We build our world around our children, many of us mothers, and somewhere around their 13th birthday it dawns on us that they will leave. Which, of course, is our goal. I heard a friend of mine recently lament, “what will happen when my raison d’etre goes to college in a few years?” The short answer to that question is, you will cry. Then he will call you with a crisis. Of the heart. Of the wallet. And he will need you. And you will sigh and take your place again as the mother and FedEx him a brisket.
I remember when my son was an infant and motherhood was exhilarating, exhausting and a trial – sometimes all in the same day. A wise older woman told me that I would be fine.
“Just when you think you can’t stand a stage they are going through, it will end,” she said. “And the surprising part will be that you will miss it.”
Formerly of the 47% — and proud
Having been a single mother for a good many years, those childhood stages included finding good, affordable daycare so that I could work. I interviewed daycare centers for weeks, trying to find one that I felt confident would provide a safe, nurturing environment for my three-year-old. When I found a local center where the people seemed caring, organized and qualified, I was afraid to ask the cost. I tentatively sat in the daycare director’s office and fidgeted with the tassel on my handbag while he looked over my application. He was a big man with a dark beard, a soft voice, and kind eyes.
At the time, I held a part-time job at a college, writing for their alumni magazine, and I also published a small town newspaper. The newspaper kept me up until the wee hours most nights doing layout on the tiny screen of my Mac Plus. Believe me, I couldn’t afford many of the daycare options I preferred. Some were over half of my weekly take home pay. When the director looked up and smiled, I was prepared for a figure that would send me quickly out the door.
“We have a subsidized program that is geared specifically for you,” he said. “It will be $12 a week.”
When he saw my tears welling up, the director shoved a box of tissues toward me, which I gratefully grabbed. That government program saved us. It meant I could work a full day at the college, something they had recently asked me to do. I didn’t feel like a victim. Getting help when I needed it didn’t stop me from holding down two jobs and pursuing a career that would eventually support us. I never, in fact, pursued additional support after the one year I needed assistance to keep my son in daycare, and have always been grateful for that leg up. The experience gave me a perspective that I would not have had otherwise, that perhaps is impossible to have unless you have been in a similar situation. The truth I learned is that sometimes people just need a helping hand in life.
Our shared experience of digging out of a difficult time may be one reason my son chose a profession where he helps people who are in dire circumstances; but I know it often breaks his heart when he can’t fix their lives.
Lately I’ve been thinking how our goals for our children can conflict in some cataclysmic ways. I always hoped my boy would become a caring, sensitive and compassionate man. At 24, he is all of those things, and because of that, I know he is set up for pain. Not to mention that he will eventually lose me too. Which I know, and he doesn’t yet believe.
Face it. We can never win at this mother thing.
I have this vision of myself looking down from heaven (hopefully) and trying to still step in to ease my kid’s life in some way. Whisper in his ear while he sleeps that he should eat a good breakfast, dress warm and take his vitamins. Maybe jolt him from falling asleep at the wheel on a late night home. It won’t be a haunting, per se, just a motherly presence. I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to let go even then.