Friday, June 11, 2010
Commencement 2010: Launch for Grads, Loss for Mom
Our eldest daughter has already marched to to the podium twice, and now attends graduate school in New York City. That means my husband and I now earn a peculiar status: "empty-nesters."
"Empty" acknowledges a change that is, no matter how you slice it, sad, especially for the mom. The brain-diagram of even busy, working mothers shows a large chunk devoted to personal activities, but a larger chunk to the schlepping, scheduling, keeping track-of, laundering, picking up-after, sports, lessons, caretakers and performance of her children. Then there's the emotional chunk that enlarges it.
So, when the last child is gone, it's not just an adjustment--though that, too--it's a loss. Grocery shopping becomes a different experience when you include picky children--along in the cart, and later, with their food eccentricities and desires in mind. My son eats three pounds (!) of pasta per week, with one particular type of sauce, and mozzarella cheese, for nearly every meal. He likes three types of cereal, drinks a gallon of milk over a few days, likes only strawberry jam on his Eggo waffles-and-peanut butter, wants one of three types of soup served for our Sabbath dinners... All this synapse action in my mind will cease.
It's replaced with worry. Several years ago I wrote a book about happy American families. I won't forget what a Mexican-American father of four young adults said in wistful reflection: "There's no feeling of peace like knowing your kids are all sleeping safely in your home in their own beds."
Consoling friends try to soothe me. "They'll come back!" Nice try. Once they leave home, they're gone.
Last summer, we bought our high-school-graduating son a cool new teen bedroom set. Grasping at straws. His room is just the way he wants it, with his guitars and ukuleles and amplifiers and posters of tropical beach scenes. Every morning when I come in to waken him for school, I'm intensely aware that few opportunities to see his sleeping face on his pillow at home remain. Today was his last day of high school.
Before he left, I made him pose for photos in our back yard. I have the one I took when he went off to his first day of preschool, in his little overalls with his truck lunchbox. In today's photo he carried his computer under his arm and his lunch in a small paper bag. No more shifting my schedule to pick him up from school.
No matter what those well-meaning consoling friends say, when the last child leaves, Mom loses a big focus--and a big pleasure--in her (my) life. There's plenty to do to fill the time and attention, but all those re-inventions and accomplishments will never be centered around the needs of my own kids.
Then there's the hopeful, "but it gets even better with grandchildren!" Don't go there. In my mind, "grandmother" translates into "old." I do not embrace aging. Denial isn't just a river in Africa.
So when I hear--or even think about--those measured notes of Pomp and Circumstance, I dissolve. I wish the graduates of 2010, and especially my daughter and son, pride in achievement, happiness in accomplishment, and fulfillment of all the opportunity those greeting card vignettes of diplomas and mortarboards and world-globes imply. Just hand me a kleenex, because I hate to see this era end.