If you have not yet experienced the celebration that is high school graduation these days, it is a far cry from what my 1989 graduation was like. Based on my memory, the graduation celebration season extended about 2 weeks - the first week consisted of practicing for and receiving my diploma, and the second week was at the beach with the other newly-minted grads. We came back with a smattering of piercings and dead dog tired from not sleeping for seven days. And then it was over. We went on to our summer jobs, lazy days by the pool, and quietly slipped into the next phase of our lives without a whole lot of fuss.
If you have experienced the celebration that is high school graduation these days, then you know that makin’ a fuss extends from the moment they go back to school as a senior until the moment you walk away from their dorm room. Of course there are the hugging of necks pictures that have to be posted, but after that the celebration rug gets pulled out from under all The Mamas who have dedicated themselves to the graduation season.
I took my time to grieve and to be a bit melodramatic about this monumental milestone in my own life. I even got sick and coughed and took to my bed for a few days for good measure. You know, just to be sure it was properly recognized, a few hundred times, how flat worn out I am from executing a nearly perfect year of sending my girl off on her own. As I recovered and allowed myself to be nursed back to health maybe a few days longer than I actually needed, I tried to think of another time in my life I felt this slap worn out in all ways.
I spent many wonderful years teaching middle school students to love learning, to build electrical circuits, and to launch rockets built from scratch. That kept me busy. Kids of all ages are my people, so for many years I happily kept busy camping for three nights every year with them and calling out numbers for Bingo Night. I enthusiastically volunteered at the annual spring festival, baking sweets for the Bake Sale, working the game booths, wrapping arms in fake casts, and painting sweaty faces. I managed the lower schoolers backstage for the day long talent show, collected tickets, settled line disputes for the rides, and worked the dunking booth. All in the same day.
My muscles ached the next day after running around the campus from one volunteer slot to the other and from the tension of facing my icy-water fate delivered at the hands of sugar-hyped adolescents. I would go home that night, NEVER cook dinner, and sleep it all off until next year. Life resumed as normal the next morning.
Looking back now, the past year was like Big Saturday but for 8 months, not 8 hours, and the next day is not feeling normal in any way.
There was zero way to prepare myself for what life would be like without her....
One teenager grunts in return to my coffee-induced exuberance at daybreak.
One set of items to account for before school.
One set of reminders shouted out from the front porch as One car backs out of the driveway
One bed to make and One set of clothes to wash.
One vegetable at dinner that needs to be made to ensure it is eaten.
One set of HW to manage.
One argument over the use of technology.
One kiss on One forehead at night.
My boy was born less than 2 years after my girl, and life blew up with busy-ness. I remember saying at the time I didn’t know how easy it was with one toddler, not two. 18 years later - wow - it IS easier with just one at home! Plus at 17 he can drive AND wipe his own butt...
Somewhere along the line, probably the second day after my daughter was born, it became clear that a Busy Mama is seen as a Loving Mama, a Good Mama. I like to think that I have been able to maintain a healthy level of busy-ness both for me and for my two kids. I had enough going on myself to never really cross the line into the territory of “That Mama” (most days). But I have been conditioned to live with a sustained, slightly frantic level of busy-ness that has ebbed and flowed over the years. Even when one aspect of life got easier (I remember that FIRST summer when both babies could swim in the shallow end of the pool without me, and I could stretch out with People and read more than 3 words in one sitting) something else snuck in to level it all out again (diving board shenanigans - bye bye People - it was fun while it lasted).
I am determined to embrace my slower mental and physical pace of life. I don’t know if it is PTSD or muscle memory, but it turns out that it is easier said than done. There are ALOT of temptations for some daughter-centered busy-ness . A lot. Enough that I think I will save all of that for Phase III.
Hotty Toddy and Go Rebs!
Let me start with a very important disclaimer - this is all about ME. This is my emotional rabbit hole. My emotional collapse, and my pity party, I own it. I am going to revel in it. I deserve it. And I will NOT be talked out of it.
Like so many of us, for the past 18 years I have been, first and foremost, The Mama. I have choked back my own vomit when thrown up on and swallowed my tears when hers flowed. I’ve done my best to keep my shit together when angry. I have been the butt of jokes and the receiver of eye rolls. I’ve picked up empty plates and glasses and gladly brought ones refilled right back to her. My grocery shopping included her favorite foods of the moment and clothing shopping was nearly life-ending - for both of us.
Deep down inside my broken Mama heart, I know all of these things will never change (although the vomiting may come from a different source than a stomach bug...rum punch never is a good idea, girlie).
I also know everything will come at me less often.
I will still have chances to play The Mama in person on school breaks,
weekends visiting her at school, and maybe during a summer or two,
but this is the end of her being totally mine. MIne! Mine! MIne!
THAT is what is excruciating to me right now.
And honestly, I do not care that she is ready.
I do not care that I am ready.
I do not care that this is how it is supposed to go and
that I would be really sad if she wasn’t off living her life. I do not care.
I am going to take a few days (maybe a week or so) to enjoy my emotional collapse.
Every single first and every single last in the life of my daughter was simply toughening me up for the moment I had to let go of hugging her neck and actually walk, not stumble or crawl, to my car and leave her on the mean streets of Oxford, MS. I clung to my pride of not cracking yet and was hell bent to hold on - and I did. I have one more sweet child poised to shatter my heart in 2 short years so I kept the ugly cry and snot inside for a bit longer. I took him to visit 2 schools on our way home, the whole time willing him to only ever love Ole MIss so my babies could spend another two years together, and I could move to Oxford, MS and do their laundry for them.
I may have said it out loud to him, as well. I forgive myself for that one….
The pictures I will always treasure of her move-in day (a.k.a. “move out of my life day”) captured our smiling faces - and those are REAL. Really real. I fed off of her excitement and suppressed any and every urge to go nostalgic. She set the tone for the day, and all her people followed suit. We laughed and joked, and I lived in sweet, sweet denial for those last 12 hours. And I am so glad that I did - for her, her brother and for me.
I plan to push my emotional collapse to the brink for as long as I see fit - then all will be right with the world. But until then, I am going to drink some wine, eat canned frosting from the can, cry some ugly tears, go way too deep into old pictures, and mourn this unbelievably difficult shift that has happened to ME.
Don’t feel sorry for me. Not one bit. Other mamas may be far less emotional, some might be worse (although I will go toe-to-toe with anyone who can spiral out better than I can…). What you can do for all of us shattered women right now is hug OUR necks and maybe just whisper softly to us “This sucks….”
I thought I took care of everything. New checking account with no direct line to my funds, a monthly stipend via Venmo, rules for Amazon Prime, a meal plan. We bought school supplies, new underwear (dear GOD by the way), an abundance of snacks and (non-alcoholic) drinks.
Four emails announcing booked rides. Two missed calls at 12:45 am. $80 worth of Uber charges.
Nothing like a reminder that, in fact, I am still The Mama (or at least my credit card)! My daughter needs me - this is awesome! (remember it is all about me right now). She still needs me!!!
I am desperate to find out the down low on how exactly one accrues $80 of Uber charges in a town that is literally a square mile. And shut the joint Uber account shit DOWN. So I wait for the first phone call.
Without even asking she reveals all … rumors of a local police smackdown and a bizillion citations being issued caused some freshman girl panic. (a-MEN sister!!!) Itchy to do something on their first night of collegiate freedom, they call an Uber to get some late night food. Something goes wrong and they cancel the first car. Cha-Ching. Another request and another miss. Cha-Ching. Third time's the charm. For a big ‘ole Black Cadillac SUV…. to go to the Circle K .83 miles away! TWICE! For Sour Patch Kids and Cheetos! This is THE BEST $80 I have ever spent!
I cut that Uber umbilical cord.
It turns out that life does, in fact, go on. Madden 2018 is still here and still all consuming for the boy. The golf course seems to call to his soul far more than the unfinished summer reading. And tomorrow my daytime hours promise to be all mine again. I do believe The Mama is turning the corner...
OK, fine, it wasn’t 35.
I went on Spring Break with 58 high school seniors.
Freshly minted “adults” primed and ready for a Dominican adventure at an all-inclusive resort. Sound like a shit show? Maybe… I was certainly braced for the worst. Turns out there were some pleasant surprises along the way and a whole lot of nostalgia for days gone by.
They use suncreeen.
I unequivocally know that I did not use sunscreen — I used baby oil. And now I pay the price, quite literally, everytime I go for facials, exfoliations, botox, fillers…..sun damage is a bitch. So huge kudos to them -my jealousy runs a deep bronze.
One afternoon, on boat rocking more from the loud rap music than the actual ocean waves, a young man asked me to borrow sunscreen. Having taught him in the 5th grade, I guess he assumed I was the most “responsible” mom drinking warm beer. It was logical — odds were that the dad doing backflips off the top of the boat was not armed with a high SPF.
Old habits die hard…anything above a 15 SPF and I fear for my Vitamin D levels. Pulling out my Coppertone lotion, I notice the word TANNING on the side and make a mental note that I appreciate the nod to those of us who still covet that golden skin tone 4 months a year. Maybe I should have turned away, happy to lose that bottle to the crowd, but I didn’t.
The judgement didn’t come from the boy. He happily applied the lotion, confident that I had not done him wrong. The girls in the group, not so much. Suddenly the generation gap widened, my boat-cred plummeted, and I could see the perception of my IQ taking a nose dive. And then there was the judgement. Fleeting, yes. But the hushed whispers, the quick passing of the bottle & and the ultimate re-delivery back to me all spoke to the truth. I had let them down — at least the girls. My SPF choice was irresponsible.
They are really comfortable in their bodies.
So comfortable, in fact, that I actually want to feel comfortable, too. I don't, of course — the shame and insecurity runs way too deep and stretches back for decades. But I want it. I envy it. I applaud it.
Not being a big fan of censorship in general, and always championing girls of all ages to be fierce, I sat back in wonderment and awe. The suits are small. The dance moves large. Cover-ups are as antiquated as, well, me.
It made me want to cheer. I didn’t (thank GOD) but I wanted to. And guess what? The boys could handle it. I wanted to cheer about that, too. I didn’t (thank GOD) but I wanted to. It made me want to write a letter, send an email, do something old school telling all the people who want our girls to dress a certain way and to stop being a distraction to go suck it.
Their seemless use of technology is enviable.
The anxiety and hand-wringing over the role of technology in kids’ lives leads me to read a lot of articles and blog posts. No doubt that social media and technology is changing our world and has certainly given these digital natives a different experience than our own. The obsession and inability to survive without snapping a selfie, the text conversations that are constant and the overall distraction can’t be good. Right?
I still can’t get the right angle for a decent selfie. And I drop my phone, crack my screen & generally fumble around. I hate it. It makes me feel old and out of touch. And most days I feel just as obsessed with it all as they are…
I can’t help but wonder if our concerns, especially about the lack of interaction and personal connection, has a lot to do with our own angst over how we have changed. They haven’t changed — this is their life and always has been. Trust me, these kids are personally connected. I’ve seen it up close.
They can cause quite a scene.
Oh wait — maybe that was that the parents?
But can we talk about the music….
The Violent Femmes sent ripples through my childhood home. The taped song I rewound and played over and over was simply about herione abuse and teenage angst. There weren’t even any casual uses of offensive words! My parents were undone over it all — they would storm into my room and quite literally pull the plug from the wall to silence my boombox (dual cassette for high speed dubbing, of course). Kids and their damn rock n’ roll.
As we cruised to a spot to anchor for a bit during the 4-hour boat tour extravaganza, the music announced our arrival. We were a floating dance party, maybe more like a floating dance club from NYC, except in the bright Caribbean sunlight for all to see. Having immediately taken over the sound system with Spotify accounts at their fingertips, the music was a nonstop selection of pounding beats laced with profanity and questionable lyrical themes. Everyone was dancing.
As we anchored, and the parents caught their breath, I noticed a boat floating in front of us. I also noticed the distinct absence of music…and then I saw the faces. Of the families. Chatting and lounging (quite civilly I might add) on their boat. With their young kids.
I scrambled for my phone, hoping to capture the precious moment reflected in the faces as we settled in.
Shock and awe.
I saw some moms get up and move to the back of their boat. I saw some dads subtly nodding and bobbing their heads along with the tunes. And then I saw him. The boat captain, perched up top, just letting loose with serious dance moves honed over years and years. We were the best thing to hit that lagoon for him in a loooong time. As soon as our kids saw his enthusiasm, they rushed the front of a boat and a full fledged dance contest ensued. Over time other boats passed by, some stopped for a bit and others kept moving, but all seafarers that day marveled at the pure joy happening on our decks.
They make me profoundly happy….and proud.
I spend a lot “grind” time with teenagers. Whether it is helping them write authentic college essays or work through the challenges of time management during the middle and high school years that are absurdly more diffcult than my own, our time together is such a priviledge to me. My number one job as an educator (I would argue any educator’s number one job) is to to see and to hear them. It also happens to be one of the tenets I try hard to be true to as a parent. I sincerely want to know who they are, and I want them to have the confidence so they can do the same.
It is such a gift to see them experience what we know is a wonderful time of life. They are the embodiment of our wistful longings on Saturday nights when we all say we would give a lot to go back to those days. All the mistakes and misjudgments, all the stupid actions and regrettable decisions — it is all what brings us to that boat deck, watching our own dance with abandon, laugh too loud, and experience small moments of pure joy in life. And sometimes, when the mood is right, you join them on top of the table (in your modest swim cover-up) and soak it all up with them.