Saturday, July 2, 2011

a note from underground

i've been thinking a lot about parenting lately. what it is, what it isn't, and what it all means.

although we often define parts of ourselves relative to our relationships or our roles with other people (such as i'm so-and-so's partner, or more abstractly, i'm the nag of the family), it's with parenting that it truly becomes almost your complete identity.

if i had to pick just a few characteristics that best represented myself, if i had to set up my character in a short sentence in a book, for example, i'd throw mother in there almost right off the bat. it seems to cover so much about my life. and yet, if i really think about it, it tells someone else nothing at all about me, my personality, what i think is important, or even how i interact with my children. and yet, still, it's somehow the largest parameter in my life - and thus seems to define me most, even if it really says nothing about me.

anyone who knows me knows that i've never been a live-for-my-kids kind of person. quite frankly, i never really gave parenting much thought until i got pregnant. ever since my kids were born, i've made a point of generally still living the life i choose - moving around, taking vacations, going back to school, that sort of thing.

so it's been odd that this year i've been suddenly filled with all this thinking about parenting, and a sudden sense of nostalgia for being a mother. i have friends who've felt this sense of passage and nostalgia for all the stages as soon as they happen; people who are so in tune to the effects of time that they see quite clearly where they are, where they are going, and how things will never be the same.

this has never been my strength. every moment with my children has seemed somehow separate from the stream of time. although i remember clearly what they were like two or three or five years ago, they are never anything to me but exactly what they are at this moment. i can't see the finiteness of our current relationship. i can't see sadness at the person they left behind - the sweet smelling cuddly baby, the frustrating toddler, the reactionary tween.

but this has changed this year. i think it's because my oldest is 16. suddenly, i can see clearly how little time we have left in the same house - 2 years, to be exact. because i know everything will be different once he moves out. no more morning annoyances, no more afternoon check-ins via text:
--where are you? 
--with a friend at the park. 
--when will you be home? 
--by 8.
i know, so meaningful. but still - it's part of the constant knowing that his presence is in the house or expected. it has been so for sixteen years. for sixteen years, that thought has never been out of my mind: where's j? what's he doing? is he happy? is he ok? 

suddenly, it seems like we have so little time left. 2 years! that will go in a heartbeat. and, this finiteness coincides with his utmost independence. he has no interest - usually - in sitting beside me, telling me about his day, just being together. or - i should say - he has an occasional interest in it, but only because it's not desired. if i voiced why i wanted such things, he'd run the other way. rightfully so.

this view of the future - one where he's clearly off doing his own thing - has really struck me lately. yes, i'll still have one kid at home. but still, this huge part of who i am - and what has structured my life for the last 16 years - will change. whether one plans to have children and then sets out to do it or not, there's something very comforting about having the major part of one's life constrained.

you don't need to worry about who you are, you're a mother. you don't need to worry about what to do in life, you parent. sure, there's little details to be worked out - but for the most part, you know what needs to be done, and the majority of your time is focused on these tasks: getting them fed, getting them to school, getting them to bed, and just getting them through life. trying to give enough tips to take care of the big issues (share, play nice, be strong) while still remembering to nag them continually about the small ones (brush your teeth, change your underwear, wash your hands).

the end of the parenting era of my life is beginning, once the first one flies the nest. and then what? who will i be? what will i do? what will occupy my day-to-day life? i'm feeling a little adrift here.

anyway, that's a long-winded introduction to the point of all this. i guess it's just that there's a lot of my brain space occupied by thinking of the fleeting nature of being a parent. and that leads to thinking about parenting, and relationships, in general.

so this is an occasional soliloquy on such matters. and remembrances from the days in the trenches (i.e., the days with young children). nothing more, nothing less. oh, and occasional stories that don't fit anywhere else.

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