The couple that bought the swing set from us drove a Honda Civic with two car seats side by side in the back. Just like us. The little girl had a baby brother. Just like us. I remember when we went to pick out the swing set—a gift from Grandpa and Grandma who told us to get the best for Anna and Adam. And we did. Two swings, a glider, a slide, a canopy and a ladder leading up to monkey bars.
On the car ride down, Anna suddenly announced that she was something that began with an “F.” Ken and I couldn’t imagine. Actually maybe we could, which is why we braced ourselves. “I’m firsty,” she said. “Ah,” we smiled, producing her sippy cup.
Anna’s eighteenth birthday is around the corner. Last week, the young family in the Honda Civic returned to our house in a rented van, took apart the swing set and went away with it. I watched from the window on the landing. The last thing to go into the U-Haul was the yellow glider. It lay on the ground washed up from the past. The man, the woman and the grandfather squeezed into the front seat and drove off into a life that was once mine.
Please, understand, I’m thrilled that my children have grown and thrived. I thank G-d every day for having the privilege of ushering them through so many seasons of joy. But up until now the changes within my motherhood have felt gradual. We went through grammar school in a series of days in which I looped around Newton dropping them off and picking them up. Quite often I’d defy the carpool rules and linger in the line to watch them walk in to school together. I knew their childhoods would not last, and yet I didn’t quite believe it. I always had another year. How different really was fourth grade from third grade?
I don’t like change. Loathe it. Probably because I’m afraid of it. Always have been. Quite suddenly my daughter can legally buy cigarettes and lottery tickets. She can marry without my permission. She’ll vote in her first ever presidential election and she’s told me quite forthrightly that she’ll make up her own mind about the candidates. And my son. He towers over me. Nine inches taller than I am and counting.
When we bought the swing set, our cholesterol was normal and our blood pressure steady and uneventful. Our kids woke up so early on the weekends that they watched videos sprawled across our bed while we tried to catch an extra hour of sleep. They fit in our laps and they were light enough to carry up and down the stairs. Now we lie wide awake early on a Sunday morning and our exhausted teens cram as much sleep as they can into the day. Both of their grandfathers died over a decade ago. One grandmother can no longer walk. We put all of our hopes and prayers and dreams that the other grandmother stays just the way we like her.
Like the great chess player that my dear father-in-law was, I can see five or six moves ahead. Heck, I think I can see the endgame. This has been a morose summer for me. If another person tells me that I’m going to love having my daughter away at college—ecstatic was how one veteran mama put it—I’m going to collapse and weep uncontrollably. Think of your newfound freedom, said another empty nester. I didn’t realize that I was in jail. What breaks my heart the most is that my kids know I’m sad about the coming transitions. No amount of denying on my part convinces them otherwise. Adam offers to cue up The King’s Speech for me when I’m teary. But he knows that not even Colin Firth can lift me out of my funk. I just have to wait until it burns off like fog. That’s what my father the inveterate weather watcher used to say about sadness. It burns off.
For fifteen years our swing set was the backdrop of my life. Flash, I see Anna’s friends trying to one up each other on the swings. Higher and higher. Flash, Adam and a friend are racing each other across the monkey bars. Flash, someone goes belly down on the slide. Memory has tempered old worries of broken bones and deep bruises. I’ve gone on to worrying about other things like broken hearts, crushing disappointments and anxious decisions.
Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems. I never liked that saying. And despite all the gloom and doom I’ve sprinkled between these lines, I don’t really believe the big kids-big problems equation. Especially today on my daughter’s eighteenth birthday. A few hours after Anna was born, I nursed her for the first time and watched special programming on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the moon landing. But the only thing otherworldly that night was that I was a new mother to the most spectacular baby girl on earth.
Mine are 20 and 17 and I feel your pain.
I remind myself I wouldn’t feel this way if I didn’t have such lovely kids, if I didn’t enjoy their company so thoroughly. I tell myself that if they know I’m sad, they at least know they are loved and their presence is treasured, and that has to feel better than to hear your parents sighing with relief as you leave.
It’s still kind of awful, though. I’d kill to go back to a time when they crawled into my bed in the morning.