old. Wouldn't you know it 3 of the 4 kids were sick. We were in a new house. A big house. In a new neighborhood. My father had just died a few months earlier. I was feeling a bit lost. Displaced. It was not a great time. It was tough.
There were times when all the kids were healthy and it was still hard. The kids missed Todd. They wanted to go up north too. To keep everyone in good spirits I worked extra hard to make the week special. Most of the time it was little things. I'd change the kids' sheets to their fun flannel sheets and buy them special new jammies. We'd make blanket forts and rent kids movies to watch with bowls of popcorn. We would help pack and deliver Thanksgiving boxes to those in need. We'd take trips to the free zoo nearby. We'd play outside, go for long walks, buy a few dollar store toys. Basically, anything I could think of to keep the mood happy and light. Needless to say, it was exhausting. And there were certainly tough years. Years when Todd would come home and immediately I would want to run away. Run away from the kids, run away from myself and how poorly I "handled" them, run away from the boys telling me that they wished I would go away and daddy could stay. Yep. That one was probably the worst.
And then, slowly but surely, deer hunting week started to get easier again. As the kids got a little bit older we were able to do more and it was less stressful. And just as I was beginning to look forward to the week of deer hunting it changed again. Last year Joey went to deer camp for the first time and we were thrown out of whack once again. We were missing one of our crew. It felt off. And Tommy and Ben had a hard time thinking of Joey up there enjoying what they couldn't yet. I once again had to work harder to make the week special.
This year was Joey's second year at deer camp and Tommy's last year staying home with us. And it kind of hit me all over again. Just as this tradition became fun and easy it began to get difficult again. This time the difficulty comes in realizing that this time does not last. The time with the kids young and with me and HERE is fleeting. And it's going too fast.
Todd and Joey call to tell us how they are doing. As we wrap up our conversation Joey asks to talk to his siblings and I overhear him telling each of them that he misses them and loves them. He listens patiently to Grace as she tells him about her new LEGOS and he feigns enthusiasm at her stories. As I listen to the conversations I can hear a new maturity in Joey's voice and it makes me ache. I long for those crazy, hectic, awful, difficult, magical weeks with all four of my kids.
Today we are meeting at the halfway point to pick up Joey and bring him back home. Todd will stay for the rest of the week and come home the day before Thanksgiving (just in time for me to cram in some grocery shopping and cooking for the Thanksgiving we always host) but Joey needs to get back to school.
The kids are excited to see their big brother and I'm excited to have all four of my kids with me again. I'll do my best to make the next few days fun and magical because I know how quickly it goes by. I'll remind myself of this very thing when patience is short and my temper threatens. I'll remember that I only have a few years left before they will all be gone for the week.
Yes, I'll be happy to have my crew back. This is the easy part.