I’ve been saving for a long, long time. I’ve let small things go. Towels on the floor. Dishes stacked up in bedrooms. Saving and waiting for my cache to grow. I had a goal. I kept my eye on the prize. And then I spent it. All the guilt usually heaped upon teenagers was spent in one fell swoop. I got all three kids and the dog to sit for a portrait. The dog incidentally needed no convincing, “Wanna go for a ride?” and he was in.
I haven’t made them sit for a portrait since they were toddlers. But one is graduating from high school and the next is nipping at his heels to graduate the following year. I know that my time is limited. I wanted a picture before I was forever paying people to Photoshop a child in. I have a pretty good idea of what happens when college begins.
Life comes calling. Adventures await. Friends and significant others dangle invitations too good to resist. It didn’t help that I went to college too far away to come home easily and never for the short breaks like Thanksgiving or Easter. From my perspective, it made sense. Maybe as a child of divorced parents, it came naturally. Holidays were wherever you were and I’ve had some holidays in odd places.
My first notable holiday gone was Thanksgiving in Essex, England. I found myself sharing a baked chicken with friends from New Zealand and Chicago. Our rooms were above the bar we worked at. The whole building was rumored to have been built in the fourteenth century.
I can’t remember but there wasn’t a plumb line in the place and the remains of a chapel built in 1221 dedicated to Thomas a Becket were just up the High Street, so it’s possible, I suppose. A semester in the UK back in the day meant no cell phones, no Skype, no international phone plans. I called home about once a month from a payphone in the restaurant lobby.
I spent a New Year’s Eve in San Diego once. Three friends and I drove cross-country to deliver a car to a boyfriend, a sailor stationed in San Diego. We drove from Maine to California. Not a parent in sight. Just four twenty-year-old girls before GPS was a thing.
We ate in diners in Texas, peered over the edge of the Grand Canyon, and drove through the Carson National Forest in New Mexico at night. That was scary-the wind was howling and the car shook. We stayed in a bed and breakfast in Taos, my birthplace. And, nothing and nowhere, is prettier than Taos decorated for Christmas. Taos was aglow with thousands of paper bag lanterns. We finally made our way to San Diego where one of us stayed behind. She knew all along it was a one-way trip. She got married two days later and only three girls flew home.
More recently, a few years back we packed up all the kids and went to Aruba for Christmas. My husband and I had been at a fundraiser a few months earlier. I’d left early to tuck the kids in and he stayed. I gave him my checkbook with strict instructions, “Bid on the horse painting.” He woke up the next morning and said he bought a trip to Aruba. I just stared at him.
But the kids didn’t seem to miss Christmas in Connecticut one bit. We gave them each a stocking with one hundred dollars in it and not one restriction on how to spend it. One spent a portion eating a double chocolate ice cream cone on the beach while wearing a Santa hat and a bikini. Two others rented wave runners and were off laughing in the surf. We’ve since had Christmas in Switzerland and Christmas in London. Life beckons. Adventures await. I get it. I encouraged it.
I insisted they learn German while we lived in Switzerland for a few years. What I was really saying was, “The world is huge. Be prepared. Open your hearts and your minds to other cultures.” What I knew in my heart was, “They’ll leave.” And they should leave. Leaving was the plan all along. All the little goodbyes, pre-school, kindergarten, sleep away camp, a flight alone to visit a grandmother, an international flight to visit a friend, were just the prelude to the bigger goodbyes.
Raising children is fleeting. And that is okay. I am eager to write more, travel more, sleep more, and drive less. I am excited to find out who I am one more time. Does it mesh with who I was before kids? Somehow, I don’t think so. But I’ll soon find out.
And that was how I found myself with three teens and the dog on our way to getting their portrait taken. It cost me $100, three servings of frozen yogurt, and my entire cache of guilt to get them there. It was worth it.
My kids are like kites these days. I can feel the string – so taut as it strains to be set free. Pretty soon it will be time to let those strings go. But not yet. Until then, I’ll shush Adventure and Life as they whisper of things to come and instead I’ll beg time and my kids to stand still for just a minute more.
Jennifer Weaver lives in New England with her family and her much adored terrier, Neil Patrick Harris. A background in education, she has written for Expat Child, Mothering Matters (Zürich, Switzerland), and the Ellsworth American (Ellsworth, Maine). She began writing as a way to chronicle her experiences living abroad. More of her writing can be found at Weaving In and Out