“You know what’s weird? Day by day, nothing seems to change, but pretty soon…everything’s different.” ― Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes
Years ago, when my children were small, I remember thinking that people with grown children, or even those with teens, had forgotten how challenging it was to deal with babies and toddlers. How hard it was to adjust your life and activities so completely around the needs of another person, and how you spent all your time worrying about their eating and sleeping routines or lack thereof.
This week, as I sat in the salon marinating in high-octane hair color (now necessary to cover my grey) I listened to two women discuss these very issues… and realized that I am now that person, the one who no longer appreciates the stresses of young motherhood.
But there was a second part to that realization, because my younger self was mistaken- older parents haven’t forgotten those challenges, it’s just that parenting teens and young adults makes us nostalgic for the simplicity of those early childhood issues.
You see, older kids make you level up when it comes to parenting. Sure, some of those same worries still exist, but now, there’s a bit of a twist. Do I worry about their eating? Yes, of course, because they seem to want to exist on junk despite my best efforts to make healthy options available. Are they on a good sleep schedule? That’s a definite no, but it’s getting harder and harder to outlast them in their night-owl ways, and for me, it’s not a battle worth fighting.
These days, what I worry about is much more complex. On top of all those old concerns, I also worry about the things over which I have little or no control; their driving habits, for example, or difficulties they may have at jobs, or in friendships or relationships. And perhaps the most difficult part of it is recognizing that I have to hold them loosely and accept that most of those things are now outside the sphere of my influence.
My oldest child, a daughter, is headstrong and independent. Through the years, these traits have presented me with countless parenting challenges, but they’re also the things I love about her, and I know these characteristics will serve her well as she moves into adulthood. She is confident and hardworking, and so goal-oriented that I know she’ll go after the things she wants without hesitation.
But this week has been a hard one for me. A year ago, she announced that she could use her early college enrollment to complete her high school credits in the spring of 2019, over a year earlier than she would have been done with high school otherwise. Next week, she’ll complete the finals that make that concept a reality.
With this step forward, we’ve agreed to another- she’ll be moving out of her bedroom and into our guest house this weekend. It is literally right next door, but affords her the increased degree of independence and privacy that she longs for and has earned over the last year. She’s attended college and completed her credits while maintaining her grade point average, and works enough to pay an agreed-upon amount in “rent” that will go into savings while she lives there. (That “rent” will fund her move to the 4-year college of her choice when she finishes her Associate’s degree next year.)
Can this be right? Can she possibly be old enough for this to be happening?
Well, the short answer is yes. I moved out at 17 myself- still a month shy of high school graduation. She’s slightly ahead of my curve, but certainly in the same ballpark. And while the very thought of her leaving raises an indistinct panic in me, I do realize that we have an advantage my parents did not- she’ll be gone, but still here, living right next door.
Even so, I’ve found I’ve had a curious urge to burst into tears over the smallest things this week. The other night, we were in her bedroom, organizing and cleaning for her move this weekend, and she was going through old collections, filling trash bags and packing things away.
“You’re going through your childhood right now”, I told her, trying not to choke up as I looked at old makeup, rubber band creatures, walkie-talkies, and toys that she’s moved beyond. “Yeah”, she said casually, tossing another batch of items into the trash. “There’s a lot of junk in here”.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a purger- I don’t hold on to material things out of sentimentality. But I had to resist the urge to say, “Now, wait…are you really sure you want to get rid of that”? It felt like we were throwing away time we’ll never get back.
But it didn’t feel that way to me at 17, and it doesn’t feel that way to her now. All of life is in front of her, and it’s an adventure. She’s only beginning to understand the idea that the adventure that appeals to her can be terrifying for the people who love her. But she gets it, a little bit. Her boyfriend is planning a career that has risks, and the other night she told me, “Mom, it’s a little scary.”
I think we all know that the people we love may not stay by our sides forever – whether by choice or circumstance, life often separates us from those we hold closest in our hearts.
Life is designed that way.
But man, it’s a little scary.