My Parental Playbook: The Final Chapter
We have just driven a rusted, decrepit minivan across eastern North America to deliver our daughter to University. The quantum of her belongings combined with failing suspension turned every pothole, rut and expansion joint into a cranium rattling, bladder bursting assault. A late summer heat wave and no air conditioning meant driving with all windows open, giving our journey the ambience of a chuck wagon at Stampede. It was not the kind of road trip they feature in Conde Nast. But to the positive, the endless ribbon of highway leading to Halifax allowed ample time to reflect on the changes that await as our youngest leaves the roost.
As we say our final good-byes I do my best to stay composed; to avoid making a scene. Then, soon after we part, she sends me a text with the words I had hoped she would say before: ‘Love you mum. Thanks for everything. Sure will miss you.’ Well, so much for the stiff upper lip. I proceed to melt like ice cream on Georgia asphalt. My life flashes before me as if I were facing imminent demise. I want to run and hide in some distant cave, like my prehistoric ancestors, who I surmise lived somewhat worry free apart from concerns about being eaten by a wooly mammoth, or hit by falling ice.
Suddenly I am struck by the realization that my mothering days are officially over, and the final passages of my parental playbook written. Wouldn’t it be more rational to rejoice the fact my daughter has earned her way into a prestigious university program, rather than feeling gloomy? Well, yes. But maybe how I feel has more to do with my own reality, than hers? Do you think! I feel like a slice of deli cheese in a Panini, pinned down by worries about menopause and mortality, among other things. Add to that a side order of angst about leaving your party prone kid in a place that resembled ‘Disneyland for alcoholics’ and I think you get the picture.
It seems I followed a fairly standard script to arrive at this point of my life: get educated, land a career, marry, start a family…you know the drill. I reasoned that as parents we had done our best to raise the kids, provide food & shelter, imbue them with good values, and even give them the odd peck on the cheek. But at that moment, things didn’t quite seem to be adding up. I was riddled with doubt. Had I somehow blown it? Why did my kids have to go so far away? Was I a bad parent? Did I miss out on the important parts of their childhood, too consumed by all of the other seemingly urgent priorities? I longed for those golden days of their youth, when everything I could ask for was contained in the little bundle of joy that I held in my arms. It was all so perfect then, right? Fast forward to the present: that little bundle of joy had transformed into a young adult possessed of attitude, hormonal mood swings and a desire to move far away from the prying eyes of mother.
Perhaps my angst was due to the finality of it all; this final page of the parenting chapter. Looking back it struck me that the past 21 years could be considered a continuing series of firsts, and life celebrations: first step, first word, first tooth, first day of school, first graduation…Now this moment. This moment struck me as more of a ‘last’. I had hugged my daughter good bye in Halifax, hoping the moment wouldn’t end. She, on the other hand, couldn’t wait for that moment to be over. And with two obligatory taps on the back she pushed me to arm’s length, and then showed me the door. ‘See ya, mom’ was all she said. She had a new life to live. And, I guess, so did I. I felt like planned obsolescence with legs.
How did I get myself into this fine mess? More importantly how will the new chapter of life unfold? Right now, I have no idea. But I hope talking about it might just help me figure things out.
Stay tuned for future installments of the Empty Nesters Survival Guide.