Okay, I may be a little slow about many things but honest to God, I never thought something like this – the almost inevitable conclusion of my sons’ childhoods - would find me this clueless.
Clueless because it was JUST yesterday I remember having this thought, and it’s as clear as freshly Windexed glass (well, as clear as what I imagine freshly Windexed glass looks like – it’s been a while): “Someday, I swear I’ll get out of this car at the end of the day and NOT have my arms full of ‘kid stuff.’ ” You remember what that is: the sippy cups, toys, books, extra little clothing, hats, gloves, a bag of groceries, and assorted plastic figures.
This seemed so very important to me, the idea that one day I would simply pull the car into the garage, open my door, and emerge, with nothing to show for myself but a purse and perhaps a magazine or two.
It wasn’t really the details of the “stuff” that was so exhausting. It was – and I mean this in the kindest way – the relentlessness of it all. I think it’s the year-on-year-on-year, day in, day out nature of motherhood that is the most surprising part. It’s the unnamed bit of being a mom that not one person acknowledges when they write their poetic, moving, charming little descriptions of motherhood.
Sure, you have a child and intellectually, you understand what that means: that barring tragedy, you’ll be a mother for a very long time. It also means you’ll be needed – in fact, demanded – for almost everything, for what feels like almost forever. And that becomes the new normal. You begin to anticipate the on-call nature of the position and respond accordingly. But I can admit this: that doesn’t mean it always comes naturally or with a smile.
Because for every day you carry stuff out of the car; you have a dozen days where you carry around things that are much heavier. Like the despair over how much your son hated playing baseball but you pushed the idea of “sticking it out” and not quitting. Like the horrible year your son spent enduring his ninth grade Science teacher - an experience you assured him will help build “character.” (Turns out the teacher was truly kind of insane and lost her job at the end of the school year.) Like the seven-thousandth time you wonder if this whole ‘career- daycare-whirlwind weekend’ life is the right path for all concerned.
But then, just like that, all of that relentlessness, all of that needfulness exhibited by your children on a daily basis for years disappears, in what feels like exactly one day. Yes, I know it’s more gradual than that but the signs are subtle, and sporadic and don’t really build to critical mass until it’s too late to turn back.
But even after the physical neediness dissipates, the “carrying around the stuff” doesn’t. Maybe it’s just me, but for years I was the primary owner of all paperwork, including permissions slips, medical forms, school supplies (including various pieces of poster board I was supposed to conjure up at a moment’s notice on Sunday night at approximately 9:30 pm, just in time to start the 3-d project due the next day during first period), and checks for various dues, purchases, and payments. I was also the person who could name exactly where someone’s backpack was or where he left his snow boots. I kept track of Tiger Cub meetings, orthodontist appointments, cello lessons and soccer practice. It wasn’t an armful of toys, but it felt pretty cumbersome from time to time.
And suddenly here I am. My “dreams” of freedom have come to life right in front of me and I wonder why the notion being so unencumbered felt so attractive all those years ago. The good news is that finally, yes, I do get out of the car with empty arms. That’s super. The bad news: I usually walk into an empty house.
I’m not one of those parents who claim they can’t wait to wave them off and begin really living!! My problem is I really like my kids and wish I could spend more time with them. I realize this exodus is the natural order of things. I watch the boys leave the house to go to work, to see friends, to attend to their very busy lives. I get it: they’re adults. Young adults yes; but still, adults.
I miss them. With each day that passes, each day that brings me one day closer to the day they have all moved out, spending time at college and never quite feeling the same about being “home” again, I’m trying to reconcile the feelings I have. Someone once said a successful parent is one who makes himself or herself obsolete. That sounds little too bleak, even for me, the Queen of Bleak.
I suppose we’ll all start a new way of interacting with each other. (I have a feeling this will be a bit easier for them.) I suppose I’ll even get used to the idea that they won’t be down the hall, or upstairs, or listening to the car door closing outside which signals a “relaxation” mechanism inside me. I suppose when they walk in the door – less frequently than they do these days but perhaps with a little more anticipation than they feel now – they’ll carry their own loads but maybe they’ll also carry home some memories of who we were, for all those years.
I’ll carry them forever. But what a difference eighteen years makes. Now, those same moments feel more precious and untouchable and very nearly perfect.