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 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.
This is it. My eldest daughter’s last day of public school. How could that be? I remember so well her first day of kindergarten, and if I was organized enough I would be able to find one of the many pictures I took that morning.
I couldn’t understand the mothers who went to Tea and Tissues with the principal after teary goodbyes, reluctantly allowing their children to finally enter the classroom, some of the kids crying too. This was a milestone! School was what we had been preparing for and working toward for the past five years, ever since the little bundle met us. She attended preschool for a couple of years, to gradually get her ready. We happily helped her learn her letters and colors, so she wouldn’t go in at a disadvantage. She was a social child, so no worries there. The day arrived and she went to her new classroom with curiosity and a smile and I pushed her sister’s stroller home, a bounce in my step.
There have been a few rough patches between that day and this. I have been disappointed in grades at times, but never in my child. Teachers have been great and not so great. Friendships have come and gone, hearts have been hurt, more lessons have been learned than were in the school curriculum. Triumphs and tragedies; all were so important in the moment and forgotten in the blur now.
Today was a little different in tone than that day so long ago. Instead of picking out her outfit and helping her dress, brushing her hair and assisting her as she loaded her new backpack, I stood in a quiet kitchen making the last school lunch that I ever would for her. She breezed down the stairs and packed it up and was out the door and driving away before I could snap one picture.
Maybe my Tea and Tissues day was just delayed thirteen years.
Words parents are loath to hear: “Mom! The neighbors found a litter of kittens under their back porch… Can we have one?”
For years I have had to be the bad guy. When we pass cute puppies and kittens at the pet store, I don’t have the luxury of oohing and ahhing over the little rascals. Any softening of my demeanor would indicate weakness and the entreaties would start. I appreciate baby animals as much, if not more, than the next guy, but my role is that of The Denyer.
“We already have three cats. There isn’t room for any more pets at our house,” has been my standard reply. It was an easy one. The reasoning couldn’t be disputed, and they came to expect it. That argument was lost in January when our sweet cat died and three quietly became two. His loss took more out of me than I really wanted to admit, and I was hoping they wouldn’t notice the hole in my logic for a while longer. It’s a parent’s job to take the long view, to see past tiny paws and adorable whiskers. When the little kitten that they want reaches the other end of its life my three chicks will be long out of the nest and it will be me left sitting beside the cat as it purrs its last.
When the litter was discovered I knew, deep down, that I was sunk. All of the other cats we have rescued since my daughters were born have been ‘teenagers’; lanky and small, but not a ball of fluff with ears. We have never had a tiny kitten to raise, and the girls began to remind me of that. They chipped away at the chink in my defense and widened it, reminding me that it was now or never for my eldest daughter. Soon she would be heading to college and getting a kitten in the Fall wouldn’t really be fair to her, in spite of the fact that we had joked that we would get one after she moved out and give it her name and room to live in. They wheedled for days and I shut down the topic for as long as possible, but my hold on my objections began to loosen. The girls knew I had relented even before I did and were at the car by the time I said “let’s just go and take a look”.
The inevitable stared me in the eye, and it purred.
My youngest and I are bachelorettes for the next few days, if that’s applicable to a couple of bi-generational females who are foot-loose and fancy free while the rest of the family goes on a school trip. We only have the two of us to think about and we have a nice, leisurely weekend stretching ahead of us. What to do, what to do?
This might actually be a little preview of life in general in a few years, when it’s just daughter number three left in the house, but for these particular days my husband gets to have last chance out-of-the-ordinary time with our oldest girls while he chaperones their trip, and I get to have special time with our youngest, paying her a little extra attention and maybe sneaking in a little girl time for myself. The only specific request I got from her was to make sure we had a little lazy time built-in to our weekend, but I think I can accommodate that.
Over breakfast this morning, we made a few loose plans. Later tonight we have a meeting to attend at the school she’ll be enrolled in next year, so perhaps before that we’ll get a two-top at a restaurant and have a small dinner together. Friday night? Hmmmmmm. Surprisingly, there is nothing on the calendar. Go out to a movie and munch on some popcorn out of the same bucket? Wander the mall, picking and poking at the stores new offerings? Paint our toenails? Rent movies and stay in, cuddling under a communal blanket? Then there is Saturday, and Sunday….
The world is our oyster.
To go along with getting my instrument fixed and ready to play, I have just gotten one more notch in my musical equipment tool belt. I have found that I play better when I can actually see the music. This wasn’t an issue when I first started playing trumpet.
My young, sharp eyes only succumbed for a couple of years to the need for occasional glasses from the eyestrain of playing and studying so much in college. After that, I didn’t even think about them until I started having to hold my books at arms reach to read them. Reading glasses are a hassle, but can be dealt with. Seeing my music on the stand at varying distances, plus the added need to see the conductor twenty-plus feet away in some of my groups, has become a bit of a challenge. The reading glasses are made for closer work and the music is too far away. The conductor is fuzzy through the glasses, but clear in my regular vision. You would think bifocals or Progressives would work, but when you play trumpet you very rarely look at the music directly in front of you; there is a bell in the way. What to do?
Many of my musician friends would tell me just to do what they do: ignore the conductor. I have found that it’s nice to have a little eye contact and get a cue or two, so I have taken to peering over my glasses. Not being able to read the notes quickly is a bit more of a problem. It kind of makes a difference whether those blurry little dots are on a line or a space, and which one. By the time I have squinted at them, the time for them to sound is past.
Today I presented my problem to the optometrist and let her figure it out. Will the finished product solve my problems? Time will tell. But it’s got to be better than what I have been doing.