My oldest child turns 21 today. No longer a child (although she hates when I say that). Although I can remember life before her, I have a hard time remembering a time when I didn’t know her. She’s beautiful. She’s smart. She’s quirky (in a good way). She’s talented. She’s simply amazing. She’s my daughter. Happy 21st birthday, Clare.
Just a quick post to let you know we survived the earthquake on August 23. I was sitting at my computer in my attic office when the desk began to shake. My first thought was — as it always is when my desk shakes — EARTHQUAKE. Then I thought it was probably construction or a truck driving down the street. Then it got stronger and I thought, EARTHQUAKE! Then I thought, YAY! EARTHQUAKE ON MY BIRTHDAY. Then I thought, SAVE THE KIDS! and ran downstairs to tell the kids, who were running around the house yelling, EARTHQUAKE!! to get outside, NOW!
They went out the back door and I went out the front door. We all met in the front yard along with all the neighbors who were home at that time. Everyone was asking, DID WE JUST HAVE AN EARTHQUAKE?
Later, after we went back into the house and confirmed that we did, in fact, have an earthquake, the kids named it a birthday quake. We assessed the damage:
It was delicious.
Last week when I posted my dilemma on Facebook regarding my “about me” statement, my mother’s pastor suggested I change it to “Mother of two…In search of definition”. I chuckled at the comment, but didn’t feel like I was in search of definition. I knew who I was.
The more I thought about the comment, however, the more I realized he was right. I think I am currently in search of definition. In less than a month we’ll drive our youngest child to college and then we’ll be “empty nesters”. I’ve quit (albeit temporarily) both of my bookgroups. Soon I’ll be working full-time, probably in an office.
When I became a parent I automatically obtained a new definition, and while I’m still going to be a parent, the definition I’ve had for the past 20 years is fading to an aside.
Not only will I need to redefine myself, I need to redefine my relationship with my husband. We spent the past 20 years raising our kids; spending weekends doing kid-related things; spending evenings helping with homework. Our focus was the kids. What are we going to do without that focus?
I’ll let you in on a secret — while I love being a parent, I envy the relationships I see between people who don’t, for whatever reason, have children. I watch Howard and Ruthie — neighbors who live behind us. They’re always doing things together — traveling, shopping, bringing in groceries together. They have a togetherness I wish I had with my husband. Then there is my Aunt Ginny and Uncle Jack. They have a comfortable routine that seems so snug and easy. Something I don’t feel in my life — life with the kids has always been a little chaotic. Finally, there is our own IB who admitted she still sheds a tear when her honey leaves town. I’ve always looked forward to my honey leaving town when I could be the decision-maker for a while instead of the rule-follower. I wish I could miss him when he was gone. I could go on and on — Mali and her honey travel to wildly exotic places. Violet Monkey and her honey do too, and make amazing sounding healthy meals together.
I’ve also defined myself as a reader, but lately I’ve not been much of a reader. It took me months to read one 500 page book and I’m having trouble getting through a much smaller book a friend loaned me. By taking a sabbatical from my book groups I’ve eliminated at least 20 social engagements for the next year. I’ve pulled away from friends lately — I think it is partly because of this transformation I’m feeling. Or perhaps I’m just depressed about it.
I’ve worked part-time and “on-call” at home for the past 8 years or so. I’ve made my own hours and worked, sometimes — often, in my pajamas. Getting up, getting ready for work, driving 45 minutes or more in rush-hour traffic and sitting in an office (probably windowless and shared with two other people) is not my idea of a good way to spend over half of my waking hours.
I used to look forward to the times I could redefine myself: college, moving to a new area, beginning a new job. I could leave behind the parts of me that I didn’t like and try on new ones. The new people I’d meet would not know about my temper or my shyness or my unpopularity in high school. I am not looking forward to this redefinition period. What will I be? Empty-nester-office-drone? Eww. I don’t like the sound of that.
The Internet insists on reminding me that my oldest is no longer a teenager. My email told me when I logged on this morning:
Skype told me after enticing me to open it with a notification in my taskbar:
It’s not that I feel old or anything — it is just that now I need to change my “About me” statement.
Those of you who read my blog or are my friends on Facebook or read my tweets or talk to me in person know that this has been a rough summer / year for me regarding my relationship with my daughter. For many years Clare and I were uncommonly close — she told me pretty much everything about her life and we did things together more than I think the average mom and teenage daughter did. Suddenly, and I cannot pinpoint exactly when it happened, Clare stopped sharing things with me and chose to hang out with me less and less often. I knew that this was perfectly normal behavior and that I was lucky to have had the close relationship with her for as long as I did, but it still felt like a slap in the face. I still felt like I was breaking-up with someone. I didn’t handle it well.
This summer was the worst — she was rarely home between 2 pm and 1 am and slept until at least noon most days. Again, I knew this was normal behavior — after all, this was the last time she’d see her friends for a while. On top of that she began working at a part time job and started seeing a young man she’d met through some friends. I felt like one of the parents in the Peanuts cartoon strip. Never seen and only heard as an indistinguishable and annoying noise.
So, dropping her off at college yesterday shouldn’t have been a traumatic experience for either of us. She was clearly ready to try out her wings and I was ready to not wake up at midnight wondering where she was and who she was with and when she was planning on coming home. I’d long since stopped saving up things I wanted to tell her — little tidbits from my day or thoughts I’d had about something I read — because by the time we were able to talk whatever I wanted to say lost its importance to me and rarely seemed of interest to her anyway.
We’d not read the dropping-off-your-student-at-Sarah-Lawrence-College information — Clare read it but most of it didn’t register with her. I think I just didn’t want to think about it so didn’t see that we were actually supposed to arrive at 8 am for a day of orientation etc. We saw that she’d be able to move into her dorm at 11 so shot for that time of arrival. We also didn’t anticipate an accident on the New Jersey Turnpike that caused 15 miles of stop-and-go traffic. We got to the school around 2:30 and annoyed school officials handed Clare her registration materials and room key. Not a good way to start out at college. Lesson learned — don’t expect your teenage child to read important registration information. I’m not sure we actually got the information ourselves — I think Clare got it in an email from the school.
When we finally got to the dorm, her roommate was waiting for her outside. Clare’s known her roommate for most of her high school years, if not longer. She showed us to their room — on the lower level of the dorm. I was shocked to see such a dreary room considering the price we are paying for the school (now officially the most expensive college in the country). There was one dim light in the room, not counting the lights by the girls’ mirrors. The beds were metal with plastic covered mattresses. Sarah’s bed was already made — she’d arrived on time — but Clare’s looked so depressing. We unpacked the truck (full to the brim) and brought her belongings into the room she’d call home for the next year, at least.
Clare and Sarah had to go to a mandatory meeting so Sarah’s parents, Dean and I stayed in the dorm and tried to fix the room up a bit. I didn’t want to do too much because I knew Clare would want to make the room hers, so I simply made the bed. Sarah’s parents set up a bedside table they’d just purchased and Dean put light bulbs in the colorful lamp that Sarah brought. Those few changes made the room much more cozy.
The college had the day tightly scheduled with meetings and a set “Goodbye” time. We were scheduled to say goodbye to Clare between 5 and 5:30. She came back from her 4:30 meeting at 5:15, commented on the bed being made, then told us it was time to say goodbye. She looked, to me, a little more unsure of herself than she had all summer — more vulnerable, but perhaps that was me, projecting my feelings on her. I certainly was not feeling strong, but she’d earlier begged me not to cry and I didn’t cry. We hugged her goodbye, snapped a few photos and left.
The crying didn’t start until we stopped for dinner at a service plaza on the New Jersey Turnpike where I sat in a stall the ladies room and shed the first tears of the day. I’d been thinking all the way back how I’d not really prepared her for this day. How I’d neglected to read the registration day information, how I’d forgotten to buy her laundry detergent. How I’d not insisted we shop for some dorm things together even though she was adamant that she and Sarah would do it. I worried that she’d not get enough to eat since her meal plan didn’t include breakfast (her choice). I kicked myself for not buying that mini fridge for Clare because I was upset that she’d not found the time to go to Costco with me. By the time we’d reached the service plaza I’d pretty much decided I was the world’s worst mother and I felt bad for Clare that she had me as a mother. That is what I cried about in the ladies’ room.
When we got back home and went to bed I cried for myself. I cried because that always awake inner ear that mothers have would not be used to listen for Clare anymore. That if she needed me and called for me in the night I’d not hear her because she was 4 hours away. I cried, remembering the infant we brought home from the hospital a little over 18 years ago. I cried because I felt that part of my soul was now elsewhere.
I also thought about some of you — you who’ve lost children or wanted children and were unable to have them. I thought how selfish I was being and that she was only in college — a natural part of growing up.
Is suspect that the next few days will be rough, but I’ll eventually get used to her being gone. We’ll see her in two months if not sooner, and she’ll be back for Thanksgiving (although, if my friends are correct, won’t stay home much when she’s back).
Clare’s grown up to be a remarkable young woman (despite my shortcomings) and I’m very proud of her. I’m just in a new stage of parenthood with her. And of course, we have two more years before our son goes off to college. Wait until that blog post.
I was thinking yesterday about golden birthdays and wondering if my family was the only one to celebrate them. (an Internet search returned several results including definitions, a marketing site, some blog posts, a photograph, bulletin board messages, a newspaper article, and a band — so I guess other folks celebrate them too)
If you don’t know what a golden birthday is, it’s when you turn the same age as the date of your birth. Mine was August 23, 1979 when I turned 23 years old. I don’t remember how we celebrated as a family — I was still living at home (I know, I know…) and two things I remember about it was wanting to have a pie thrown in my face* (chocolate please) and getting a beautiful flower arrangement from The Man Who Would Eventually Become My Husband. We’d only been on two dates and he was off on a wild west camping adventure with his buddies, but he’d arranged to send me flowers. See, he used to be romantic.
Anyway — we continued the tradition in our family — my son had his a few years ago and we made it a special birthday by talking it up and giving him $111.04 in cash (he was 11 on 1/11/04 at exactly 11:11, but that’s another post).
Clare’s won’t be until she is 26. If she’s expecting $726.15, she’ll be disappointed.
Do you celebrate golden birthdays? If so, how did you celebrate yours?