The text is from my youngest daughter. A simple statement. I notice how it’s not a question and she is not asking for permission. That already feels like a glimpse into our evolving relationship in this new upcoming chapter of our lives. “We are going to Playland tonight.”
This represents the essence of what I think I’ll be missing most when she leaves for college in less than two weeks. The spontaneous fun. The ease of being with someone who you know better than anyone, and who knows you just as well. Eating favorite foods together and knowing what will make each other laugh. Daring each other to ride the roller coaster that will get you soaking wet. Taking time throughout it all to have meaningful talks.
She is informing me that this will be our plan, on her day off, after our errands for the dorm room prep are done. She knows we need this bonding time. Perhaps I need it more than she does. She is my buddy. She is my community. She’s been my housemate, and often roommate, for the past 18 years. It’s been just the two of us living here for a while. And now it’s time for each of us to transition to a new stage.
But not without a last hurrah. There are so many things that are on our google doc titled College To-Do list. Books and bedding. Toiletries and fans. They are organized by category and sub-category. But as diligent as we’ve been, we almost forgot to include the most important thing we need to do. We need to make room to spend quality time together. That should be at the top of the list. Everything else she can find in a store where she’ll be living.
This is a summer of transition. My daughter shares with me that up to now, she’s spent about 90% of her life with me and that after now, she’ll spend about 10% of her life with me. What do you say to that? That’s certainly going to be a change for her and it also is definitely an adjustment for me.
For literally half of my life, I’ve been consumed with being a hands-on parent. Every decision I make is weighed against the impact it will have on my children. My children have been my full-time companions in my home, available for spur-of-the-moment ice cream runs, walks around the neighborhood, songfests, movies, dips in the pool, hikes in the woods, and other adventures. Slowly they have each left this nest and for the past couple of years, it’s been just my daughter and me. We have ‘our shows’, ‘our songs’, and ‘our games.’ We often quiz one another with, ‘How well do you know each other?’ questions that we get from the internet. We answer most of the questions easily. As she experiences life, I am right by her side, sharing her joy, offering support, giving advice and just being part of her life. When I am excited she is here to dance and jump for joy with me, and when I am overwhelmed, she’s here to give me a big hug. The point is – she is here. But not for long.
Time and again over the past couple of decades I have imagined what life would feel like as my kids got older. Double digits, pre-teens, teens, etc. What will they be like? How will my own parenting adapt? But I never really imagined what happens after the last one graduates high school because it was too amorphous. I just couldn’t guess. I’ve had hints and glimpses, when she’s travelled for extended periods of time or had summer adventures. That was practice, though. This is now the real deal. Here we are. Less than two weeks away.
We are both on the precipice of so many possibilities and opportunities as we’re about to embark on this new stage. A month ago my mother asked my daughter, “How do you feel, now that you’ve graduated high school?” The response: “I feel in limbo. Empty. I don’t belong to either school.” Yeah, I totally get that. I feel the same way. There is this unmoored feeling. I don’t belong to the world of parents actively rearing their children or to the world of parents whose kids are all grown. I’m not exactly sure where I belong either.
And I am realizing that although I have so many ideas for how to live my future life, none of them will fulfill me if I do not have an embracing community to ground me. My community of family is changing. I will no longer have the same instant built-in friend and family support system at home. I realize that I need to prioritize and create this support system for myself. It won’t just happen to me magically.
I feel immensely blessed to be starting this journey with love already in my life. That is the exciting part of this journey. But I do not want to rely on one person. I crave the village of friendships. I actively start reaching out to old friends. People who I’ve seen sporadically over the years and who hold a close place in my heart. We put dates on the calendar and easily fall back into the roles of supportive friend. I have a long list yet to contact, and look forward to reviving and keeping center-stage my friendships that have mostly been waiting in the wings for the past few years.
I also think about my spiritual connections and start to research different spiritual communities to help me navigate through this next rite of passage. This time in my life feels like a true reckoning and I don’t want to waste the opportunity of choice. I don’t want to default to what I’ve always done just because I’ve always done it.
How do I want to enter this next stage of my life? Who do I want around me? What do I want to be doing? Where do I want to spend my time? What has moved up on my wish list and what has become a top priority on my list of important values?
As I shed the shell of being a full-time Mom, I embrace the transformation that awaits. After all, this new awakening does not have to be one of loss. I can concentrate a bit more on what will fulfill me, knowing that all of my kids are doing the same for themselves. They will know that although being a hands-on Mom was my favorite thing I’ve ever done, that I am not lying in the bed grieving their loss (most of the time.) I will be busy with my own experiences. They also know that they will always be my number one priority on my list of values and on my wish list and that whenever they send me a text saying something like, “We are going to Playland tonight” I will respond as I did today: “I’m in!”