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Monday, April 11, 2011

Dragging my Feet

The text arrived last Friday afternoon. “Mom, I only have 29 days of school left.”

Our daughter was in sixth grade when a piece I wrote (the first “Middle Passages” ) was published in a magazine. Our only child was going away for a week on a school “retreat” that took place at a summer camp in early September. The only way I could cope with my worry was to write it out of me. A week, you laugh? Well, now I do too, but until that point, she’d never been away for more than an overnight. In spite of rain and stay-up-all-night roommates, she managed through those five days and so did we.

That experience was like dabbling a proverbial toe in the lake compared to two years later, when, at her own request she spent a month away at summer camp. We dutifully drove up to the frozen New Hampshire woods in mid-winter, trudged around in the snow with a caretaker, declared the place suitable and dropped her off at the end of July. I cried when we pulled out. She tells me that she almost did, but then squared her shoulders and went to meet her bunkmates. That went so well, she returned for two more summers. Since then there have been school trips to Montreal, New York and Philadelphia, and extended visits with her cousins during vacations.

But add it all up, and over the last almost 18 years, she’s been apart from us for less than four months. And now, less than 30 school days stand between us and her high school graduation. At the end of the summer, we’ll pack up her belongings and deliver her to a dorm room two hours and an entire lifetime away. Lately, denial is my middle name.

My sister’s middle child is graduating this year too. She has long since begun writing lists and organizing for the joint bash she will be hosting for her son and his friend. Every time she brings it up, a pit in my stomach opens and I duck my head into the sand—which is where I kept it firmly ensconced as our daughter performed in her last “All School Band Day,” served her final Mass at church; and as she prepares for an end of a twelve year dance career recital. Guests traveling from out of state confirmed flight reservations for the graduation ceremony last week, we completed applications for local scholarships and still, I kept my eyes closed to the future.

But when she sent the text above, reality appeared in block letters across my phone screen. As much as I’d like to grab time like an errant bed sheet and yank it back, I can’t. At the end of May, the last day of school will come. No matter how I feel about it, graduation will follow the first week of June.

So, Saturday, I sat down and wrote out a list of family members she’s asked us to invite to a small party, sketched out a menu, and a what-to-do-if-it-rains plan. Yup, we'll be commemorating a major life event here.

How much time do you think has to pass before I feel like celebrating?


rae said...

You're dealing with it well, I think. Nothing helps like looking at it head-on and then doing what you can do (in this case, a party, which is pretty sweet...)

Best wishes for the coming summer, and the colder seasons beyond. I look forward to seeing a LOT more writing from you. :)

EmptyNester said...

Well, let's see now---DD4 is completing her second year in college and I have yet to celebrate any of this empty nest stuff. I mean, we're quite proud of all four of our daughters even though they did desert...I mean, go off to college and get married and move nine hours away and .... It's just not the easiest thing to do. I felt like I had been laid off from a job that was not only the best job EVER but that I loved dearly when our last lovely went off. Just stay focused on her excitement and find ways to fill your time and write, write, write!!!

Colette said...

Having been through this with my two kids (now empty-nesting) here is my suggestion -- instead of viewing every "last" that occurs, start looking forward to the "firsts". The first dorm room, the first Thanksgiving home from college, the first time she calls you from school to ask if she can wash her blue shirt with her towels... okay, maybe only boys do that, but you get the idea.

Yvonne Osborne said...

You never really celebrate a child's leaving. The celebration is hers.

The one leaving is always more excited than the one staying behind. But we wouldn't like the alternative either.

I remember the butterflies in my stomach when my mother drove me to college. And I remember the feeling of walking away from my own daughter in a huge auditorium for her orientation. She was sitting there alone and we waved.

Enjoy your daugther's sucess and then make more of your own.

glnroz said...

Celebration time will come soon. With my middle daughter (Open that Jar of Pickles post). She spent a summer at Center of Disease Control in Atlanta, we had to drive off and leave her at a duplex to start our journey back to Texas. The youngest (Dont touch those smelling dance shoes, post) spent a summer and fall in Washington DC with an intern stint at the State Department,,,had to leave her standing on a sidewalk at a dorm at Washington University and start the drive back to Texas. They were all at my house this weekend and when they left...the same feeling was there,, but they are all independent and maybe someday it will be easier,,, nope sorry, I dont think it will,, lol.

Bish Denham said...

It is a bitter-sweet rite of passage. Breathe in, breathe out. Trust that you've taught her how to fly and that she will fly towards the light. Take pride in what you have accomplished and know that she's only a few hours away.

Lydia K said...

I don't even want to think about it when this happens to my family! Hopefully you'll feel the joy alongside the other emotions soon enough.

Anonymous said...

Celebrate right now that you did an awesome job raising her. Now go do something crazy. Just don't get caught.

Jan Morrison said...

My boys are 41 and nearly 39. When they were 17 and 19 I wrote this poem.

Empty Nest

Last night when I came home
I turned off all the lights.
I turned off all the lights.

Now I live with my step-dot and occasionally my step-son, though not so much - he'll be leaving next year too or not. Hard to say.
Jan Morrison

sue said...

My son left home at not quite 16 for a school interstate that gave him more opportunities than he'd have had here (a 7+ hour drive away). It hurt, but I'm so proud he had the courage to follow his heart.

A friend said to me "It's because you've done such a good job of parenting that this is possible." I clung to those words.

Look forward, not back. I watched my son's journey into adulthood as he introduced me to his new world - as equals. I nearly burst with pride every time I visited.

Tabitha Bird said...

Wow. I have an 8 yr old and a 3 yr old so I can't imagine. A party sounds like a good idea. I do know that with every transition into a new phase with my boys I have felt both joy and sadness. I think it is natural.

'Yellow Rose' Jasmine said...

Having watched my neighbor cry at the mere thought of her first daughter going to a school that would mean not living at home, I can only imagine how you are feeling. My only suggestion is to enjoy every moment for what it is and continue to face the future, knowing that wonderful new things will come along with this ending.

Jennifer Shirk said...

I can't imagine.
I get nervous when my dd spends the night for a sleepover. But I know it will quickly come upon me.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Just yesterday I picked up the kindergarten registration packet for my second and youngest child. It broke my heart. I have an older child, too, who is finishing middle school this year, and that too, has me nearly suffocating, like all the air around me has turned warm and thickened. It seems wrong. Like maybe I've slept through a few years. I just don't know where the time has gone.

I understand that longing to stuff your head under the covers and pretend like it's not happening. It's one thing for us to grow old, and another thing altogether for our children to grow older with us. It doesn't feel right.

Perhaps we'll never be able to celebrate them leaving us. But I think we'll be able to find a way to celebrate them growing. Finding their own paths. I hope.