Dear Mr. President, I said, Dear Dean,
Dear Husband, Dear Our Father, Dear Tax Collector,
you don’t know me. I don’t know what I am,
but whatever it is, you can’t have me.
–Irene McKinney, At 24
In less than a month, my youngest graduates from high school. I think I’ve had senioritis worse than he has. Between work, extended family stress, and the seemingly never-ending year-end and senior activities, I felt like I haven’t had a moment to breathe. I finally got my grading done last week and so far this week I have been able to exercise, make some healthy meals, write in my journal, and read two books. And with this reset, this freedom, has come the question, who are you, Telaina, when you are no longer daily parenting?
My time hasn’t been my own for a long time. For 22 years, with very few exceptions, my needs, wants and desires have come second to my family’s. Meal-planning, grocery shopping, cleaning up, cooking dinners, packing lunches, attending school activities, carpooling, appointments, games, meets, concerts, conferences, scheduling, volunteering, meetings. And I have a job that takes a lot out of me. My job creeps throughout my “free” time and home life with grading, letters of rec, and more.
I’ve experienced a tremendous mental load dealing with the intricacies of school and high school in the last years. I’ve dealt with (or tried to deal with, or if all else failed, avoided) sycophants, bullies, and cheaters. (And unlike in a movie or a book where the sycophants, bullies, and cheaters get their due, in real life they seem to do just fine.) I have also made some of the best friends I’ve ever had, and they have been big life savers helping me not take all of this too seriously. To quote the movie Gladiator (yes I know, whatever), “We started as shadows and dust, and become shadows and dust at the end.” It is all so transient. So much of what I’ve worried about when my kids were in school seems ludicrous even now, let alone a year from now.
Like life, parenting through school and high school is a mixed bag.
So now I’m standing at the precipice of something that was really hard to imagine when I held my babies in my arms. In a few short months, I will not be needed to parent on a daily basis. Those things that I pushed to the side because I didn’t have time, well, those things can be picked back up again. But where did I leave them? I vacillate almost hourly between relief and celebration, and WTF?
I never had a problem with parenting being a part of my identity. I always kept my own interests and friends so I thought I was okay. But I’m realizing that all those other things shrank. Other parts of who I was were diminished as the parenting part of my identity flourished.
My one friend had really excellent advice for me. She said I would be tempted to fill my time because I’m so used to being busy. “Just say no to everything for a year, and then figure out what you want to do.” I thought this was great advice. I am tempted to do SOMETHING—get a puppy (which might lead to getting a divorce lol), get a cat, get another freelance job, volunteer some more… the list of things I’ve considered is long. (And I don’t even really have time right now to add anything else, but I’m thinking about September when our house will be so much quieter.)
But I DO NOT want to be this busy again. It isn’t good for me and I would really like my priorities to be my priorities. It’s not that parenting wasn’t a priority but a lot of things that came with the parenting, well, some of them weren’t my favorite things.
I know there are more good times with my young adult children ahead of me. More family meals, more trips, more board games, more movies, and more silly conversations. But I also know it won’t quite be the same as my son coming home from school every day (or the “old days” of me picking him up) and sitting down to some sort of meal. It won’t be the same as me laughing with (at?) a big group of boys in the car on the way to a polo tournament, or going to a band concert (what felt like every night of the week), or having to remember so many details about several very busy lives. It won’t be the same. There’s going to be change. Change has traditionally been hard for me. But I don’t have any choice, do I? Change is relentless.
Wish me luck as I try to navigate this new, autonomous world that quickly approaches.
But I’ve got to get through graduation first.