The Middle

Carlo called to me from his room.  It was about 9pm.  He had been in there since 8:30, but hadn’t fallen asleep yet.  Sometimes he wants water.  Sometimes he wants me to open or close his window.  Tonight, because it was the first night back at my house after five nights at his mom’s place, he needed a hug and some assurance.

It’s become a pretty predictable pattern.  He has trouble adjusting back to life in this house after extended time at hers.  I presume it works the same way when he goes back to her place.  It’s anxiety.  A generalized insecurity and discomfort with his surroundings that a sensitive boy who is a creature of habit and who hates change will inevitably experience.  It passes after a day but it always happens.  He’s not able to articulate what it is that’s bothering him exactly, but I have a sense of it.  He’s lost something in between his time at his mom’s and his time here.  He feels in between and uprooted in that middle period and, because he and his sister are the only consistent presences between homes, he feels like they’re on their own in some important way.  It’s going on eight months now but shows no signs of stopping.  And every single time it happens it breaks my heart.

Anna is better at dealing with this but she has her own in between too.  Rather than a time and space in which she feels anxiety, she has a time and space in which she can hold on to secrets and experiences for an extra day or two before she feels she has to share them with me.  The details of her time at her mother’s place seep out slowly, days after they occur.  In the interim she keeps things to herself, often savoring good things, often mulling things that trouble her, but always having this middle space where she is essentially on her own, mentally speaking.  This is less heartbreaking.  Unlike Carlo, I feel like what Anna is experiencing is more or less typical.  An independence which all kids eventually experience.  The only difference is that she’s getting it earlier than most kids do, it having been imposed on her rather than sought, even if she does find it welcome in some respects.

Eventually everyone has to face the world alone.  Eventually everyone carves out their own bits of autonomy.  It’s part of growing up.  And I know they’re loved, cared for and protected wherever they are.

But 6 and 8 feels way too young for that.  When I become aware of them floating in this middle space I feel less like they’re growing autonomous and more like they’ve been left to fend for themselves in some important way, however briefly.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the author of the daily baseball (and other things) newsletter, Cup of Coffee. He writes about other things at He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.

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