I’m still relevant by Stefanie Cloutier
As my kids have gotten older, I have become less critical to their everyday survival. I expected this to happen. What I didn’t expect was to become invisible. They don’t seem able to see me wiping up crumbs right in front of them, or unloading the dishwasher. I can in fact go whole days without hearing a word exchanged between us unless I initiate it. For all intents and purposes, I am a non-person, not worthy of notice.
Until I start to walk toward the door with an overnight bag on my shoulder. Then suddenly it’s the Spanish Inquisition.
“You’re leaving?? Where??”
“How long will you be gone?”
“Is there ice cream in the freezer?” This last from the teen boy who still believes that fairies come in at night and clean up his ice cream detritus.
(Side note: if you haven’t seen this video about the magic laundry basket, go right now and watch it. I’ll wait.)
Mind you, these are children in college and high school. They have licenses, jobs, and a calendar full of social activities. My leaving should have little to no impact on their lives, especially since my husband is a far better cook than I am. I’m usually only going for a night or two, but they behave as if I’m moving out of state.
And it’s especially fascinating given that all they think it’s necessary to tell me is that they’re going “out,” “with friends,” and will return “by curfew.” If I find out anything, it’s usually by accident.
So recently, while on my way out to run an errand, I casually asked my son what his plans were for the day. I was expecting him to say, “nothing,” so was surprised when he said, “I’m thinking of going swimming with some friends.”
I stopped in my tracks. This is not something he usually does, so it merited further inquiry. I knew I had only about three questions before getting The Glare, so I stuck with the basics: who was he going with, where was he swimming, and when would he be back. He answered: this afternoon, with a girl he’d dated a few times, and at a river I’d never heard of. “We’re jumping off a bridge,” he added.
Now he absolutely had my attention. “How high a bridge?” I asked. “Thirty feet?” he said, clearly unsure, then seeing the look of horror on my face, amended his answer. “Ten feet? Five?”
The point, I explained, wasn’t to give me an answer designed to make me feel better. The point was for me to know the ACTUAL height so I could know just how freaked out I needed to be.
I had exceeded my questioning capacity, and he was exasperated. “Why are you so uptight?” he fumed. To which I replied, “It’s called parenting.”
Fortunately, in these days of Google, whatever info my children are hesitant to give up can easily be found with a few keystrokes. In a matter of minutes I discovered the whereabouts of the bridge, called the local police department, and asked exactly how high this bridge was, if this was a known activity, and if the river was deep enough to not cripple my kid for life.
My son was incredulous. I was triumphant.
Satisfied with their answers, I gave him the car keys and permission to go. And now he knows that not only am I NOT invisible, I’m also a force to be reckoned with.
The Green Light at the End of the Tunnel by Jane McGovern
I can see the headlines now: “Youngest Child Leaves for Senior Year of College; Callous Mom Stays Home.” That would be me. I am the callous mother who is over the college drop-off. Even now I am running through various scenarios of how I can remain home from this momentous occasion in my parenting life. Headache? Too obvious. No room in the car? Not likely. Too busy? Not valid. Maybe I will “accidentally” twist my ankle and have to stay home and elevate. You know, ICE. I think it stands for Ice cream, Couch and Eat as much as you want while watching Netflix. You would think that dropping my third and youngest child off would garner more excitement on my end. On paper, I’m overjoyed. I just don’t want to be bothered with the physical reality of lugging his tired, worn college dorm room accoutrements up the stairs and setting it up yet again. I gave birth to this child… isn’t that enough?
The excitement on my end will come later in the year. No, not graduation, although that will be a big day. The moment my husband and I have been anticipating for 15 years is within sight… the Final Tuition Payment. Just thinking about it makes me giddy! Our first two children attended private high schools, so the tuition payments started years ago. The high school years were a financial struggle, but manageable. Compared to the college years, they were as false labor is to transition and the big push. The college years have been a crushing burden… one that we happily bore, yet still a burden.
But now the end is in sight. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It is a very bright light and it may be green and not white, and it is calling me by name. It is enticing me with all kinds of fun things that this newly available cash can now provide. A trip to Ireland? Why I’d love to! How about an adorable Mini-Cooper convertible? I’ve always wanted one! Would you like to rent a ski-house for the season? Awesome idea! Ahhhhh, the options are endless.
I try to push the reality of launching my youngest, most vulnerable child into the cold, dark world to the back of my mind. Will he find a job that fulfills him? Will he be able to support himself? Will he take care of himself? Did I teach him how to clean the bathroom? A mom’s life means worrying, no matter the age of the child. So for now, I will focus on the tangible, feel good reality of more Benjamins in our bank account. Ireland, here I come!
The Seismic Shift by Lisa Rafferty
There’s really no way to prepare for the seismic shift that is your youngest child going off to college. No amount of mental preparation, pre-grieving or advice from friends is going to fully serve to alleviate the visceral, monumental change that occurs after 21 years of putting other human beings above all else in your life.
There are certain common patterns that form a natural flow to the shape of our lives. High school for four, and college too – if all goes well. A couple of years, or even months, in that first post-grad job. Your twenties are about adjusting to new realities, new friendships, new romance, new careers.
For many of us, the next seismic shift occurs on, about or after a wedding day. But that is a time filled with joy and possibility, and with any luck, not leaps into the unknown.
Your first child comes along and like every cliché you ever heard, nothing is ever the same. Then a second and a third and suddenly, or so it seems, your world is forever filled with more demands on your time that you ever thought possible.
There is nothing quite like the emotional, physical and logistical tidal wave that comes from raising children, no matter how many there are. And so it goes for the longest stretch of anything you have ever done with such intensity and focus. More than two decades.
Your oldest goes off, and you adjust as parents, and fight the void, and learn to let go. And maybe it’s better with the second, except not really, because it doesn’t really matter how many times you do it, it’s still a rending of your heart. But you soldier on, because that’s what we do. What we must do – let them go. Fill out our own lives. Then the moment arrives – the last one getting ready to leave. Empty nest, here we come.
Of course, the lure of freedom – true, boundless freedom – can soften the ache, and offer a vision for what lies ahead. So you focus on that, and all the possibilities for travel, and fun, and adventure. Just like retirement, except not really because all your money is going to the cause of higher education, and so plans and spending on yourselves take that familiar second place in line. How it is was meant to be and thank goodness for financial planning.
So, as the ground quakes, and the chasm opens, here’s hoping that the new chapter will be written in a way that has come before. With the ebb and flow that is our lives, and secure in the knowledge that this next seismic shift is all part of that natural state, and not the 7.1 Richter scale event that you feel coming.