When the kids were little, they belonged to me. As babies in utero, every last bit. As infants, more so than not. Then one day they grew up and belonged to themselves.
I’m on board with this growing up business, but it’s not without complexities.
The picture above is from a cupboard in the laundry room. We used it for years to tape up kid information. Ballet rehearsals, soccer schedules, snack day responsibilities, SAT test dates. All the stuff of modern upper-middle class American parenting. Of everything in this house, that cupboard alone has never been repainted. So the paper corners and old tape remain, like pottery shards, or Artifacts of the Ancient City of Accomplished Childhood.
And accomplished they were. Snow Queens, league championships, kudos and spotlights. All of which reflected on me – no matter how much real or polite humility I professed. You know exactly what I mean.
I’m still proud, now that they are grown, but differently so. They belong to themselves and they own their accomplishments. I no longer feel that their competence or achievements are indications that I am a good mother. At least not very much. I feel something more like happiness, for them because I love them. Nobody walks up to me in parking lots any more and says, “Your daughter is such a beautiful dancer,” or, “Your son writes like someone many years older than he is.” You know what I mean.
My children’s doings belong to them.
But there’s a tradeoff. I give them back their full light. I ask, in return, that I get to show up as myself.
We’re working that part out. They work at figuring out their adult selves, as they should, while I work at figuring out what it means to be a mom of grownups. I have no plans to become just a buddy. I figure I will always be the mother, and I welcome the role as much now as I always have. But I’m not the closet any more. Yes, I said closet. I’m not just there, opening and closing, making mom noises and mom gestures.
When they are little, you give them birth and sustenance and warmth and safety. They give you their fluffy heads, juicy wrist fat, and little chatter voices. Then maybe they give you prizes, in school, in sports, in diverse arenas of measurable achievement. When they grow, you’re going to have to reinvent the contract.
I suspect this didn’t use to be generally necessary, before birth control and modern medicine. For the most part, I don’t think we lived too far into the adulthood of our youngest child. I’ve read that women who did live on, potent but no longer caring for children, gave rise to the mythology of witches. I suppose I should start working on my magical powers. I may have to substitute reasoned advice for incantations, but perhaps I could wave lavender, or burn the gray-green lichen that grows on oaks in California hills.
Or else, all linguistic flourishes aside, just figure out the rhythm of the new conversation. Which still mostly ends with, “Love you, honey.” “Love you too, Mom.”
Note: I just remembered that I need to give you this link, to the radio broadcast of my interview with Maureen Anderson at the Career Clinic. It will play tomorrow, Sunday, at 9pm Pacific. A snippet is up right now, here. I suppose that once one’s kids grow up, one has more liberty to speak freely.