“Do you want to go out and get a glass of wine with me?” my husband asked.
“Right now?!” I checked my iPhone.
“It’s 3:00 in the afternoon!”
“I can’t do that. It would ruin the rest of my plans. Besides, the girls will be home soon.”
I don’t fault my husband for asking. In fact I’m glad that after 20 years of marriage, he still persists in trying to shake up my day. It was years ago already that he promised, “Someday I’m getting you a shirt that says, ‘Sure, I’m spontaneous! Just tell me when and where.”
While he has yet to actually follow through, I know the shirt will fit me in more ways than one. My life is largely a picture of tight control with rare glimpses of spontaneity. While my blood is mostly Scandinavian, in this trait I feel more connected to the English propriety of my grandmother. Items have a correct place—spices go here, shoes go there, books go on the shelf—and activities have a proper time. My family understands this about me. Which is why, when I send out a family text that says, “I’m going to Target, does anyone need anything?”, I receive prompt replies. They know that if I have to pull the car out of the garage twice in one day for errands, someone’s going to pay.
It’s true that I like my house organized and my day well-planned. If blankets are folded and the grocery shopping is done, I feel in control. I can breathe. I can relax. Most importantly, I can let go. I know it sounds like an oxymoron, but I plan and organize so that I can let go.
So, it was my intention, from the first hint of pregnancy, to plan for that future day when our children would leave home to lead independent lives. My goal was to maintain my individual identity and lifestyle through the years and never get so sucked up in my children’s lives that I could barely find my own. No way was I going to get wrapped up in the tiniest nuances of their lives. I wasn’t going to become one of those “helicopter” parents.
[Don’t Worry, You are NOT A Helicopter Parent]
When the time came for me to let them go, I would be a model of grace and acceptance. I would move on with my life, and usher them into theirs, with the ease of drawing a new breath. It would be a transition so natural, one would hardly perceive any change. That was my plan. My girls are now 15 and 17. I am a little over a year away from my oldest heading off to college.
I am less than three years away from not hearing anyone yell, “Who moved my stuff?” Oh dear God, just a year? A year ago was yesterday. A year ago they were babies—pulling on me, needing me, confiding in me, giggling with me. They don’t pull or need or confide anymore. I did get my older daughter to break out into laughter recently by miming that she was making me want to strangle her. I was so pleased to see my bad impression succeed, I raced out of the room before I ruined the moment with all my mom-ness.
Last summer at my girls’ national dance competition, I pushed past dads and grandmas to get to the front row while mumbling ‘scuse me over and over. I then proceeded to scream and cheer until I nearly lost my voice. Me, the woman who is usually so careful, cautious and hyper-aware, had completely lost control (and some decorum, too). After my girls finished their dance, I ran, my purse bouncing over my shoulder, to celebrate with them backstage. I arrived, out of breath, but was stopped short. They were already in the middle of hugs from their teammates. Then their coaches. Then even dancers from competing teams.
C’mon already, can’t a mom get a hug around here? Remember me, the one who got you up at 5:00 am and braided your hair? By the way, do you need more hairspray? Can I get you a snack? Did you hear me cheering for you? Finally I got my hug. My daughters’ bodies were sweaty and hot next to mine. To me, they smelled sweet and looked lovely. I learned that their coaches already offered to fix their hair. That they were going to grab a snack with their friends. That I could go back and sit in the audience. They tell me all this as if offering me a gift. Granted, it was the gift I looked forward to when they were toddlers. It was the moment I hungered for when they used to cry until we got their tights on straight. Now that the gift has been given, I half-wish I could return it.
[Dear Mom of Young Children: These Days Will Disappear]
Purely by accident, here I am: fully, entirely, and wholly intertwined with the heart, hands and lives of my children. Yet with each passing day, I feel them pulling away, claiming their independence and carving their own path into the future. I feel a desperate need to squeeze as much quality time out of these last years as I can. To this end, I’ve made some plans.
I figure my oldest daughter is due for a speeding ticket soon. Not because I know she speeds, but because she’s been driving for over a year now. When it happens, I will rise up into full parent indignation mode. I’ll sit her down and lecture her on the importance of responsible driving. I’ll take away her car keys, just for a few days. If she wants to study with her friends at Starbucks, I’ll allow it, but she’ll need a ride. I’ll take the long way. So far, though, she’s only received one parking ticket. I can’t punish her for that. Or wait, can I?
Sometimes I ask her to run an errand on her way home from school (because I’ve already been out once). When she forgets or refuses, my plan is to proclaim that if she can’t help out with the family duties, she can’t very well expect the privilege of driving. She’ll complain for a while. Then, I’m sure she’ll open up and tell me about her crazy day, and maybe share some of the juicy stories she usually saves for her friends.
Unfortunately though, the other day when I asked her to pick up cat food, she arrived home and stacked the cans up neatly in the pantry, right where they belong.
I’m also planning for the day she misses her curfew. That will be all the reason I need to ground her for a weekend. Maybe that weekend she and I can go out to dinner, or catch a movie, or just walk the dogs. Yet the back door keeps opening right on time. I hear her lock the door and turn off the lights. She comes into our bedroom and whispers, “I’m home,” like I’ve asked her to do. OK, I think to myself. Next time, I’ll catch her.
I want to beg my daughters to slow down, to gain independence not in gulps but in sips, to give my overstretched heart a rest already. I try to explain that they can’t expect me to go from having them around everyday to rarely seeing them overnight. It hasn’t happened overnight, they remind me. It’s true. It has taken years. Ironically, I can blame myself for readying them for independence. Even so, I didn’t plan for it to happen so quickly.
I admit I am in deep trouble. I have no more plans for how to let them go. Maybe I should seek help. There are likely dozens of books, blogs and workshops designed to prepare me for the inevitability that awaits. No, time is too short. It’s too late for tactics or techniques. The only thing I can plan for anymore is that I will be an unpredictable mess for the next few years. Crying fits from out of nowhere, tissues strewn about the house, my pajamas on backwards, baby pictures scattered about—these things will be my new normal. I don’t think anyone will recognize the usually put-together me from the untamed, unkempt and undisciplined woman I feel myself transforming into. Now, I sit at my desk. My daughters have come home from school. They check in with me before going to their rooms to do homework. I think maybe I should stay here… just in case they need me…oh, screw it. Perhaps I’ll go have that afternoon glass of wine with my husband after all.
Empty Nest: When the Kids Leave Home, Who is the ME Left Behind?
Was I the Best Mother I Could Be?