I’ve always been terrified of seesaws. It’s the way they lift you to the top, causing that feeling to screech through your tummy, and then hold you there, perched and smiling on the outside but inside dreading the inevitable fall. You just hope your legs are locked straight and that you’re holding on tightly enough to the cold metal handle. You ready your ankles so that they don’t crunch against the ground when you hit it. You fear most the vulnerability of it—to be dropped at someone else’s whim. You plunge. And then, when the ground you welcomed only seconds before begins to feel too close, you push your feet flat against it, launching yourself back toward the sky.
Motherhood rides a seesaw.
For the first few years you are at the bottom, lifting everybody else up. You’re in service, washing, feeding, changing, and consoling. Your tummy tickles are the smiles and warm hugs you get when you read a favorite story or push a swing. The thrill of the ride is found in the adorable neediness that surrounds you and fills your days. Grounded in purpose, you are happy to hold your children high.
The teenage years find you more at middle ground, perhaps balanced in the center, likely more unbalanced than you’ve ever been. There’s resistance now. There’s a push and pull that you find more exhausting then holding everyone else up. They need you less, but they need you more. They don’t know it, and they convince you that your impulse to rein them in is wrong. You push; they pull. You rise; they fall. That, too, changes.
Two of my children are in college now. The third is growing out of high school. And, recently, I realized that the scales were about to tip in the other direction. While I’m still very much in service and managing the busy, budding lives around me, there are times, moments, when I am held up. It might be as invisible as a door opened for me or as quiet as a walk shoveled. Yesterday my youngest balanced on the edge of the kitchen chair, tissue in hand, as he stretched beyond the reach of his fingertips to rescue his mother from a spider on the ceiling. It might be when my daughter finds a piece of my writing online and calls to say she likes it, encouraging me to keep on. It might be when my oldest talks to me about faith and tells me where I might need to strengthen mine.
I see what’s happening more clearly now. Each milestone marked in the life of my children inches my side of the seesaw up just a bit higher. Will I like my view from the top?
Today marks one such milestone in my youngest child’s life or in my life, depending upon how you look at it. For today is the last day I will drive him to school. My duties as personal driver are officially over. I can hang up my hat, turn in my chauffeur’s license, and sleep late.
My son goes to a private school about thirty minutes from our home. I have driven and picked him up every school day for two and a half years. I enjoyed our talks or, sometimes, just sitting there with in in the warmth of the silence. He is a junior now, and he will get his license tomorrow.
This morning, while we are on our way, he driving and me in the passenger seat, I am saying nothing, and he begins to comfort me. “Don’t worry, Mom. Even though I’ll be driving, I’ll still be around to spend time with you. You can come with me on the drive sometimes if you want to,” he said. How does he know what I am thinking? How does he know I am resisting this change?
He parents me every time I look into the mirror and cup my hands on either side of my face, pulling back ever so slightly to watch the wrinkles disappear. Apparently, this has become a habit of mine, this do-it-yourself facelift. He has noticed the resistance. “You’re beautiful, Mom. You don’t need a facelift. If you tighten things up, your face won’t be as soft,” he says.
Resistance means looking backward instead of forward. It is hopeless instead of hopeful, and it brings the resister down. I started to think of all of the ways I’ve been resisting.
Okay, here goes.
Yes, I am resisting change. I am resisting with my whole heart the end to this home life that I have enjoyed so much. I don’t want to see my three grow up and leave me. I never did. I enjoyed those glorious years of their childhood. I’ve loved every minute of our goofy time together. They are three of my best friends.
I picture myself poised at the top, and that old feeling, that screeching in my stomach, returns, fearing the other rider will jump off, leaving me to crash toward the earth. I know they won’t be here to hold me up forever. I will have to find my own way down. But I also know the young adults they have become. They will let me down easily and set me free only when I am ready.
Maybe, when children become adults, the family finds itself at that balanced place again, the straight-across seesaw. Sometimes they need me. Sometimes I need them. But always, we are there.
Tomorrow, when he gets his license, I will be happy for that. As much as I don’t want to lose him, I will let him go. Tomorrow, I will focus on the three amazing children that I am releasing into the world, one by one. I will look forward to seeing the abundance of good that each of them will do for those around them. I will not lament my losses. Instead, I will celebrate the world’s gain.
Guest post written by Julianne Palumbo. Julianne’s poems, short stories, and essays have been published in Literary Mama, Ibettson Street Press, YARN, The MacGuffin, The Listening Eye, Kindred Magazine, Poetry East, Mamalode, and others. She is the author of Into Your Light (Flutter Press, 2013) and Announcing the Thaw (Finishing Line Press, 2014), poetry chapbooks about raising teenagers. Julianne was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for her YA poem, “Stuffing Bears.” She is the Founder/Editor of Mothers Always Write, an online literary magazine for mothers by mother writers.