With soon-to-be two daughters in college I should have seen this coming, shouldn’t I? All of my angst as a stay-at-home mom facing the future of an empty nest has come down to this one little truth: it costs money to send kids to college.
It’s not as if we haven’t been saving for this for years or that I had not known somewhere in the back of my mind that it would be a good idea to have two incomes for two tuitions; it’s just that I seemed to move from “someday” to already five weeks into a job in a quick hurry. I went from “I should start checking into what it would take to get on the substitute teaching call list so I can start subbing next fall” to starting to work in the local city clerk’s office two days after I casually mentioned to the Clerk that if they ever needed part-time help, they should call me.
I’m on both sides of the fence, really. I feel both lucky that I could find something so close and congenial to my schedule and gobsmacked that I now have a time card and a boss, without having a chance to mourn the loss of my formerly self-scheduled days. All of a sudden I had to scramble to find pants that weren’t jeans and fill out a W-4 form and there has been no chance to look back. Now I find my days melting one into the other and my appreciation of those that have been working all this time growing exponentially.
With so many out of work in this economy, I can’t complain about any of the small annoyances associated with having to wear less comfortable clothes or be in to work by a certain time. Instead, every time I feel myself starting to grouse about having to go to work, I remember how very, very lucky I was to be able to stay home with my kids for so long.
I left work for my children, and now I’ve gone back for the same reason. *whistles*
My oldest chick moved to the dorm without too much fanfare at the end of this summer. She’s doing well and seems to be integrating into campus life; she’s not a source of worry for me. Though I miss her, I feel okay with it all. Time will tell how each of us will react to being separated, but I am hopeful we’ll grow both closer and more independent of each other. That’s the way life is, and a pretty good definition of parenting success.
Since she now lives two hours away from us, visits are further apart, though not non-existent. I got the chance to drive up there by myself last month for a day of visiting, and she got to show me around and introduce me to her roommates and new habitat. We shopped and ate, and I hunkered down in a corner of the dorm lobby and read while she went to a class. It was good for both of us.
With the dust settling on that change, I am finding that having fewer people in the house means more time for me to spend with the two remaining chicks. The way school day mornings work out the younger two leave at different times, not even crossing paths most days. I get to spend breakfast time with the youngest, and then roust the next oldest in time to drive her to school. That provides at least a few minutes to chat and make sure all is well before her day crashes in, full force. Separate activities allow us to have separate time with both, and I’ve been making a more conscious effort to do things individually with each one.
I’m not the only one that is getting more one on one time with other family members. The two youngest girls seem to be enjoying each other more as well, and though we still have moments of friction, they may be realizing that they only have each other now. Their elder sister is missed, and so perhaps their bond is more appreciated. It’s nice to see them actually sharing and spending down time together. It wasn’t always like that.
When the five of us are back together to go up to the Inn for Thanksgiving it may feel a little strange, and I didn’t really anticipate that twist. Our current duet will become a trio again; I hope it remains harmonious.
The travelers will be home today, and the two bachelorettes will be back to everyday life in mere hours. A few things picked up and put away, a spit and a polish, and we will be done and ready for the weary tourists to drop their bags in the entryway. It’s been a relaxing, fun weekend, and though I enjoyed every moment of it, I look forward to hearing tales from the road and getting back to the whirlwind that is my full life.
The older girls are coming home from the last school trip they will take before college. I wonder if they appreciated it in that light? There will be other outings, with family and friends, colleagues, even jaunts for university groups if they are lucky, but this is the last band trip with friends that will so soon be scattered to the winds. I hope it has been a fun, eventful journey that they will look back upon fondly.
A little deviation from the normal routine lets us all look at things from a different perspective and perhaps appreciate it all a bit more. Number three and I got a sneak-peek at what life might be like in a few years, and numbers one and two got special time to spend with both their dad and high school friends – things that will be in a little shorter supply soon.
More lasts; then on to another round of firsts.
Well, it’s set. We have decided on a date for the Graduation open house. The invitation to the Senior All Night Party has been sent back in. Cap and gown have been ordered. Immediate relatives have been given the date for the official graduation ceremony. As her father says, all my eldest has to do now is actually graduate.
Senior year is such a tough time in any person’s life. It’s a time of some firsts but many more lasts. It’s hard for them to concentrate on what they are finishing because there is this big, new, shiny thing hung there in front of them: college and finally living away from home. I don’t really remember my Senior year other than as a time of impatient waiting. I was so ready to move on that the last year seemed a waste.
That made it easier to leave behind all the familiar and friendly, all of the people and places I had been around for all my life. Without the chafing feeling of needing to move on, perhaps it would have been just too sad to end my childhood. I don’t remember moving from child to adult, myself. If I had it to do again, I might savor the many things I would never be able to do again in the same way. Adulthood is so tantalizing, so desired, so coveted by the young, and my daughter is now the one ready to move on. I see it in her, and so keep silent about my small regrets; she would probably politely discount my words anyway. I am older, how can I understand?
I am left here, mourning it for her. Quietly.
During the last school holiday we got to have an extra chick in the house, and now that Spring Break is upon us, my middle chick went south to return the visit. So that no one is over-burdened with driving too far for the frequent trips, we have developed a habit of meeting her friend’s family between our two cities, leaving an easy two-hour drive on each leg.
The drive down yesterday was a relaxed, conversation-filled, music-fueled, mandatory close quarters. Neither of us were distracted by things we had to do. No homework or housework, no television or internet, no texting except with her friend to see how close to our meeting point she was. She took charge of our traveling music from her iPod and we discussed books, authors, high school classes, hopes for college and beyond, her music groups du jour – anything that occurred to us, bouncing from one topic to another with abandon.
We arrived before the others, so she waited with growing impatience for her next stagecoach to arrive, too excited to eat until they got there. I am always amused to watch them interact; she and her friend are so alike that they fit together almost seamlessly. Soon we were transferring luggage from the back of my car to the front of theirs. With a kiss and a wave and a flip of hair, she was off on her much-anticipated adventure, and I was left standing in the fast food parking lot with my hand in the air, an empty, quiet car beside me.
I started the drive home feeling foot-loose and free, but the further north I got and the closer to home, the more I realized it was just too quiet. I had left the life of the party back there, in someone else’s car. I rustled my way to the bottom of the glove box and found some discs I hadn’t listened to in a while. With the music up loud to mask the vacant seat, I sang snatches of old lyrics along the way, heading north in the fading dusk, toward home.
So was this an aberration or a glimpse of things to come? This morning was a little unusual, yet could work out to be the norm next year: only my middle and youngest daughters had to get up to go to school today and the pre-school time was harmonious and pleasant.
I’m not saying that my oldest daughter causes problems, nor do I mean to imply that we will be happier without her; I’m just stating fact here. I really enjoyed puttering around the kitchen, listening to my two youngest chat about nothing over tea and toaster crumpets while I threw a couple of lunches together and sipped coffee. Usually the youngest and I share this time, often with her off on other pursuits while I work, until the older two fly down the stairs, grabbing their backpacks and coats, and slam out the door. There is usually no nice, relaxing, convivial time.
Next year will see their oldest sibling in college, and away from us. We’ll get her back, occasionally, but our routines will all change in ways I’m sure we don’t even realize. I’m both dreading the lack of her smiling face and excited for her to move to the next step – it’s a very mixed-up emotion that I am sure I’ll be feeling for quite a while. Roles will change within the family, and the balance will shift to more adults than kids. It’s something parents work for, but I’m not sure we really want, in our hearts.
Granted, this morning was out of our regular routine because the eleventh graders were testing and none of the other high school kids had to be at school, so daughter #2 had a little more to prepare for. It wasn’t really a normal day for her either. Tomorrow is the same schedule, so perhaps that will be the litmus test of whether this was just pre-testing nerves that got her up and moving, or not.
Or maybe it was the tea and crumpets. I’ll have to buy more.
Today was a half-day off from school, so we gathered everybody up and made them leave their individual pursuits for a small while to go out for some food. We don’t always get this opportunity, so it’s good to grab it when it comes along, instead of putting it off til the “next time”. Those tend to slip away too quickly. Not everybody was ready at the same time, so there was a little push-pull going on, but we eventually made it out the door and to our destination.
For some reason, it’s easier to have life planning sessions while eating out. Perhaps it’s that we are captive, stuck seated at a table, waiting for service and otherwise unoccupied, that lets us touch on subjects that seem too unwieldy at home. No phone calls interrupt, no chores that must be done; just the camaraderie of breaking bread together allows us to share other things. Today the subject could have been college. Pre-orientation, orientation, setting up bank accounts, roommates, list of needs – there are so many things that need to be done or planned. We need to make sure we are ready for the end of senior year and have a graduation party to schedule, and it helps to include the other girls on planning for their older sister’s things, as they will soon enough be in her shoes. But, of course, we went and socialized instead, laughing and chatting about unimportant things. Just time together as a family, and that’s getting to be in short supply.
The major plans will be made, eventually. The graduation details will be covered. Everything will find it’s place in our schedule, and if it doesn’t, then it’s probably not worth worrying about. Even though we didn’t come away from our time out with plans made, it was a satisfying way to spend a couple of hours.
And we did get a meal out of the deal.