Parting is Such
A baseball cap wedged between the bed and wall, the piano bench pulled out, an empty refrigerator, and piles of sheets and towels, that’s what’s left after a weekend of storytelling, feasting, beaching, and celebrating.
When our young children ran around the yard playing the imagination game, grandparents declared that time would fly by, and the kids would be gone. The sage words nailed it but failed to mention that though the kids would mature and leave, we would remain parents at home.
Our job is over, but raising kids rewired our DNA, and we will never untie our parenting shoes. Just as we worried over our sons twenty years ago, we daily wonder how their work projects are going, their garden is growing, the status of their health, finances, and relationships. The differences now are that we offer advice only when asked and don’t ask things we bite our nails about, things too personal to ask another adult, even if they’re our children.
We eagerly anticipate their visits, but standing in the driveway watching receding taillights feels like the dog died again. With time the grief will subside…mostly.
When that wet towel of their departure hung on my shoulders after the weekend, this is what I did. I hoisted the blinds to the tops of the windows. I stripped the beds and loaded the washer. I scrubbed the bathrooms and swept the floors.
And when I found the hat and saw the piano bench, I locked the door and went for a walk with noisy birds and sunshine.
By the time I returned home, I thought of forty-nine tasks I needed to get a jump on, and I stayed busy. I admit that I texted about the hat but resisted dozens more temptations to call or text my kids.
My mom intimated this leaving ordeal when she was alive. I did not fully get it, but I’m thankful that at some point, I began viewing my parents out of one eye as parents and out of the other eye as adult people.
My mother began painting after my siblings and I launched into the world. I would ask her about it. What project are you working on? Have you entered any art shows lately? What workshops are coming up? Which guest artists will conduct seminars?
I asked about her mahjong group. Who came this week? What snacks did they have? Who won?
I wished I had asked more delving questions like what moved her to paint and how it made her feel, and who her favorite artists or mentors were. I would like to ask what they talked about at mahjong, what concerned them most. I would like to know what was the game’s appeal, or if it were the friendships that motivated her to play.
My parent’s ashes occupy a columbarium now, but if they were still alive I would try to see my parents as I would like my grown children to view me, and as my grown children might like me to view them.
We are all in new stages of life with unique interests, desires, fears, and disappointments.
We all want to be valued for who we are, not for what we can do for the other person.
Love requires a facet of independence, so that we don’t look for satisfaction that can only be met by God or by our own hard work.
My sons and daughter-in-law are building interests, friendships and careers. I need to allow them to form their own families and identities without a mother attached by a chain to their ankles.
I hope they will come to recognize my identity apart from being a mom too, but it is my job to make sure I have an identity besides being a mom. My mother accomplished this partly through her art and mahjong. I am attempting to do this through work and play.
I’ve started this new adventure of blogging, writing essays and dabbling in fiction. I also volunteer at a pregnancy center, mentoring pregnant mothers through pregnancy and early parenting. I keep learning. Who would have thought I would graduate with a masters degree when I was 52? Four or five books litter my bedside table, and I am currently loving the Florida Master Naturalist course.
These meaningful activities give me things to look forward to when my kids back out of the driveway. Family is important, but their lives should not be about me, and my life should not be about them. God has called me and them to so much more.
Since my parenting role has diminished, I am freed to invest outside of my family. Other empty nesters are in the same boat and need encouragement and friendship. Equipped with experience and knowledge, I can help my community. I have time to explore.
Play, volunteer and learn. Hopefully I am more interesting to my grown kids when they call or come, but even if they cannot recognize those growing parts of me yet, at least I am becoming a happier, and more independent person. I still bite my lip when their car disappears around the corner, but I recover faster.