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*
I keep the change that I periodically empty from my purse in a square glass dish near my desk. I’m sure there are better things to do with my money, and it’s not always convenient to get to on the sill behind my computer. I still do it, though, because every time I drop coins in the dish, I see my father.
My dad was a hard working man who put in long hours in a tool and die shop an hour away from home in order to provide a house that was probably more than he could afford for his family. Sometimes when he came through the door he wouldn’t even speak to us, but I knew he was home from the sound of his change hitting the dish in the junk drawer. He would empty his pockets a few steps away from the garage, releasing his day as he went. Some days it took longer before he spoke to us, but mostly by the time his change and keys and wallet were in the drawer, he was with us again, and work was left behind.
Back then, that was just the shape of the day. Now, I understand a little more of what he was doing; divesting his body as soon as he could of the things he had to have in the outside world. He didn’t need money or identification or keys in his workshop or at his dinner table. He didn’t need to answer to anybody, or punch a time clock. He was home.
The dish was the first thing I salvaged of my dad’s things when my mother moved into an apartment. It’s not good crystal or an interesting shape, or anything more than a storage vessel. It’s thick, sturdy, everyday glass. And every time, even now, the sound of coins dropping into the dish makes me see him standing at the drawer, head bent, making his way back to us.
I never thanked him for what he did, and he didn’t expect me to. I thank him now with each penny.
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 kitten we adopted in May had his requisite session under the knife two weeks ago, and though he certainly still acts like a baby, I can’t really continue to call him one. After our big cat died in January, I wasn’t sure how we would ever cope with having another animal to care for and watch over. After the rigmarole involved with deciding upon a kitten and making the house and family ready for his integration, I was still shaking my head. The fluffball came to live with us, staying on the back porch until we were sure he wouldn’t bring any dangerous diseases to our grown cats, and then, kaboom.
He’s taken over the house.
He has a definite swagger to his walk, though it’s a charming one. He has made pacts with both older cats, though they vary wildly from “I’ll attack you whenever I want; as long as you wrestle with me, we’ll get along just fine” to “I’ll bow and look down whenever we meet, though I’ll never give up trying to get a rise out of you”. Hear a big crash or a muffled thump? Better go look. Stepping out of any room with a formerly closed door? Better look down because more often than not, he’s stretched out at the sill, waiting for you. Arriving home after five hours (or even five minutes) away? He comes running with a growly meow and a purr strong enough to jumpstart your heart.
As long as we don’t feed him after midnight, we’ll be okay. Yes, his name is Gizmo. At least we named him after the friendly and cuddly Mogwai and not the destructive Gremlins – though there always seems to be a mysterious gleam in his eye that makes me think the gremlin part of him is not really that far away.
Last night I earned a few more “Mom Points”. Did I bandage a skinned knee? Find a lost homework assignment? Help with an award-winning diorama? No, I have done all of those things in the past, but I’m talking about one step further: I found a rendition of the Doctor Who theme for tuba.
Admittedly, I was looking online for something else at the time. My youngest plays tuba and is always looking for “cool” stuff to play on an instrument many feel is uncool. When I saw the site with all the TV and movie themes on it, all for tuba, I knew I had hit a goldmine, and when I discovered that it included Doctor Who I took a mental bow and pushed “print”.
Lately our home has become very “Whovian”. Any Saturday night will find my second and third daughters parked in front of BBC America, being wowed by a man in a bow tie and fez who travels through space and time in a bright blue police call box that is much bigger inside than it looks. It’s a wildly creative series, with a history of good writers and surprising twists and turns, and makes for some lively and intelligent discussions on the relative merit of plot direction, plausibility, and possible outcomes. I’m not quite up on all the lingo, so they find that they have to educate me.
“Daaaah-lik, Mom. Not Day-lik! And no, that one’s not a Companion.”
I nod and try to soak it in, if only to seem a little less un-hip to my kids. I am sympathetic to their attachment to it and we have driven in record time from my mother-in-law’s house three counties away in order to catch the mid-season finale, planned a birthday party for a Friday instead of a Saturday to avoid conflicts, and the plan for Halloween this year seems to include some sort of Weeping Angel costume for the both of them. It was a toss-up between that and having to build a plywood dalek they could somehow push around the neighborhood, so I may have dodged the bullet there.
Soon we will be going thrift store shopping for clothes we can paint gray and contemplating the best ways to make skin and hair look like granite or marble. A chance for more “Mom Points”, perhaps?
Well, this is awkward.
“What happened to your blog?”
“Why don’t you post anymore?”
I must admit that when I first created “One Bird At A Time” and made the decision to post every day I worried about running out of material to write about. Luckily, things just kept happening and I found plenty I wanted to turn over in my mind, making sense of as I filled the page. Things are still happening, perhaps even more than before, but the effort of examination may have become too much. Meeting my daily goal became a little obsessive, and I pre-planned posts for days I knew I’d be busy. Sometimes I wrote when I needed to be doing other things.
I also found that writing so publicly is a balancing act. I chose to write about things as they affected me, yet I tried to avoid bruising others. Walking on familial eggshells put a bit of a damper on some of the things I could write comfortably about. The kicker about trying to be so diplomatic was that the entries that helped me most were the ones that were somewhat controversial. It’s hard to both please yourself and not embarrass those around you when you enter the blogging world.
I liked seeing my thoughts blossom and finding out what life meant to me. I appreciated friends commenting and sharing insights, whether it was a hearty “Yes! That’s how I feel too!” or pointing out another side to my story. Re-reading old posts reinforced lessons learned so I wouldn’t repeat mistakes and let me look back and see exactly when I turned a particular corner.
When I broke my daily streak at the same time that my life got busier with end of school year activities and plans, I did what was easiest. I quit writing. No one to worry or offend or embarrass, and writing takes time that I couldn’t find, at least the way I do it. I like to let it stew on the page for a while, eventually stirring the the ideas I start with into just the right dish with just the right flavor.
Will I get back to regularly posting? I hope so, with a little more kindness and understanding toward myself. It’s less effort to let life flow past, largely untasted, unexamined. After all, that’s what I seem to have been doing most of my adult life. Lately, however, I find phrases and ideas popping into my head as I try to fall asleep; posts writing themselves in my subconscious. I miss writing.
I took the path of least resistance, and that has made all the difference.
Today would have been my mother’s ninety-first birthday. You would think I would be reminiscing about old times, remembering how well she took care of me whenever I was sick, calling the doctor for a house call and hovering over his shoulder in my fevered memory. The food she spent all day making for us, or how she was a do-er; how she could get “drunk” and giddy on just a Coca-Cola, or how she lost her first husband at the very end of World War II yet was strong enough to build a different life with my father and us.
Instead, I am spending the day wishing I could apologize. As my daughter approaches her last day of high school this week, I find myself understanding more and more about my relationship with my mom during our contentious years, discovering what she was trying to do. Time and experience wipe the bull-headedness of youth out of the picture, and I can see her more clearly.
I used to get so frustrated, so irritated that last year before I went away to college. She seemed to be holding even tighter to me, and I only wanted to take flight. As my girl does the same thing, I struggle to not want to hold her to my chest for as long as I possibly can. My mother would tell me things I already knew, give me advice I thought I didn’t need, and treat me like a child. I fought like a toddler wanting to be put down, trying to get away, only looking forward.
Mama, I understand. And thank you.