Some people are asking how I am doing since dropping my youngest daughter at college for her freshman year this past week. I tell them I am fine. Cleaning out the house, staying at work late, hanging out with the dog. Fine. You know, life goes on.
But I am not fine. Not really. I am not miserable either. I am just…I don’t know, ‘un-fine’. I am walking around trying to get a handle on the jumble of emotions that are fighting for top space in my brain– sad, relieved, lonely, guilty, proud, free, regretful.
My relationship with my daughter was very different from what I had with her two older brothers. It was tumultuous at best from about age 14 to the present. There was much screaming, demanding, crying, lecturing, hurting , and forgiving– on both sides– sometimes all in the same day (if you are having trouble imagining this please break here, go watch the movie ‘Ladybird’, and then come back).
When I was pregnant with her, I was told on many occasions that I wasn’t really a “girl Mom”. I was better at running around with the boys, tiring them out, and implementing a little tough-love on occasion. So the girl-thing kind of threw me. She never forgave me for not understanding the subtleties of makeup application or even how to properly do her hair (my hair has been in a ponytail for 20 years). With my daughter, I wavered constantly between giving in to her whims to create peace and being overly strict and stringent. I had a lot of guilt about having only one girl, going back to work, my relationship with her dad; and a guilty conscience makes terrible decisions. My parenting skills resembled more of a roller coaster ride than a steady forward moving train ride. Because of this I questioned my parenting skills constantly and wished her to hurry up and grow up, move out , and get on with her life.
So now she has done that. That’s where the regret comes in.
I have written about this before. The regret of wishing away our children’s lives. Its something I now try to tell parents with younger kids not to do. They look at me with a little pity…”look at the poor old lady”… then look at each other and smile…”WE will never do that, we LOVE our children”. Guess what? I love my children too. But it’s just life. It happens. You want your kids to move to the next milestone, and the next milestone, and the next…until suddenly you turn around and the last milestone is right in front of you …
And the race is over.
And when the race is over, what do we do? Well I usually have a beer and celebrate. But it’s also a time to relax and reflect on what you have accomplished. But before I can do that I have to get comfortable being alone again. And comfortable with the second half of my life. But I am not comfortable at all; I keep railing against the clock trying to make it stop, and the more I fight against it the faster it goes. It’s like I am pushing my feet against the dashboard of a speeding car– trying to slow it down from the passenger seat. It’s a futile attempt. Rationally I know that. But my heart and reflexes tell me otherwise. I have always been a terrible passenger unable to trust the driver, feeling a bit helpless and vulnerable not being in the driver seat. I know that in order to move on, I am going to have to learn to sit back, relax, and enjoy this ride. It’s one I have no control over.
I am now remembering my own mother and moving out for the final time–getting my own first apartment after college. It is not until right now, 35+ years later than I can truly understand how lonely she must have been. It never crossed my mind at the time. Maybe I was too selfish–or maybe she was very good at protecting me from her feelings so that I could get on with my own life unencumbered. Because, it IS the natural progression. As heart-wrenching as it feels at times, it is the way it is supposed to happen–Mom has child/Mom raises child/ Child grows up/ Child leaves/ Mom is fine– eventually.