Irene Smit (46), together with Astrid van der Hulst, is the founder of Flow Magazine. Irene lives with her children (9 and 13, co-parenting) in Haarlem, the Netherlands. Each week, she’ll be writing about how various Mindfulness lessons apply in daily life.
There are all kinds of syndromes that I regularly read about, but I have never seen anything about the holiday-empty-nest syndrome. That feeling that eats away at you deep down inside when your kids go on vacation with their father. “Why is it such a struggle every year?” I asked myself last summer as I stood by the car, teary-eyed, at 5am, waving them off. Yup, once again, I was refusing to accept the situation. Why? Because it holds up that mirror to my face, showing me that my life is not as I had hoped it would be. Being single, being older, not having a “complete” family anymore. Just when I’m at the stage that I’m finding life after divorce really okay and that things are better as a threesome than a foursome, my strength falls to pieces when holiday time comes around.
Because that’s when the kids go away with their father. Three weeks to (wait for it) a campsite in France. Without me. And that really gnaws away at me, because I also want to lounge around in the tent with them, eat ice-cream in the cozy little villages, (barely) manage to read the weekend newspaper while they splash about in the pool, go with them to the bakery to pick up fresh croissants in the morning, and, yes, even wash their filthy clothes by hand in a colorful tub.
After I had seen them off that wretched summer morning, I thought of the Mindfulness lesson that teaches you to simply embrace your grief, and I crawled into bed. I let it engulf me: I cried, I mourned. I tried to locate where it hurt the most, to give the pain a color, to really examine it. And then the pain gradually subsided. I fell asleep and when I woke up I thought to myself, “Thank goodness the worst of the pain has gone, now I can get to work.” And then I secretly began to enjoy it a little: three weeks all to myself. And I tried not to feel guilty about that. But that’s a topic for another time.