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April 2, 2011

If time could just speed up and slow down at the same time

At the end of February, I had something happen that I hadn't experienced for almost nine-years: I woke up in my own house and there were no kids in it. This was, in a word, astonishing.

Both the Diva and the Boy were invited to spend their first spring break in Rochester with the grandparents, who would shuffle them from grandma's to grandpa's whenever one of the grands needed a break. There would be swimming and trips to the movies and the kid's museum. Fun would be had.

Near as I can tell, fun was, indeed, had. By the kids, at least. The grandparents sounded a little weary after the week was done. Still, the plan worked as hoped.

What was strange, however, was how strange it was to not have kids in the house for six whole days. I missed them, of course, but what was most surprising was the vast amount of time that suddenly because available. Suddenly, there was just oceans of the stuff.

I dove right into it on the first day, cleaning out the Diva's closet. Given how much she's grown during the winter, I pulled out all of her summer stuff from last year, saving only one top that was too cute to part with. I added it to all of the other clothes that I couldn't stand to give away once they'd been outgrown. I still have no idea what I'll do with them.

The Diva's days of cute, save-able clothes may be numbered. She's not growing as fast as she did as a preschooler and her clothes are in rough shape by the time they're too small. No one wants to keep a darling top that has holes at the elbows.

I went through all of the toys and dolls and random junk, too. Might as well be thorough when you have the time. After I few hours, I gave up on getting all of the wee pieces back with their original dolls and dumped all of it in one bin. I'm leery of any toy that comes with more pairs of shoes than I own, anyway.

That night, I slept the sleep of the just. I stayed in bed until I woke up without any prompting. It was a delight to not be forced out of bed by a pint-sized human with pointy knees demanding a bowl of cereal.

The next day was spent triaging the Boy's closet and toys. Rather than wind up with a handful of random hats and handbags, however, I ended up with a pile of car parts, which might all be part of one car that had gone through a horrible accident. I dumped them in a drawer for the Boy to deal with.

During those two days, I was able to finish the work that it had taken me two months to even begin. I still don't understand how those adults without kids aren't in charge of everything in the universe.

For the remaining days, I puttered. I hadn't puttered for eight long years. I hung a picture. I worked on a long-forgotten cross-stitch project. I organized my financial documents, then shopped for a new file cabinet. I did all the stuff that needed doing but that was not vital to our day-to-day existence.

My husband and I ate dinner on the couch every night, just like we did before we had kids and felt compelled to make them eat at a table. We felt like law-breakers.

We watched whole movies in one sitting; sometimes, we'd watch two in one night. We went out to dinner without having to get a sitter. We were rock stars.

But the ghosts of the old routine were still haunting me. At 8:15 a.m., I continued to have a sudden urge to harass someone about putting on his shoes and coat. At 4 p.m., I'd automatically walk to the car to deliver the kids home. After dinner, it was a struggle to not go up and run a bath for whichever kid needed one. And at 8 p.m., I had wanted to read someone a story.

At times, like when I'd stumble across one of the Boy's drawings while cleaning out his backpack, I'd miss both of them so much it ached. But I'd be lying if I said it wasn't nice to have a break from the daily whirlwind.

The son of a friend of ours just turned 14. We're all stunned. In four short years, he'll be off to his next big adventure. Four years is an eye blink, no longer than it takes to exhale. They tell you it all goes by so quickly but they underestimate how quickly.

I'd be lying, too, if I said that I'm not looking forward to having both out of the house, just so that I can have all of that time back. But I'd also be lying if I didn't say I wanted time to stop, so that I won't wake up and realize that they've moved on and out.

Perhaps this is the central parenting paradox.

Adrienne Martini is a freelance writer, instructor at the State University College at Oneonta, mom to Maddy and Cory, wife to Scott, and author of "Sweater Quest," which was published in March. Her columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/parentingimperfect.

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