My 17-year-old daughter stood in our kitchen a few weeks ago, clad in her favorite fuzzy blue pajamas, searching my face.
“One thing about you, Mom, is that you have a lot of hobbies,” she said, reflectively, as she took a break from packing up her room for college. “You have a lot of things you enjoy – like books and writing and different people. You also like movies and just being at home, cleaning. You really like spending time with Dad. And you like your job. It’s really good that you like your job.”
I smiled bravely, nodding.
I knew exactly what my big-hearted daughter was doing – because I had sized up my mother’s life the very same way at about her age, when I was headed off to college – and a new world where my mom would no longer be quite as central a figure.
The truth is, my teenaged daughter loves me madly – just like I loved my mom, and like most daughters love their mothers – whether they want to at the time or not. And while she was so incredibly excited to be going to college – a year and a half early, in her case – she also wanted to know I would be OK.
She absolutely hated the idea of leaving a gaping hole in my life when she left to chase her own dreams.
And as I inventoried my life, I was, indeed, thankful.
Parenthood has been absolutely consuming to me in many ways. I am a kinder, better, more engaged human today because I have been a parent. And, I truly have enjoyed parenting more than anything else I’ve ever done in my life. I don’t think another experience will ever rival it.
When the kids were pre-school aged, I was lucky to be able to work part-time, focusing on the early demands of parenthood. But once the kids were in elementary school, I shifted to working at their school, cultivating my education career while also continuing to do the journalism work I did in my twenties on a part-time basis. As they grew older, work took on a bigger role in my life. I started working summers and traveling some for work – an admittedly difficult choice. Yet, I knew that I wanted to ramp up in preparation for their departure – and also knew it made financial sense, as they both became more expensive people. (Don’t even ask me about my grocery bills!)
The past few years, I have found myself increasingly involved in the world beyond home, while still making sure to keep the needs of the kids in clear view. I started engaging at my church more, and also serving some in the community. I invested more in my career, developing new talents and trying my hand at new things. I also started a second side business and am writing more.
I will confess that if there is an area that has been lacking the past few years, it has been making time for friendships. I regret that in some ways, but also recognize that many of my friends have been just like me – struggling to find the time to work and support their kids, emotionally and otherwise.
I have been thankful for the friends who have allowed me to pick right back up with them recently, while understanding those who have not. I’m thankful, too, for the new friends of all ages who have come alongside me in the past year – even in the middle of a pandemic, where so much of our connection had to happen on Zoom. I am eager for the new friends that are around the corner, as I explore some other interests, including (finally!) starting a book club and picking up a tennis racquet again for the first time in 15 years.
My mother struggled mightily when I left home – because there was little she could find to fill the gaping hole left by my departure. This sometimes made it difficult for me to enjoy my late teens and early twenties, as I worried about my mom and how she was coping with my absence. In some ways, her unhappiness made me feel guilty, and it hurt our relationship. I did not want that for my own children.
We do not have an empty nest at our house just yet. But we know that when our son turns 16 in a few weeks and gets his license, we will likely see him less. He is set to graduate early – just like his sister – and will soon be heading off to college himself. He will chase dreams, too.
While I will soon miss both of the kids like crazy, I am thankful for the many interests, people and ideas that can enrich my life. I have plenty of dreams to chase and exploration to do.
And honestly? I can’t wait to tell my kids more about it – after they are done telling me about their dream chasing fun, of course!