Connie Schultz: Parenting is full of goodbyes
By Connie Schultz
This is the month of departure for many parents, the time of year when they brace themselves for new versions of their children getting on with life.
In recent days, my encounters — from random conversations at the grocery to lengthy email exchanges with friends — are full of other parents’ tales of goodbyes. Facebook, too, is full of posts from parents trying on their new brave selves.
I love the photos best. So many pictures of backpacked children with smiles that do not match their parents’ stories. Newly emancipated teens wearing grins of failed patience for moms and dads bucking up for the long drive home.
Enjoy them while you can, abandoned parents warn. In a flash, they’ll be so over you.
What mother of an infant believes this? What parent of a grown child doesn’t wish he or she could have at least one do-over? In my experience, parenting is a mix of limited foresight and a stockpile of second guesses. If you think otherwise, please keep your gloating to yourself.
Every generation, it seems, must learn the same lessons, and nowhere is this more evident than in the incremental separation required in parenting. Day care to preschool to college, we usher them through a new doorway, and they return to us changed by the excursion.
Deep down, we know this is what happens when the outside world has its way with us. Still, some of us — oh, c’mon, most of us, right? — struggle when it’s our own children taking the world for a spin.
As parents, we have a memory or two — or 40 — of those moments when we caught a glimpse of our children getting away from us.
Caveat: I don’t claim to speak for everyone who’s raised a child. Maybe you were one of those parents who always saw those leaps coming and took every milestone as evidence of your spectacular parenting. Let me just say: I don’t know you.
Twenty years ago this fall, my son started college. I still remember my first visit to his college dorm room after he’d left home. It was Parents’ Weekend, but I felt like an intruder as I waited for him to invite me into his room and then searched in vain for signs of the boy he’d left behind.
How did I not know about his favorite quotation taped to the wall? Where did those shoes come from? When did he frame those photographs of his little sister and his dog — and of me?
I felt my daughter’s departure much sooner. On the first day of preschool, she held on to the sides of the classroom door and screamed “no-o-o-o-!” when she had to leave.
With me, you understand. Me, her mother.
Quite suddenly, her stories on the drives home were full of Miss Emily this and Miss Emily that, her head clearly turned by this teacher who never stopped smiling. Older friends assured me this was a clear sign of my daughter’s adjustment, her ability to trust other responsible adults. Thus began my habit of smiling through my fears of displacement.
Ten years ago, after a decade as a single mother, I remarried. What a silly term — remarriage — as if one were renewing a service contract. To my utter delight, I was now the mother in a family with four children. More new doorways, more change — for them, too, I’m sure.
Our kids are all grown now, and after next month, all of them will be married. They are building lives that include us, but only on the periphery. This is as it should be. Deep down I know that. I do.
Still, there are moments. They gather like snapshots in my mind, assuring me that change is a parent’s only constant.
Rain delays Elizabeth’s wedding. She plops on the floor opposite her father and, with her wedding dress pooled around her, chats as he hangs on her every word.
Days before starting a new career, Emily sits silently in the middle of a rousing family debate. She holds her baby close, kissing the top of her head once, twice, three times.
In a crowded room, I catch a glimpse of Cait as she leans in to her fiance and whispers something that makes him smile.
Andy turns to me in the airport, puts his hands on my shoulders and says with the force of a closing argument, “I love you.”
He turns to his wife and son, and together they walk to the plane that takes him thousands of miles away.