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.

She’s Sweet Sixteen

She’s finally up — before noon, I might add. When you’re a teenager, summer birthday mornings are for sleeping in as late as possible.

Even later than your older brother, apparently.

Sixteen. She says it, the calendar says it too… but my mind can’t wrap around the idea that my 6-pound baby girl has lived most of her time with us already. That while I have felt the past 16 years slide through my fingers she has used them to their full advantage.

She’s kind. She’s funny. She is smart and determined. She cares about her friends and her pets and her family.

She’s a little bit him and a little bit me, but she has always been very much her own person.

And there is a certain spark about her that stuns me, something I can’t quite put my finger on. It feels like she radiates joy and energy and peace, and at times I can’t get enough of just having her near me.

I guess that’s how all moms feel.

When I am distracted by her piercing blue eyes I find myself wondering what’s going on in her head. But mothers of teen girls know we dance on a thin line between comforting and being nosy. And that when they really need us, they will let us know. That asking “What’s wrong?” actually pushes them further away sometimes.

I am trying, sweet girl. I really am.

We traveled together this past spring, just the two of us. And I had glimpses of the relationship we would have one day soon, when she won’t need my permission to go see friends or my questions about homework or chores. When she will shed the blanket of my mothering and start living life on her own.

When she’s an adult who chooses whether or not to spend time with her mom.

We laughed, walked, swam, watched the sunsets, ordered room service pizza and just let ourselves be comfortable together. I didn’t dole out advice or correct her manners in the restaurant. I listened to her, really listened, as if I had just met her for the very first time.

And my heart was so full. Just like that day 16 years ago when the nurse handed her to me and announced that we had a girl. Back then I already knew that our time would be short — but from my vantage point now it seems a cruel joke that parents really only have 18 years to get it right.

I can deal with that. If you promise to ignore me when I stare at you, still trying to see that tiny baby girl inside. To let it slide when I kiss the top of your head or call you a pet name in public. To understand that when you are away from home a small piece of my heart is always with you.

To understand that a mother never really stops mothering.

We just upgrade to the new version.

Happy Birthday, sweet girl.

Have a wonderful year.

 

Kelli and Mom

Baby Love

I want a baby.

Not a third baby — and no, I don’t want your baby (nice try, though).

I want my baby back. The boy or the girl, it doesn’t really matter at this point. Maybe both of them.

Just not at the same time.

For the past few months I have been going through this horrible, embarrassing midlife “thing” where I love babies. LOVE them. And because the stars are aligned or life is really cruel my Facebook and Instagram feeds seem to be overflowing with wee little ones who are sleeping, learning to walk, just born or maybe celebrating a first birthday. Chubby little thighs, the tiniest of fingers and a smattering of fine, wispy hair. The bright blue-eyed babes are especially yummy, as both of mine sport different shades of blue, even into their teen years.

These babies in my stream? Clean slates, all of them. Asking nothing more from you than to hold them, feed them and love them unconditionally. What is simpler and more life-affirming than a brand new baby? It’s a fresh start, a reminder that life goes on. A reason to love yourself a wee bit more than you did. Babies don’t hold grudges, roll their eyes when you ask a favor or leave their socks on the floor. They take a lot of care, but what they give back you can’t get anywhere else. Joy, happiness, that look of I-love-you-so-very-much that you can only get from a little one without a curfew, a driver’s license or a list of chores to complete.

I find myself willing my soul back in time, grabbing frantically for what was once my daily life with babies and trying to remember. To remember how it felt to snuggle a sleepy one right up next to my neck in the early-morning hours when the rest of the house slept. To remember what it felt like to bathe that tiny first baby, so afraid he would slip from my hands and be hurt, or scared.

To remember hearing, “It’s a boy!” and “It’s a girl!” and both times feeling that somehow I already knew who they were, that I could feel their presence in my daily life since those little lines appeared on the pregnancy tests. To remember when they started to dance, to sing and to play pretend — and all of it without any feelings of self-consciousness or anxiety. To remember what it felt like to rock in the kitchen with a baby girl on my hip and feel her heartbeat through my hand on her tiny back. To soothe tears, protect, console, teach, or just to be in the moment.

But I can’t remember.

You’re making memories!” people loved to say to me during those late afternoon grocery store runs or endless hours spent pushing a swing robotically at the park. I probably say that now, to my much-younger friends who are just starting their little families. And somewhere, deep inside they get it. They know too, that while their time feels long and routine and boring it will all end faster than they can imagine.

But memories! “You will have all the memories!” they shout. But the memories you make aren’t all solidly defined or outlined as time goes by. Some memories have jagged edges, some are raw and painful and many of your memories won’t match up with how your kids remember them (which is a shock). But then there are moments that stand alone as if a searchlight shines on them, so vivid and defined that you can relive them at any time.

Just rewind.

But other memories? The day-to-day routine, the bath times and the bedtimes, endless renditions of Hop on Pop or Brown Bear, Brown Bear and the countless boxes of mac and cheese I made, scraping the bottom for a few scraps of my own. The “firsts” and the “lasts” for each baby, from taking tentative first steps to losing a first tooth to starting high school.

To graduation, and beyond.

They blur together — like a fog that I can’t see through just yet. I comb through boxes of printed photos (yes, my little ones were pre-digital) that span an entire childhood and I can “see” it all. It happened, it was real and we all lived to tell about it. There were camping trips and amusement parks, birthdays and sleepovers, friends, family, beloved pets and favorite toys. I didn’t have a blog or a journal when mine were small. We made videos and took pictures, so we do have lots of great memories stored in boxes down the hall.

But the blur of memory that I have of those 20 years is unsettling to me right now. I honestly thought I would remember more vividly. I worry at times that I am truly starting to lose my memory, one old and faded mental photograph at a time.

But just give me that baby. My baby, either one of them.

If only I could relive a day with my baby girl on my hip, or my baby boy laughing so hard he would lose his breath.

I promise I would remember — I really would.

I would just love to hit rewind again.

mom and baby girl

The Hardest Gift

I’ve seen her each morning this past week of summer. Little wisp of a girl on her brand-new big girl bicycle, shiny pink helmet guarding her head and a smile that won’t stop.

Freedom. She tastes it — possibly for the very first time. She rides up and down our street each morning, past my kitchen window, too many times to count. Pink and white tassels fly from her handlebars and flap in the wind, making her ride seem just a wee bit faster.

As parents, we want this freedom for our kids. No, really — we DO. We dole it out to them in tiny measures at first. I still remember the first time I walked down the hall, away from my young toddler’s room while he was busy and engaged with his books and toys. I was giving him a little gift — some time alone without my constant chatter or my overwhelming need to note the color of something or the sound of the train whistle in the distance. A bit of space that says I trust you, have fun, make good choices.

I’ll be right here.

What little pushes and cautious bits of freedom we give our little ones — at times, reluctantly — multiply and grow into a cloak they wear as teens. Freedom becomes expected, something they have earned bit by bit that we must never question or try to take back.

And so goes the delicate balance we live when the teens are home — especially those who have lived on their own for a bit. Their freedom is everything to them, and offers of assistance or advice are often pushed aside.

I’m fine.

Yes, mom.

I’ve got this.

I don’t need your help, but thanks.

Freedom.

When the little girl went by this morning, I asked my almost-15-year-old daughter if she remembered learning to ride her bicycle on this very same street. If she remembered the mom-imposed boundaries she was allowed to ride within without supervision. My version of without supervision at the time involved casually walking out to the sidewalk and cautiously squinting down the block to make sure she was still alive, that she hadn’t fallen prey to the dozen or so scenarios I had crafted in my mommy brain and wrapped in a blanket of worry.

She did remember, and we both smiled at the memory of a feisty little 3-year-old whose boundaries were the tree five houses down and the crack in the sidewalk just almost around the corner. The boundaries and edges of our comfort zone stretch and reshape themselves, until we are left with a young adult whose choices and decisions we no longer have much control over.

Exactly what we are intended to do.

But it’s hard. Harder than you can imagine, that first time you give that little pink bicycle a gentle push and she goes sailing away, ponytail flying and wearing a smile bigger than her face.

You will smile too… and in time, these pushes will all pay off.

I watched the little girl ride by again.

And I smiled, and silently cheered for her… and for her mother down the street.

Because she’s earning her freedom…

but her mom had to give it away.

_______________________________________________________________

This piece was originally published on Moonfrye

 

 

Being 15

Kelli cake

Fifteen.

Fifteen years ago today, I held you in my belly for just a while longer…

You yearned to get out. You made that clear with your powerful kicks and incessant hiccups.

But I still had time.

I wasn’t really ready yet. I had been too busy to make up the crib with fresh sheets, or to set out your sweet little unisex onesies. You weren’t really due for almost two more weeks, and your four-year-old brother kept me on my toes every day, asking a billion questions that I, as the mother, was expected to know.

We were busy… busy in that sense of the word when Monday just blurs to Wednesday and then Sunday… and we are left wondering where the time went.

Kind of how life is now.

I wasn’t ready. I worried that I hadn’t taken the time to savor this second pregnancy, to just sit and feel you move and just be pregnant. Those fleeting months when I carried you seem like a blip in time.

I just wasn’t ready.

Second kid, you know.

But you had your own ideas.

And when labor started, I realized that I was ready… ready to meet you. Ready to try my hand at parenting yet another little one.

And when you surprised us — a girl! — I was both giddy and cautious. I was a boy mom, after all… fluent in dinosaurs and Legos and all things boy.

But a girl?

And then you taught me about raising girls… that girls can run and climb and break bones and laugh until they snort. Taught me that life was meant for running full-force ahead, for laughing with friends and for late nights reading in bed. That there is no day that can’t be improved with a bowl of ice cream, a piece of chocolate cake or a hug from a friend… that sometimes it’s better to let little things go than to worry. That when things don’t go your way you can always try a little harder.

Fifteen years. Where has the time gone, really?

Some days I think you have taught me more about life than I could ever teach you.

I am in awe of your confidence, your loyalty, your kind spirit and your fierce determination when obstacles stand in your path.

You make me smile, make me laugh, challenge me and call my bluff.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Happy 15th Birthday, sweet girl…

Enjoy being 15.

Kelli no braces

Little Girl Lost

I’m not quite sure when it started to become so obvious to me.

Obvious that my little girl isn’t so little anymore.

Was it how her body seemed to stretch overnight, and I found myself almost eye-to-eye with her now? Maybe the slight eye-roll when I said something a bit too uncool? The swing of her hair when she walked down the hall?

Maybe it was the shoes.

The 8th grade promotion shoes. Her feet are small but her need to be big is fierce. We spent hours searching for the perfect shoes for her promotion dance and ceremony.

They had to be perfect.

But being the practical mom that I am, I had guidelines for these shoes. They couldn’t be too tall or too expensive, and she had to be able to walk in them.

Simple enough.

As we searched I watched her try each new pair on her tiny little feet, gazing at herself in the store mirror with an expression I hadn’t seen before.

Then she would walk. As I bit my lip and tried not to say a word, the shoes fought her and won every time.

Too tall; can’t walk in them.

Some lessons can’t be taught by a comment from mom or an I told you so.

We finally found the shoes online…a bit too tall, but she could walk in them and they were perfect with her dress.

The kind of shoes a high school girl wears.

And it hit me.

That little girl who used to run everywhere, who was fiercely independent, who hated naps and loved horses?

She’s gone.

But in her place, I’ve found a confident young lady who is polite, caring, funny, helpful and still fiercely independent.

And I can’t wait to see what high school has in store for her.

 

 

 

I Still See Her…

Who is this girl?

Mascara-laced lashes frame baby-blues not so babyish anymore.

The glasses she’s worn constantly since the age of two are optional now; her eyes have mended.

She smiles and I see her. She’s in there still.

That ball-of-energy little girl who seemed to run before she learned to walk. Who climbed trees and mastered the monkey bars, with calloused hands for her trophy.

Sometimes in pink and sequins.

Before she was born, I imagined her like this.

But I was only a mother to a son and didn’t know for sure what to expect with a little girl.

How would I play with a little girl? Would I have to dress her in fancy lace with ribbons in her hair? Or could we catch tadpoles at the creek and go camping, like I did with my son?

We didn’t even know whether the baby to be born was a boy or a girl. A surprise, it would be.

When she finally flung herself into this world, already running it seemed, I was instantly surprised.

And yet, not.

Part of me felt all along that this baby was a girl. But I pushed away those ideas of mother’s intuition and all that nonsense. I’m too logical for that.

Who is this girl?

This girl who changed our family forever with her birth. She’s still my little girl and yet, not.

Will we always be close?

Eyes roll now, she’s much more aware of my clothing and the things I do that make me old. Aware, possibly, that I am her future self. Does she fear my wrinkles and gray hair?

And still, we giggle. We laugh about the boys in our family. We are bonded by things like perfume, skinny jeans, music, and lip gloss.

She watches me sometimes. Like I used to watch her in the crib while she slept.

And I wonder what she’s thinking.

Does she know how much I adore her? What a kind and caring person she’s become? How different my life would be without her here?

Twelve years old suddenly seems so much closer to eighteen than to six.

That little girl hasn’t slipped through my fingers, but has wrapped herself around my heart.

And she’s still in there.