A weird thing happened during the summer between having 6th/9th graders and having 7th/10th graders. I became prematurely obsolete.
Oh, my two daughters still need me to drive, and pay for things, and sign permission slips. There are still things that only I can do for them – I’m still the one who sees the lip quiver of distress that no one else notices, because I’ve monitored that face since it was one second old, and the one who knows when, in the middle of someone’s crabby tirade, to say, “You seem hungry. Are you maybe hungry?”
But as this school year gains momentum it’s clear to me that my kids’ need for hands-on mothering from me has plummeted since June. They both went to sleepaway camp, which always acts like a rocket booster to human development. A week or two (or three) without your parents does wonders at teaching you to be self-sufficient.
They’re both busy with school and ballet, and now they both babysit in the ‘hood so they’re basically moving between school-homework-ballet-work-sleep on their own timetables, needing me only when distances between one and the next are too long to walk. I’ll say it until One Direction are wrinkled and playing hotel lounges: my husband and I lucked out with these kids. We do not take their self-sufficiency for granted.
I remember dreaming of this time, back when I was nursing a baby and trying to build a Thomas the Train track for a toddler while simultaneously folding a load of laundry. When even four hours of uninterrupted sleep seemed like a gift. When little hands tugged at me and high-pitched voices begged for attention all day, every day. I pictured a time when my kids would be self-sufficient, when I would actually have enough time to myself that there was even a little extra for reading, or writing a letter, or watching a television show.
When your kids are small it feels like they will be with you forever, always greedy for more of you. Time just stretches out to the horizon like a long, long line littered with Polly Pocket shoes and stray Legos.
But now I think that the time with your kids is really more like a penny dropped into one of those big spiral wishing wells you find at science museums that demonstrate centrifugal force (and collect donations for the museum in the process.) Do you know the ones I mean? The penny starts off traveling lazily around the wide lip of the funnel-shape, but it picks up momentum as it rolls, and soon it’s circling, tight and fast, and before you know it the penny has dropped through the whole. Time’s up. Your kid is eighteen, dropped through the hole and gone.
We’re two thirds of the way down the vortex with our youngest kid. I can’t even think about how close we are to the end with our eldest. She came home the other day and asked if we could meet with a college counselor, just to make sure she’s got all her ducks in line for the rest of high school. She talks about the merits of big universities over small colleges, about something she read on the Northwestern University web site, about having me buy her a SAT prep book. She’s pretty much picking out her dorm room bedspread and she still has three years of high school left.
When your kids are small, you can’t imagine the viscous nature of time will thin to a point where it just flows like liquid through your hands.
But it does. And as I sit on a couch with my book, my kids elsewhere in the house doing whatever they do without me, I wish I could gather it all up in a giant wishing well so I could parcel it out, drop by precious drop.
Band of Horses found a little patch of heaven in Jackson Hole, WY, plopped themselves down, and played a concert. I love these guys.