Sometimes I feel like I’m on this downward slope of life. It’s as if I hit my peak of the “good” part somewhere in my 30’s, a life fulfilled with a burgeoning family, job and the joy that comes with raising children. But during that time, replete with thousands of little wondrous moments, there was also sleep deprivation, financial insecurity and a lack of time. Life was passing at breakneck speed. At that point in my life, wouldn’t it have made more sense to have the time and enough sleep to really take it all in and appreciate everything? Now that life has slowed down a bit, with my youngest child already a “tween” and my oldest in her freshman year of college, I’m facing the reality of this downslope.
I used to think it was backward that our youth is the time when we are most fit and able-bodied, yet unable to truly enjoy life because of the demands of work and family. Why is it that you can only begin to breathe and take in the beauty of this world when you are so old that your joints ache and your strength is gone? Tonight, however, I also realized that something else made no sense. It happened when my college freshman sent me a silly little text. At that moment, my longing for her became a solid ache. Here’s the thing: I thought I protected myself from this feeling. I knew even before I had children that my purpose was to raise them to become happy, thriving adults and that if I could do that, then I had done my mothering job well. I said to myself that I would never become one of those “empty nesters” who cry about their kids leaving. I didn’t cry when my daughter left. But I also didn’t feel right. In fact I felt uncomfortable until the reason revealed itself. My daughter was not emotionally prepared for college and this manifested in anorexia. Fortunately we literally saved her life through circumstances that could only have been brought about by a higher power. To make a very long story short, one moment she was with us, safe, and the next moment she was in the hospital, against her wishes and angry at me for putting her there. But this girl is strong and she made it through a very difficult two weeks, and then two weeks more, and two weeks after that she thanked us for saving her life. She dropped out of the first semester on a medical leave, and spent the next two months at home. During that time, I got to know her. It’s not like we had never spoken about real things before, in fact I felt very close to her as we had had many good conversations. But now I got to know her after she got through her first really difficult experience as an adult. (She actually turned 18 a week before this happened). Now, I was having adult conversations about adult issues. I could only admire who she is. I was astounded at how difficult and lonely her time in the hospital was and how she nevertheless made it through, stronger and more settled. I found that I really like her and that she is a person of quality that I would choose as a friend. I truly enjoyed our outings and conversations. And then she had to return to college. I drove her back that day, feeling empty inside, happy for her that she was finally embarking on her life, a bit worried, but not much. She is stronger now. She is ready to tackle the world. But I am now lonely without her. As I returned to our house, her car was parked in the driveway, and my heart did the little leap it always does when I realize that she is home, sadly realizing that today she was not. This girl is so special, to the dogs, to the 16,14 and 11 year old siblings. To me and my husband. She is a central figure in our family and we have all grown to need her. We all miss her when she’s gone, but now I miss her even more.
So why is it that, finally, when a child becomes an adult, and you can finally get to know them on a more meaningful level, they are torn from you? This is also upside down-don’t you think?