I was an almost 40-year-old mom of four, but I felt like a teenager with the man I would end up marrying—and I deserved that.

By Zibby Owens
February 16, 2021
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The author and her husband.
| Credit: Courtesy of Zibby Owens

I was the only grown-up angling to get more fire on my marshmallow. Little kids shoved me out of the way as we jousted with our extra-long bamboo sticks for the perfect roasting position. It was my first vacation without kids since I'd had kids, and there I was, around a fire pit in Puerto Rico, packed in with everyone else's.

I'd recently separated from my husband and had fallen in love with the man who I would end up remarrying. Kyle and I were in the butterfly stage of our love affair: We couldn't stand to be apart. When we were together, we were constantly touching, swooning, smooching, and staring into each other's eyes. I was almost 40 years old then, but I felt like a teenager. My body responded to Kyle's in such a physical way: heart fluttering when I saw him, cheeks blushing, tummy warm, drawn into his arms like a magnet.

This was our first big trip together. My first Christmas break week without the kids. We walked arm-in-arm through the winding security line, stopping to kiss, hug, and touch. The disgruntled passport officer looked at us and snapped, "Looks like someone's in love." We didn't need anything external to keep us occupied on the plane. We talked and laughed the whole way. The plastic barrier between our seats felt insurmountable and when the seatbelt sign dinged off, I got up and just snuggled into his lap.

"You know this stage is going to end, right?" I told him. He looked at me like I was crazy.

"Don't crush my butterflies," he said. "I'll always have them!" I hoped he was right, but having fallen in and out of love many times, I wasn't optimistic about that early stage lingering. I missed it while I was still in it.

At the resort that week, I alternated between realities. I waffled between the extreme sadness, anguish, and physical pain at being so far apart from my kids who felt like an extension of my soul, and elation, electric attraction, and excitement at being with Kyle. Before meeting him, I realized a part of myself was dead. The fire inside me, what made me me, had been stamped out after a decade of decline. I'd felt like the inside of an old-fashioned barbeque grill long after dinner, a smoking pit of burnt charcoal briquettes, white with traces of fire, cracking at the edges, black smoke rising. Done.

Now, suddenly, I was in full blaze, flames flying over the lid of the grill, dancing in the dark. Alive again. And yet, torn apart from the loves of my life for a week that felt endless, I would cry at random times, moon over pictures of them, and mourn as I felt the rope connecting me to them pulling and pulling. It felt familiar, like grief. But then I would shape-shift into a sex-starved adolescent, smoking with sensation as I got to know my new love.

That night when I saw the crowd forming around the resort's fire pit, I raced over. I was there not to help my four kids make s'mores, but because I loved s'mores myself and wanted to make them. For me.

Kyle and I were laughing and flirting as we roasted the puffy white confections. An exhausted, downcast mother lording over her sugar-packed kids on the other side of the fire pit looked at us, sighed, and said, "What I wouldn't give for just one minute of that feeling again." 

I think about that mother every day.

On so many days, I am that mother. And for so long, I was her every day. I had lost hope. I had relegated those emotions to the past while stuck in the sands of 24/7 parenthood. But then, suddenly, I was reborn.

"I have four kids!" I told her. "I'm the same as you! I felt the same way. But it can happen! It can!" She shook her head, resigned to her fate. We kept chatting over the fire. My new self was confronted with a version of my old self. I touched her arm and smiled as I walked away. I watched her with her family over the next week, waving as we crossed paths.

It has been almost five years since that trip. Everything has changed. Puerto Rico was crushed in a massive hurricane. The pandemic wreaked havoc across the globe. Travel is barely possible. I'm ensconced in my home with my four kids and Kyle, now my husband of three years. 

The butterflies still flutter around us but they've been tempered by world events, stress, ups and downs, losses, illnesses, and other struggles that life brings. The other night, as I was racing around upstairs, exhausted, folding laundry and trying to get my two teenagers and two little guys to bed, I glanced out back and saw Kyle and a friend of ours outside roasting marshmallows at our outdoor fireplace. I felt a stab of longing. Had I become that exhausted, resigned mom again?

As I put tiny tank tops away inside my daughter's closet, Kyle came bounding in, proudly offering up a s'more he had made just for me. I couldn't even eat it.

"I can't now," I said. "I'm still doing laundry and have to get the kids to bed and ..."

"But I made it perfectly, just the way you like it!" he said. I just shook my head. He walked out, dejected, taking the s'more with him.

I immediately regretted how I'd handled it. Why hadn't I let myself enjoy the treat? Why couldn't I have stopped the chaos for a minute and let my own needs be met? Why hadn't I let my husband make me happy, something that would have made him feel satisfied and proud? 

I found the s'more on my bedside table later as I climbed into bed, and left it beside me uneaten. It sat there all night as the two of us slept. 

The next morning when I saw it, I felt overcome by remorse. I rolled over and snuggled in with Kyle while he slept. Why had I handled things so badly? I got up and tossed the s'more into the garbage, then covered it up with tissues so he wouldn't see. 

I miss those butterflies. I know they're still fluttering around us. And I know I'm the one who doesn't always stop to see them. But I know they're there, dancing overhead.

Zibby Owens is the host of award-winning podcast Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books. This passage was excerpted from her book Moms Don't Have Time To: A Quarantine Anthology (02/16/21, Skyhorse Publishing). 

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