I have finally made it out of the child years; I told myself life would get so much easier once my kids were more self-sufficient. You spend years of your life meeting every need and making sure they are watched over. In the beginning, it’s all about food and sleep. Food and sleep. Food and sleep. Days blend into night, and you feel so discombobulated that you don’t think you’ll ever be “you” again.
Then, just as you start to feel human and remember how glorious uninterrupted sleep is, they become toddlers. They talk back. They actively try to harm themselves. It’s just a never-ending whirling dervish of chaos.
They start elementary school, and you think, “Whew, we made it”. But school just leads to so many other obligations. Friends. Other parents. New worries about what they are learning and seeing out in the world. Elementary school is eye-opening and exhausting, but they are getting older, and that’s a good thing.
Then, they hit middle school. They become completely different people, seemingly overnight. You are relegated to the sidelines as document signer. ATM. Chauffeur. They are less concerned about what you think; their friends are the only ones that matter. They stop meaningfully conversing with you, and life becomes a series of sighs and eye-rolls.
In a few year's time, they return from that maudlin, silent world; high school starts, and they are so busy. Activities take over their lives. They learn to drive. They pull out of your driveway on the way to the next thing. You pass like ships in the night until they are finally ready to fly.
I am in the midst of those latter stages because I have a middle-schooler and a high-school senior. My oldest is ready to get out of the house; he is intelligent, focused, and pretty self-sufficient. He always has been. We joke that he came out of the womb as an adult, and he’s only gotten more serious since then. He walked into kindergarten with a “Mom, I’ve got this; see you after school”. As he’s gotten older, he’s pulled away at every opportunity. He doesn’t ask for help, and he doesn’t really want it when offered. He simply wants to do it himself. In many ways, that’s made him an easy kid to raise, but I was always a little sad that he didn’t want to hang out with me.
In direct contrast to my oldest, my youngest is thoughtful, sensitive, and clingy. She has always been my little shadow. Where the oldest one would decline days out with me, she was always game. Zoos. Aquariums. Fairs. Hiking. Anything outside with Mom? She was ready. She’s always been my little buddy for any and all adventures. We were two peas and a pod for a very long time. Recently, she’s shifted, and no one prepares you for that.
Today embodied that shift more than ever. She gets out early from school today, and I thought it would be fun to go to the big state fair that comes once a year. We love to go on a weekday, get fried food for lunch, eat cream puffs as large as our heads, and ride all the rides. I was just about to buy tickets when she came into my office and asked if she could walk with her friends to a restaurant after school. “Could you pick me up around 3:30?” I didn’t mention the fair; I knew she would roll her eyes and begrudgingly say, “Fine”, but she wouldn’t really want to go. This is growing up, and I’m so happy she has good friends to hang out with. But I miss my buddy.
The shift happened with my oldest today as well; he is a senior with all of the privileges that come with being the oldest at the school. This means that he is able to leave the school for lunch. At first, he was going out because it was new and cool, but he soon realized going out costs money! So, he started coming home for lunch; it’s been nice. He rolls in, makes some lunch, and we sit on the deck and eat together. I can’t remember the last time we have done anything just him and me. This morning as he was walking to the door, he turned and asked, “Are you going to be home for lunch? You weren’t here yesterday”. I told him I’d be home. “Good; I like our lunches”. Now, where was this kid several years ago?
That brings me back to the beginning. You think it’ll be easier once they reach a certain age, but it just changes. It’s not harder or easier; it’s just different. I hope my youngest will come back to me at some point, but I have to accept that she might not. I need to remember that I had her for so many years; she was my shadow, and I had the privilege of so much time with her. I also have to relish in the time my oldest wants right now; a year from now, he will be at college and away from my influence. So much of parenting is joy mixed with a little bit of heartbreak. It’s constantly shifting your assumptions so you are ready for the unexpected. I’m just trying to hold on for dear life at the moment. After all, the days are so long, but the years are so short. The ride will come to an end, and we’ll have to start the next stage. But what a ride it is.