Last fall, I was slapped in the face with the questions nearly all parents eventually have to answer:
“Who am I now that my child is an adult?”
“How will I use this time?”
“Where do I want to be?”
“What do I have to offer this world?”
These questions danced around my head for several years leading up to the Launching the Young Adult, but they didn’t even begin to crystallize until his senior year in high school.
And yet……this week, I’m preparing for a week-long writing retreat — this will be my third year attending. It’s so much more than time away to write: it’s creating and nurturing a community of my own, having nothing to do with parenting and everything to do with my career. Mine. I’ll be hanging out and working with my writing community, my friends. I’ll be pursuing my education and practicing my craft.
Sounds pretty selfish, right?
It is. It is completely, 100% about me and my future.
Four years ago, I could never have taken the opportunity to drive seven hours (one way) to the north woods of Michigan. I could never have stayed five days in a little cabin by myself, writing, attending talks and classes and readings, with little regard to anyone else’s schedule. I could never have spent the tuition and accommodation money on myself. There was a fledgling still in the nest who needed that time, money, and attention more than I did.
I don’t regret a single moment of setting aside any of my own aspirations so I could be an active part of my son’s life. For a long, long time, I was the heroine of his life. And I will always be there for him until my last breath.
But he doesn’t need me like he used to. And that’s as it should be: seasons change and the pages turn; our young adults have jumped into a new era of their lives. He is now the hero, as well as the main character, of his own story. The question for me to answer now is “Who will I be in my chapters?” It’s time to be a little selfish to figure out where and how I belong to this world that continued to change while I loved and nurtured a new little person, pouring most of my time and energy into giving him the best of the World I possibly could.
After several years of really only being able to grab writing-time in between “Mom!” and tennis matches, and proofreading essays and teachable moments, and heart-to-hearts and screaming matches, and hugs for heartaches and high fives for achievements — when I was always there, always available (even if I said “give me five minutes”), after attending my first writers’ retreat, I realized my desire was to move forward with my writing.
So I launched a blog; began working from home; committed to writing full-time by changing the guest room into my own space; created my writing communities… all of this was done “in between” during my most important job of being Z’s Mom.
Even after he left for college last fall, it certainly didn’t feel like a “retirement” from my 18+ year position, and it’s hardly been a smooth transition (for either of us). Indeed, I was now literally a parent “on call” 24/7 as he flailed about in his new job as a Young Adult at University. Many late-night text sessions, many pep-talks, even more nights lying awake wondering if he was going to be ok. Frankly, it didn’t feel at all like this parenting thing was getting any easier; and in fact, it felt harder in some respects because it wasn’t happening in my home any more. (It’s 100% true about the imagination coming up with wayyyyyy worse scenarios and outcomes than what happens in real life)
I have yet to be able to answer all these questions I’ve got. But attending that first writing retreat in northern Michigan several years ago certainly gave me some clarity and a starting point. In the ensuing months, I discovered I really do have a knack for this craft, and it allows me to create art. With that, I am designing my own new chapter in our family book.
The story’s characters may diverge at this point in our book, and we’ll each have our own chapters now, weaving in and out and around each of the others. Regardless of how many volumes this family saga creates, we’re still part of the same continuing story all the days of our lives.
I can work with that.
Dana McKenna is a playwright, essayist, editor, and interviewer. Her essays have appeared on Huffpost.com and the website “I Feel Like I’ve Forgotten Something” at reminddana.com; her interviews, in regional magazines and local newspapers. Two books and a play are in the works. She lives in the NW Chicago suburbs with her partner, Tim, and her son Zach — a proud University of Iowa Hawkeye, their dog and two cats.