Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Growing up

I miss being a mommy.

You knew this was coming. And so did I.

Being a mommy was something I took to like... well, as if I were made for it.

Oh, there were times when it overwhelmed me. But mostly, things flowed along. Monday led to Tuesday led to Wednesday. Rainy days led to sunny ones. Scrambled egg sandwiches led to peanut butter sandwiches led to macaroni meatball soup.

This other thing, this having a kid in college and one on the way there, is a part of parenting I'm not that great at. For one thing, it's so, I don't know, grown up and impersonal. It's all paperwork and financial aid forms. Family meals happen a couple of times a week. Their questions are more complicated--"Should I rent a house with 7 other guys or stay in the dorm?" "Can I do my senior year at the community college? Im sick of high school." "Is it too early to believe I've found the person I'm going to marry?

Being a mommy was hands-on, in the sandbox, on the floor. Being a mommy was soup on the stove, mini-sundresses to sew, reminders to wash little hands and bedtime stories. I was good at that.

These days, I'm not always sure what to do.

Like when one of my kids seems troubled, should I ask alot of questions or back off? Should I invite my son's girlfriend to dinner when she visits or let them be alone? Should I engage my daughter's friends in conversation or let them sulk in the back seat?

And what happens next year, after they're both safely tucked into college; what do I do then? Do I fill my days with work--maybe a full-time job or volunteering? Should I finish my book projects, return to school, find a group of friends to travel with?

Is it still okay to sing in the car?

You know what I mean... if a mom sings in the forest and there's no one there to hear her, does she make a sound?

The early Christians wrote that the soul has an empty place which only God can fill. I have been thinking about this alot lately. For me, this emptiness was filled with mothering and loving my children. Now as it eases open and empty again, instead of filling it with busy work and mindless activity, I feel myself turning and yearning toward.... more.

Today, my son returns from college for the summer with his sack of laundry, his crates of computer equipment, his socks on the floor. We know what to expect, having experienced Christmas vacation and Spring Break.

Max will fill us to the brim with humor, demands for Chinese food and calls to adventure--"Let's go to the city, the beach, the movies!" He will rebuild the tower of laundry on his bedroom floor, he will hog the remote, he will start existential arguments with his father.

When he arrives, the empty place will fill again. I will get caught up. There will be herbs to transplant, beach towels to launder, barbecues and macaroni meatball soup to serve.

Still, it's coming... the time when I will need to take my life in hand. Max will return to school. Katie will soon follow.

Last night, a friend said to me, "It's time for you to grow up." And I thought, Nope, not yet.

But soon. Soon.

Last summer, my girlfriend asked me, "What do you do with yourself when they're gone at the same time?" Her son was leaving for several months in Europe. Her daughter was headed to summer camp and she was concerned.

I understood. I'd been there the year before when Max went on exchange to France--and Katie went to film camp. "It's not that bad," I reassured her. "In fact, I loved it." I spent hours doing what I wanted, uninterrupted by demands for food, money, car trips, attention. Time expanded. My husband and I got to know each other again. But then, I knew they were coming back.

Last year, just before Max went to college, he came over to me in the kitchen. "You need a hug," he said, pulling me into a wiry, warm embrace. At the time, I thought, "He's the one who needs this hug!" But once he had me, I realized how much I'd needed it, too.

It's a give and take. My children don't call out for me in the middle of the night anymore, but now and then my cell phone rings and my son mumbles, "Hey. Got a minute?" I love listening to their dreams--of the classes they want to take, the careers they want to explore, the relationships they're beginning. I like them. They like me.

Ten years ago, a wise healer told me, "You don't have to be the perfect mother. You are already loving them just the way you should." A comment that sent me into spasms of relieved, exhausted sobbing. I love them just the way I should.

And then, something happens...

Five minutes ago, I looked up from this writing to find a young mother squatting in the breezeway at the entrance of this cafe beside her five year old son as he threw up all over the carpet. She looked desperate, trying to keep other customers from stepping in the mess, trying to soothe and help her son.

As I handed her a pile of napkins, she looked up, completely overwhelmed and close to tears, "I'm so sorry," she whispered.
"This isn't your fault," I told her, "And it's not yours either," I told her little boy. "People get sick. Other people understand."

Nodding vigourously, tears running down his cheeks, he said, "I just walked in and it came out of me!"
"Oh dear," I said. "It's awful being sick, isn't it?"
Nodding, hiccupping, he smiled at me.

While Mom cleaned him up, I fetched a cup of water and told the restaurant manager to send a mop. I shooed some customers around the mess. Then, I sat down and had a little cry.

It's happened, I realized. I've already grown up--somewhere, somehow, I've passed from Mother to Matriarch, from Mommy to Great Mother.

And I know what my job is. Passing down the wisdom I've been given by my children and the wise women who've helped me along the way.

There is nothing I have to do. No way I have to change. For now, this morning, I can just relax and wait for Max to arrive and take over the sofa. No longer a Mommy, I'm simply getting used to--and loving--being a Mom.

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