Why didn’t someone tell me, when John and I were planning to start a family, that once you’re a parent, you’re always a parent? I guess I knew that intuitively but didn’t really think about it. I thought parenting would get easier as time moved on, but I’ve found that it never stops. You just go through different stages as your children grow.
When you’re a young parent, you focus on getting through each day…changing diapers, feeding your baby, getting all the requisite shots, finding the best daycare (if you have to work while your children are young, and most women I know don’t consider it a choice), spending time with your little one(s), and somewhere amid all that, trying to stay connected to your spouse.
Then come the elementary school years, and the activity ramps up. There’s organized sports, parent-teacher conferences, checking to be sure your child’s homework gets done, learning to communicate with the sometimes antiquated school system (it seems that ours was stuck in the 1960s at times), volunteering to help with field trips, taking refreshments to school on special days, planning birthday parties, arranging music lessons or other enrichment activities for your child, organizing your days and weekends around your child’s/children’s activities, and oh yes, trying to work in some family time and religious education along the way. I remember fondly our time in Girl Scouts, the few camping trips we took as a family (our son was always afraid of bears and couldn’t sleep well), the times we stopped at waterfalls and other natural sights while we were on road trips, our trips to the beach, going to the Smithsonian and many other museums and marveling at dinosaur skeletons and historical and art miscellanea, reading books about dinosaurs (Daniel went through a dinosaur phase from about age 3 through third grade), playing with toy bulldozers in our tiny front yard (I had to learn how to play like a boy), taking family walks with our springer spaniel in tow (me pushing the stroller with Julie, Daniel riding his bike ahead of us, John lagging behind–we were spread out over a block), visits to nearby parks (Centennial Park and the ever-famous Dragon Park), American Girl dolls (we only bought one) and reading those wonderful books, and so forth.
Then came middle school. Daniel spent his whole 8th grade year, it seems, on the couch. He was growing so fast that he was tired all the time…or playing video games. In retrospect, I wish I’d given him more stringent limits on the video games. John tried to tell me…but he was immersed in his business and didn’t have a whole lot of extra time.
Julie, meanwhile, was in her last year of elementary school and then middle school. John and I stayed busy chauffeuring both of our children to different schools and just generally trying to keep up with all the paperwork at school, not to mention fairly hectic schedules of our own.
High school. What a blur. Daniel had a couple of blips in high school but managed to finish with a diploma from Hillsboro High School, just about a month after his peers. We celebrated with a ceremony in our church’s family life center. Daniel, the child I was ready to send off to college, opted to stay at home for two years and go to the community college while he tried to figure out what he wanted to study. John and I adjusted to his living at home. He worked delivering pizza while he attended college and continued doing that when he transferred to Middle Tennessee State University. We were so proud when he graduated in December 2009 … he managed to keep his Hope Scholarship for 4 1/2 years.
Julie, meanwhile, chose to go to college 400 miles from home, to a small Methodist school in Jackson, Mississippi (Millsaps College). I was not quite ready to let her go that far away, but it was good for both of us. John and I kept the road hot traveling to Jackson to see her in Millsaps Singers, Chamber Singers, a play, and her junior and senior recitals.
Daniel moved out of our house in January 2013 (after moving back home following college graduation). YAY. We had one child launched.
Now Julie is getting ready to head off to Spain for the adventure of her life. I have mixed feelings. I am so excited for her opportunity to live abroad and learn about another culture. I am envious, in a way, because I studied Spanish in college and didn’t have the same opportunity to live where I’d be forced to speak the language.
This past week when Julie fell in our front yard and sprained her ankle, I worried about her. I thought, “Well, this is a dress rehearsal for her living alone.” My instinct was to come swooping home and take care of my “little” girl, but I just coached her on how to take care of herself. Her sweet daddy went out and bought an Ace elastic bandage for her (Daniel had the only one we’d had before). Daniel brought the crutches we’d loaned him to his job, and Julie & I stopped by to pick them up on the way home from getting her ankle X-rayed.
So, this whole summer has been an exercise in preparing myself to be a mom from a distance. I know I will worry about my independent little chick as she spreads her wings. My first concern is how to know when she’s gotten to Spain safely, as we will be out of town. She’s nervous about clearing customs and whether she has enough time between flights at Chicago O’Hare. We’re both nervous about how the whole money thing will work. She’s researching all that and getting her “ducks in a row” to prepare for living in a foreign country.
Meanwhile, I am like the humpback whale in this photo. I’m going under the surface for a while, but I suspect that I will resurface from time to time for air … and to make my mysterious whale (mom) sounds from a distance.