Friday, August 23, 2013

The empty nest or Please let me wallow or I will throw cat poop in your face

Dear Couples who plan to and want to have children,

I need to offer you a warning. Just because you make these little people doesn’t mean they are yours. I know people who have kids and start building dreams for those children as soon as they wean them, if they were able to nurse. I only had dreams of being with my daughter. She is an incredible companion.

Here’s what I learned on Thursday when her daddy and I moved her into her dorm room at the lovely Cleveland Institute of Art:

Your daughter/son never belonged to you. The Universe tricked you into making an amazing person you loved and liked who told you the funniest stories ever, who trusted you to make her feel better when she was hurt, sick, freaked out, stressed, who told you more than you wanted to know about her friends, who excelled in school not because you nagged but because she wanted to excel, who was a good, good companion and kept you from being lonely, who was and is and always will be your heart and center, who stood up for the bullied and laughed at the bullies who were afraid of her because she was just too … different.

And then, because you really did create an incredible creature who wants to participate in the world, to make the world kinder, prettier, funnier, better, your little creature grows up and finds her/his own style, what she wants to do, girlfriends/boyfriends (or both), writes essays that are too good for colleges to ignore, makes artwork that’s too good to ignore, and she finds a place to be where she can learn what she wants to learn without you. Without you finding her narwhal T-shirt or lending her $20 for BW3s. Without you sleeping with your cell phone on nights she’s out or away from you just in case she needs you. Without you washing her towels or digging through stacks of clean clothes to find that perfect pencil skirt. Without. You.

So, see, here’s the thing. I always wanted to have at least one child. I just did. My mother had four, my father two (blended family after a first husband’s death). I liked being a kid. I liked when my siblings were kids. I liked the kids I met in my life.

What I didn’t notice was that at some point, all these parents, mine included, had to release their children. I forgot I couldn’t keep my girl. Not allowed. She’s too wild and amazing and talented for me to keep. I have to let her go because she doesn’t belong to me. She never did. I was just lucky enough to have her need me for a lot of years and need me less for a few more years and even like me for a couple after that.

And now? Well, I tried to put in place guards against being too sad: an MFA, a job, a manuscript to revise, ideas about “writing lofts” a friend wants to start together in my town. But this weekend after the day after my daughter’s father and I took her to school, I’m just sad that I can’t instantly access those stories of hers. She doesn’t want/need me to find her lost T-shirts or rouse her in the morning or make sure she has enough hair gel or to tell me the hilarious thing one of her best friends did on a late-night, illicit excursion.

We are different now, my girl and I. And I understand that I’m supposed to feel joy, and I DO feel joy, but I also need to be sad. Because I already miss her. I’ve been missing her for a while. This physical distance just cements the reality for me. You know?

I know I should be proud of the “job” her father and I did (despite our challenges as a couple, living separately, we were able to raise her together with love and kindness so take THAT culture of hate and acrimonious divorce! We simply chose not to. And because of that, he will be my forever friend). And I am. I’m proud of everything she did on her own but because she had us.

Just let me wallow. I didn’t make her to give her away, you know? I didn’t understand what I was doing.

World, you’re lucky to have her. She’s the best, the absolute best. You’d better treat her well, or I’ll hunt you down and beat the shit out of you (says the pacifist).

So, to those couples who want children, I just want to say, just because you make/adopt/borrow them doesn’t mean they are yours. Just because you like them enough to give them everything they need to succeed doesn’t mean they should or can or will always be under your jurisdiction. You made/make them, but then, dammit, you have to let them go. Because they want to go. You’ll make them into people who want to go out to be part of the world. I’m really sorry.

OK. Done now.

a happy/sad/bereft/proud/lonely/busy/ mama