Dear Mother with a weary look in her eye who is chasing an adorable toddler through the store,
I got a text from my teenage daughter the other day:
At 18 you can buy a pet fish without an adult.
Three more texts followed in quick succession:
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Buy fireworks. Serve on a jury. Play bingo at a casino.
Change my name. Lotto tickets. Buy spray paint in all the states. Skydive. File a lawsuit.
Pretty much everything but drink, drive a bus and adopt a kid.
Those texts came on the day our oldest child stopped being a (technical) child and turned 18.
Weary Mom, a lot of parents farther down the road from you will look wistfully while you get big, sloppy smooches, Wub Yous, and public displays of affection from your child. They will tell you, “It seems like yesterday; it goes by so fast.”
I’m not one of those parents.
I will watch you and smile. It’s easy to remember those sweet moments with my then-child, now newly minted almost-adult.
I can also quickly recall the fear of holding her squirming hand in a parking lot, the exhaustion of the long days when she decided that she was too old for naps although her body thought otherwise, and the drudgery of the oft asked, “why?”
I can bring to mind the emotions of days when she held firmly to her limited independence and free will at the expense of my patience, and the days when only Mommy’s kisses would make it all better.
But it didn’t go by all that fast.
As her 18th birthday was approaching, I looked at a picture of me right before her first, and only, birth day. Hand on my belly, smile on my face and Pitocin drip ready to be administered. I had no idea what I was doing, but I remember thinking of it as an adventure. That may have been the only thing I was right about. The past 18 years have been an adventure.
But it didn’t go by quickly at all.
I remember the kind of parent that I wanted to be when that photo was taken, and the kind of parent that I actually became. I didn’t throw her many birthday parties and I didn’t take her on many vacations. I didn’t videotape every recital or class play; I was never her Room Mother, and my face never showed up at a PTO meeting. I rarely ate lunch with her at school and we never went to one single Mommy and Me event.
As with any adventure, there was work and discovery; success and failure. Adventures are a long time in the making, a long time in the living and an even longer time, if all goes well, in the remembering. I remember the path of this childhood of adventure; I remember the long days that morphed into 18 long years filled with both storm clouds and rainbows of emotion.
But she grew up still loving me anyway, and I cherish the memories of the long, winding path to now.
That’s what I would tell you, Mom: Cherish.
Cherish each step, even the ones where you step in cat vomit or on a Lego. Cherish the chasing days and the holding days; cherish the days your heart is full, and the days when it hurts. Cherish them and try to remember as much as you can of the adventure that you are on.
This adventure, from birth to the day that they realize they can do pretty much everything without you, takes a lifetime.
Your child’s lifetime.
Susan Vollenweider lives in Smithville. For more of her writing, go to thehistorychicks.com.