“I won’t miss you,” she said when I hugged her goodbye. My daughter, fiercely twelve, would be visiting my parents across the state for five days.
“Good,” I replied.
Our kids went away alone several times this summer. They spent weeks at camp and with grandparents, back-to-back overnights with friends, and whole afternoons out. They’re now old enough to venture out on their own. Our eldest, my son, regards me at eye level when I say goodbye. Sometimes I insist on a hug or a kiss before they leave. I smile when they take a moment to turn and wave after the door shuts behind them.
The three of us have spent quite a bit of time together this summer. I haven’t missed them when they’ve gone, and the feeling is obviously mutual. It’s a relief. I’ve spent enough time missing them lately.
For the past couple of years, I've been transitioning from a mother of young children to a mother of older ones, and while it got easier practically, it’s been difficult emotionally. As personal tasks passed from me to them, the feelings of no longer being needed plunged deep into my psyche. As my hands lightened, my heart bore more weight. I’ve suffered nostalgia for them, for our former identities, our old dynamic. It’s been about a year of grieving their early childhood, my changing role in their lives, and getting used to the way life looks and feels now. I’ve missed them, but I think I’m at the end of this phase.
This makes me happy, because I’ve never particularly liked the feeling of homesickness that nostalgia brings.
Homesickness is not something we normally experience in our home. My husband and I are not homesick types: we’ve thrived while being away from our respective hometowns for a lot of years, apart from the people who know us best. We’re used to being away now, having spent all our tears and anxiety about missing home years ago. Maybe because of this we didn’t raise homesick types. Our kids had normal separation issues when they were younger, but I’d like to think that the pain of all those times we pried off arms and legs and walked away without looking back taught them to be secure in their surroundings. Add to this our family’s matter-of-factness about being away from home, and our underlying encouragement for them to do anything and go anywhere, and somehow our children learned to trust themselves.
One more day away for them is one step toward independence and confidence in their own abilities. One more day away for them is one step toward another stage of life for me, one that returns me to consider myself, my marriage, my life first.
I no longer have to worry about the humiliation of small hands yanking down my shirt or pulling up my skirt in public or the sudden terror of little people breaking free in the middle of dangerous parking lots. No more helping with simple addition or spelling practice, or any other agonizing homework chores. No more monitoring dessert portions, meat cut into safe-sized bites, adequate quantities of fruits and vegetables eaten, bowel movements taken. No more rushing bedtime routines and looking forward to a couple precious kid-free nighttime hours just to breathe.
No more of these things means that time is once again my own. I’ve wandered the house enough in the recent past to know that I need to find other things to do with the time I have. Reclaiming time was supposed to be easier; I used to keep lists of the things I could do when the kids were at a play date, napping, or at Grammy and Grampy’s house for five days. Those lists are long gone, and I’ve found that idleness is freeing, but that it can also be suffocating.
Now that I don’t have to steal time to accomplish goals, I have to use the time to figure out the goals I want to accomplish. The kids aren’t totally independent yet, so “rent an apartment in Paris from April to June” is out of the question for now.
But it won’t always be out of the question. Sooner than I think, our children will be on their own for good. Their decisions will be theirs to make without my input and without me reaching out with support and advice, ready to catch them when they fall.
Kids grow up in phases; just when you get used to one, they’re onto another. As children grow, you’re growing right along with them.
The hardest work is trying not to miss any of it.
Guest post written by Andrea Mowery. Andrea Mowery is a writer, wife, and mother of two. Not one to shy away from admitting her mistakes, Andrea writes at About 100%, a blog about life and parenting generously sprinkled with self-deprecating humor, common sense attitudes, and heart. She has contributed to the literary anthology Precipice III from Write on Edge, and can also be found at sites like The Huffington Post, Bonbon Break, and Mamalode, among others.
Photo by Ashley Glass.