It’s a mid-September morning. Kitchen still needs work from all the baking that happened for my Saturday market, already sub-teaching, though it’s not busy the first weeks of school. White bean chili is in the Crock-pot, thinking I should get some exercise at the Y, but instead I’m sitting and talking to myself and you, that’s how I blog. Readers, you are friends with a good listening ear, and I appreciate your time.
Three Saturdays ago, we hugged our little girl goodbye and left her at college. She’s not far away, my friends have been teasing me because she’s embarrassingly close to where we live. But she no longer lives in our house and I miss her, like miss her so much I feel rather bewildered.
I was very good during the college welcome event, felt a little smug that I wasn’t crying along with the majority of parents. Then it was time to dish out hugs and goodbyes. I looked at Elizabeth’s long curly hair, not much different than her first day of kindergarten, and I remembered the pain of that morning thirteen years ago, thinking her shoulders were too small for her backpack. I whispered this memory to Elizabeth, kissed her sweet head and told her, “I hope your shoulders are big enough now.” And yep, that’s when I cried.
The house is far more quiet, less arguing, less sparkle, and more leftovers. Elizabeth hasn’t returned home, says she’s too busy, and my older friends tell me that this is normal. Nikolas is probably bored that he can’t tease Elizabeth, and Katerina keeps going through her big sister’s things, asking when she’ll visit. I now get to make steamed artichokes with aioli, baked feta with tomatoes, dishes Elizabeth wouldn’t touch. But I walk by her room and suddenly remember she isn’t in there. I almost hear her music playing as she is practicing or choreographing a routine, but if I listen a second more, there is only silence.
On the other hand, I feel chagrined missing my girl so much; Believe me, I know I’m a major dork, and should be reveling in joy that she’s healthy, managed a great scholarship to even have the opportunity for college
Most of you know my mom passed after I was born so I have been blindly playing this role of mother all along. I’ve never known what I’m doing. I’ve been overly protective, critical, irrationally fearful. uptight, worried about others before my own child, and pretty much was just an idiot. Geez, if I only knew how stupid and irrelevant most of my thought-snatchers were back in the day-number of AP classes, benchmark tests, average RBI’s, reading levels, report card grades, goals, scores, ratings, stars-NOBODY FREAKING CARES except Grandma!!
Life is tough, really tough, and I’m over all of the competitive rigmarole. College has turned into big corporate business, and I sure do hope my kids understand there are far more avenues than one. When there’s a small disaster, flooded basement or gas leak, I’m pretty sure the person I called had never gone to college. My beautiful friend Sister Lillie swears that the artists will change the world. I believe her because she knows more than anybody. Most of those artists will need more freedom than the confines of structured walls and lines.
Time had smacked me hard across the face and with it a whole bunch of memories and should’ves possessed me. On the other hand, Time is my friend, as it has given me greater clarity. My pride is low enough to unveil my true person (most of the time) and not care so much of impression. I’m growing selfish with time, prefer to spend it with my family, and am more mindful of ending conversations with friends and neighbors a little sooner than I used to.
I’d say that Elizabeth was definitely ripped off being the oldest of the three. I was too neurotic, trying to be perfect, and expected too much from the toddler alongside me. Elizabeth was just perfect being her crazy, imaginative, dress-up playing-well she still does that, passionate, untamed, extremely strong-willed, misunderstood wonderful child.
I regret not standing up for Elizabeth more, I used to be an annoying people-pleaser, that I’m suddenly getting on my own nerves remembering! I should have told that nasty woman in a restaurant in Tucson where she could put her enchilada when she remarked, “Give that baby a bottle already!” I was a shy first-time nursing mom and not quite confident enough to publicly nurse yet, so I scuttled out to the car to nurse a hungry baby girl. Once Nikolas had come along, I remember sticking my tongue out in proper second-grade fashion at some grumpy gawker at Cracker Barrel while I was discreetly nursing him. I should have taken Elizabeth’s side and stood up for her when others were cruel to her, rather than trying to teach Elizabeth to take the higher road. That whole spiel is BS-I was a coward, been so all too often, and thank God Elizabeth has more courage than I’ll ever have! Elizabeth has simply been too much for some, too much for me at times, and that’s okay. Elizabeth is focused, independent and a major feminist. She’s doin’ alright just as she is.
I was folding towels, a mundane task I enjoy, and noticed that I have far less laundry to fold. One day, I’ll only need a basket, that is, if life is kind to our family, and we can send our other two kids off into the big wide world one day as well.
I already miss camping, suppers together, chaotic mornings, snowball fights turned (ahem) occasional fistfights between Nikolas and Elizabeth, handfuls of dandelions with big grins, make-believe tea parties, the comfort of knowing that all are safe and sleeping in their beds at night, togetherness, even if all we did was bicker sometimes. Our little family of five is disjointed momentarily or forever changed, unsure yet, but certainly not in heart. I’m having a difficult time navigating, feeling like I’m hopping on a chalky hopscotch sketch..
Elizabeth is having a ball in college, has already auditioned and made the dance company, dance team, and snagged a role in a play. She’s made several new friends, particularly with the international students, and she’s studying Chinese. I also hope she fits in some time to study a bit.
I believe that any success that Elizabeth finds is in spite of me. My arms are Finding-Nemo’s-dad tight around my kids, my imagination allows terrifying scenarios to often pay visits to my head. I just hope my fear didn’t stifle Elizabeth, or my harsh words during arguments didn’t linger. I hope my imperfection has taught her that being flawed is okay, and that she forgives me for my countless mistakes as her mother. Did I tell her that she was smart more often than beautiful? Does she even know she’s beautiful? Does she love herself enough? Did I share enough about the power of faith? Does she understand that her body is powerful, healthy and weight is a number and has no relevance unless you’re a baby with congenital heart disease? Does she understand that if a guy makes her feel anything less than smart, beautiful and special then she’s to turn and never look back? Have I been kind enough to teach her empathy? Does she know how incredibly much she is loved? Did I spend enough time with her? Did I teach, talk, listen, understand, praise, hug, and defend her enough? Um. I doubt it. I wish I could have a few years returned, to make things better.
As the leaves are turning into their brilliant hues of splendor and melancholic pains sweep over, autumn serves as a reminder that time and change are inevitable. Yes I miss my little girl, I’ll be alright. I wish her joy, resilience through darkness, peace, strength, simplicity, experience, hope, adventure, humility during success, faith, and most importantly, incredible and enduring love. Oh dear God, I hope you have a beautiful life, my Elizabeth!