Spreading Her Wings

cheering woman student open arms at campusThere is a shift taking place in my life right now. As regular life continues to happen around me, I feel trapped in a time warp, a black hole of sorts.

A vortex of emotions.

The stack of boxes, bedding and trinkets has been growing for several weeks. Staged in the back room, away from the path my regular routine takes me through the house each day. The room that used to hold all things Little Tikes, LEGO and My Little Pony. Where imaginations turned boxes, blankets and couch cushions into castles. The game room, formerly known as the playroom.

Teens don’t like to hang out in a playroom, you know. Hence, the name change.

This summer has been deemed “The Longest Summer Ever” for my daughter, who graduated high school on June 17 and doesn’t start college classes until September 22.

College.

I can feel her absence already, as boxes are taped shut and “lasts” are marked off an imaginary list.

And in a twist that seems particularly cruel to a mother, I can clearly remember a time when I would have given my right foot to have a little break from parenting. Maybe an overnight with the grandparents or a few hours away while Dad mans the ship. When your kids are small and needy and so very BUSY, the mere thought that one day they will be out on their own and adulting might be the only thing that keeps you going.

It’s the light at the end of the tunnel, the holy grail of parenting — the young adult child.

Because toddlers can be tough.

I honestly enjoyed parenting, even when I had to dole out a punishment or deliver a lecture. There were times when I cried, when they cried, times we all cried together. Through the foot stomping determination of a 3-year old to the eye rolls of a tween, I pushed ahead with new determination each and every day. Even after the toughest of days I would find myself standing at her bedside after she fell asleep, watching her chest rise and fall as the rhythm of her breathing brought me back to the starting line.

Ready to tackle another day.

Most days, I’m almost giddy that she’s going to college and choosing her own path. Some would say I have made it to the finish line, that I’m done parenting and can hang up my cape. Empty nest! More time for yourself! Freedom! These are the cheers I hear from my parenting crowd, many of whom still have tiny hands leaving fingerprints on the sliding glass door and pounds of Goldfish crackers ground into the carpeting in their minivan. They look wistful, envious maybe. I feel like I’m betraying my people if I don’t have fabulous plans to cruise to Alaska, take up yoga, get a tattoo or start my own organic food co-op.

But some days the tears pool right on the brink of my lashes.

Because I’m still parenting.

What did I forget to tell her? Is there one must-have piece of advice I was supposed to frame for her dorm room wall? I can’t swaddle her in a hug when something goes wrong, can’t ask her to tag along on my Target run on a whim. I won’t see that adorable bed-head when she wakes up or even know what she’s wearing. My grocery store cart won’t hold any of her favorite snacks or that disgusting green juice she insists on drinking every morning.

I should probably still get the ice cream.

It’s like watching a movie unfold as you fall in love with the characters, the story line, the flaws and challenges they all overcome. But you don’t know how it ends just yet.

Is this the end of a chapter, or of the whole novel? My brainer-than-me writer/parent friends often debate this topic as a way of postponing the inevitable letting go. Which is really all it is. But am I launching or casting out? One implies setting free, while the other leaves room to reel them back in when needed.

Letting go.

That’s what I am doing this weekend. I’m not getting a tattoo, not hanging up  my parenting cape just yet.

But I am glad I bought the ice cream.

Eighteen Candles

mom holding baby girlParenting.

One of the few jobs that doesn’t necessarily get easier the more years you have under your belt. Because while your skills might sharpen as you balance the tightrope between “yes” and “no” every day, your child is changing the playing field.

Constantly.

You might have one child or five — all boys or a mixture of kiddos — but each and every day you suit up to play a game that isn’t the same game you played yesterday.

I’ve done this parenting thing once already. With 22 years under my belt and a son recently launched into young adulthood, I thought I had it all under control.

My baby girl changed the game.

And now she’s ready to fly.

My last child, my only girl… I’m not sure what it is.

But while I am incredibly excited for her next chapter in life — college move-in only one month away — my heart is already missing that little girl who has been my sidekick for so many years. The toddler who grasped my legs while I cooked dinner and now shares my love for iced coffee and Target runs.

She’s 18 today.

I still can’t wrap my head around it.

From the day she was born, she’s been such a presence in my life. This tiny 6-pound baby girl who couldn’t wait for her due date to make her appearance; who threatened to be born while her father was off in search of a soda machine in the depths of the hospital hallways.

She altered the course of our lives, bringing a new perspective on parenting to two people who thought they knew it all. Her 4-year-old brother had no idea what a game-changer she would be… or that she would be his trusted ally and playmate for years to come. To watch them interact now as young adults is incredible. These two little souls who grew up in a heartbeat — right under my nose — as I fed them, bathed them, read to them, taught them, laughed with them and cried over them.

But my daughter.

How can I sum up 18 years of memories in just a few sentences, or a few memories pulled from the pre-digital years? Shuffling through the old photo boxes this afternoon I wished Steve Jobs had been a little bit quicker with his iPhone… or that I had not worried about the cost of a roll of prints from the neighborhood photo shop.

The cost of the missing memories is steep right now.

She is tenacious and caring, both a deep thinker and a free spirit. She makes me laugh and makes me think, makes me want to be smarter and do better. She loves a debate, yet loves a silly conversation just as much. She is fiercely loyal to her family and friends.

For the past 18 years she has graced our home with so much energy, laughter and love… and when she leaves for college next month her absence will echo down the hall, towards her empty bedroom.

But give me some Facetime, a text filled with emojis, a funny meme shared with an LOL or a call out of the blue — I’m good with that.

She’ll always be my sidekick.

Happy 18th birthday, sweet girl.

It’s time for you to fly.

kak grad walk

 

50 Shades of Play

They’re sprinkled all over the internet, in stock photos and pop-up ads.

Those moms.

The moms who actually play with their kids and smile and seem so incredibly good at mothering.

Because playing is fun, right?

When I pictured  myself as a mom, one of the things I was sure I would do all day long was play with my kids. Like really play and laugh and enjoy myself.

Um, yeah. I soon found out that there are more layers to playtime than I had ever imagined. And it changes as your child grows. While playing with your 6-week-old baby might involve nothing more than peek-a-boo and rattles, playing with a 3-year-old gets complicated. There are characters and voices and nuances that even the most attentive mom might not “get” all the time.

Let’s just say it’s not as easy as Stock Photo Mom makes it look. And while I loved, LOVED the time when my kids were young and full of wonder and energy, I also enjoyed the changes as they came… and that’s why I was so excited when I was asked by Rachel Cedar to participate in the 28 Days of Play 2015 at You Plus 2 Parenting!

youplustwoparenting
I would love it if you would head over to read my post about play, Escape From the Land of Pretend.

Then go play with your kids… before they stop asking.

Flashback on Aisle 4

mother shopping for groceries

I know it’s not him. Really, I do.

I don’t need you all worrying about my mental state, thank you.

And yet, there he is.

Halfway down the aisle, staring at the rows upon rows of crackers and snacks.

His mom obviously sent him to find something on her list, her way of letting him be a bit “big” while still accompanying her to the grocery store. He’s at that age when kids need to break free just a wee little bit — and being sent on an errand to the other side of the grocery store is only as far as a mom can bear to let him go.

He looks like he’s probably 11 years old, 12 at most. Long, lanky arms and legs that probably grew longer since he entered this store. I know how the mind of a boy that age works. It’s highly likely that while he initially remembered what brand and type of cracker his mom wanted, those details have now been replaced with the memory of a funny YouTube video or an idea for a brilliant new Minecraft build.

And so he stares at the cracker section.

As I move closer to him, his momentary trance snaps and he glances up at me, then scoots apologetically to the side to make room for my cart.

Nope. He’s not my boy.

I wanted it to be him. Just for a day, maybe just for one shopping trip.

I have shopped in this grocery store several times a week since he was 2 years old. Endless conversations about dinosaurs or books or Legos have taken place between these four walls. He charmed the cashiers from the very beginning, and his attempts to teach strangers waiting in line about which dinosaurs lived in which prehistoric periods were always met with a smile.

And when he got older, I would send him off to hunt down something on my list. It made him feel big — bigger than his little sister, who then took over the business of the endless conversation.

And this boy standing right here feels like a ghost to me. Like someone rewound the reel of a long-lost episode of my life. I remember my son so well at that age, but as he grows farther away from being 11 or 12 or even 16 I find those memories grab me at unexpected times, filling me with emotions that aren’t usually on the surface.

I wonder where the time went.

My boy shops at the grocery store hundreds of miles away from here these days. All by himself.

He’s big.

Pretty sure he isn’t chatting up the other customers or teaching the cashiers about dinosaurs these days.

I haven’t seen him in three months.

He’s coming home tomorrow.

And I just might invite him along on a grocery store run. But I won’t be sending him all over the store to collect crackers and paper towels and baby carrots.

Because I would love an endless conversation with my boy right now.

50 Stages of Motherhood

There is a progression of motherhood…a timeline we all follow. Some of us go through kicking and screaming, while others cheer louder with each smidge of progress towards the finish line.

Our children inch closer to adulthood, while we apparently inch closer to the floor.

I have lost 3/4 of an inch in height since my son left for college.

And with each new stage, each startling new trick or terrifying new skill we adjust our mothering to suit it.

  • He climbs trees? We add the Urgent Care Center to our speed dial.
  • Projectile vomiting? Nothing a Swiffer, rubber gloves and a few paper towels can’t handle.
  • He wants to dress himself? We buy all red, white and blue clothing so that he will always look patriotic even when he isn’t quite matching.
  • He wants to get his Driver’s License? We increase our blood pressure meds and buy a set of rosary beads.
  • He wants to live off-campus? We write rent checks and hope he has a decent meal now and then.

I have been through so many stages of motherhood with my college kid, I have lost count. There are days when I can barely remember those first few stages, the why-isn’t-he-sleeping-through-the-night stage or the just-stop-teething-already stage.

Some were particularly ugly.

But woven together, stacked one on top of the other year after year these stages make up the mother I am today. It’s too late to change any of the things we went through. No do-overs, no returns, no refunds and no time machine travel.

Would I have done anything differently? I’m not sure I even know that answer.

I am faced with the dilemma that I am not done mothering, not quite yet.

But there are days when I want to be done.

See, the problem with mothering is that you are never really finished. It’s not that I didn’t know this… I just didn’t understand.

Grown-up kids need parents too.

And in time, years from now, in those last stages of motherhood, I will need my kids more than they will need me.

They will finally be living their own lives as adults, possibly raising families of their own. And I will be able to relax and know that I did the very best job I could have done. I passed the final exam, graduated. Finished the last stage.

But I am pretty sure I will still find a way to keep on worrying.

 

This post originally ran on Moonfrye

Coming Home

college student coming home for holiday

How do you feel, when you walk through that door…

Home for a quick visit; a week at best.

Dropping your heavy duffel bag onto the floor while the dog slathers you with welcome back kisses.

Same old home, same familiar spaces where you’ve spent most of your young life.

But maybe a bit foreign to you now.

Does it feel like home, like a place you’ve never left in your heart?

Or just a vaguely familiar memory?

When you walk down the hallway to your bedroom, do you see the little boy there, picking up jelly beans that the Easter Bunny left in a trail?

I do.

And in your room, your big boy room at the front of the house…

See that small boy standing at the window, waiting for the garbage truck?

He’s still there.

This empty room is still filled with him, everywhere I look.

And then, when you are here in the flesh – all over-six-feet of you with stubbly beard and deep voice – the room fills again but the memories are new.

No tucking-you-in at bedtime; no rushing to the window to greet the garbage man.

Do you still feel at home?

Or too anxious to get back to your new life?

With each visit home, you take a step further away.

That was the plan all along…

Simple words cannot express the pride I feel, watching you grow into a young adult.

But my heart misses that little boy sometimes…

 

The Long Goodbye

I think I’m still adjusting to it, to be honest with you.

That empty bedroom down the hall.

When my son came home from college for Thanksgiving, it was magical. He had only three days to visit, so we crammed in all the laughing, chatting, eating, and hanging out that we could muster in that short period of time. It was his first visit home since he went away to college in September and he seemed genuinely happy to be here.

To sit and watch him pester his sister, play with the dog, and stretch his lanky frame out across my couch again?

Pure awesome.

Christmas break was a whole month long…at least a week too long, we all decided. After the first week or so we had all settled into old routines for the most part. Almost as if he’d never left.

His floor was once again littered with socks, more of his friends were home to make plans with, and we were suddenly back in the business of parenting: curfews, chores, do-this, do-that, get a haircut, clean your room.

When he finally went back to school in early January, it was time.

And yet…

I found myself tip-toeing past his closed bedroom door, still thinking he was in bed and sleeping late. Buying his favorite snacks at the grocery store, only to remember that he won’t be home until April. Setting aside the Sunday comics for him when I brought in the newspaper.

Old routines; familiar little mothering stuff that only a mom understands.

Little mothering stuff that I can’t do for him anymore.

I sat in his room for a bit yesterday, after I had remade his bed with clean sheets in anticipation of his next visit.

This big boy room that we moved him to when his sister’s birth was imminent. The big boy bed he slept in straight from the crib. Awards hanging on the wall, movie ticket stubs taped together in a long strip on the mirror, silly photo booth pictures from Senior Ball stuck to the mirror.

The memories in this room are piled 16 years deep; and yet they are right on the surface of my heart.

He smiles back at me from the Senior Ball picture; or at least I think he does.

And I know he’s exactly where he needs to be right now.

But there’s a hole in that empty bedroom down the hall.

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It’s Wednesday, and that means I’m also hanging out over at Moonfrye! Today I’m coming clean about how I almost lost it all last week but nobody was the wiser. Or at least, that’s how I remember it. Come visit me over there…I promise I won’t make you do any chores.