I sense that I’m losing control. Okay, maybe I never had control in the first place, but I sure thought I had it. Now I feel like a passenger in a car being driven much too fast over those hills that make your stomach do that droppy thing.
I no longer have any say in what my teenagers wear, eat, or choose to do with their time. My opinion is not one they welcome and only on a good day even tolerate. Luckily, there is still one child left here with me on the island, but even he is inching across the sand, searching the horizon and forgetting to put on his life vest despite the fact that I have a stack of them right here beside me.
I knew this was coming. We all do, right? We joke about when our kids will be teenagers, right up until the point where they are teenagers and we stumble through our days of empty cupboards, stinky laundry, unset alarm clocks, music we don’t understand, and the daily reminder that we know NOTHING and all we can think is – how did this happen?
Regret accompanies me most days as I clean up after they leave the house (all three in the same car without me at the wheel!). The kitchen looks like a war zone, papers, dishes, wrappers, jackets, and books everywhere I look. Jelly dripping down the side of the jar and over the edge of the counter. Peanut butter knife stuck to the newspaper left open to the comics. As I head upstairs I retrieve socks left in a bread-crumb like pattern leading to the laundry room and stumble over the shoes still lying in the spot where they were removed yesterday afternoon. The light is on in the bathroom and a radio blasts from a back bedroom. I can’t lay a finger on the point at which they stopped doing all the things I worked so very hard to teach them like turning off their lights, placing cast-off clothing in hampers, and HANGING UP THEIR BLESSED WET TOWELS!
When did they decide that hanging up that wet towel is no longer necessary and think – Maybe it'll dry here on the floor in my bedroom, either that or the maid will pick it up. When did they stop smiling when the dog and I open their door to wake them in the morning and instead start screaming, “I KNOW!” in a voice that suggests that if they just had a knife handy they’d make mincemeat out of me (But not the dog, no the dog can sit in the center of the floor and scratch incessantly causing her collar tags to jingle much louder than my sweet voice saying, “Honey, it’s time to get up.”) And what happened to the earnest child who wanted to save the earth and ran through the house turning off lights? I know I raised nicer, more considerate kids than this.
Okay, God’s honest truth, they’ve never been so great at utilizing the hampers, preferring to leave piles of clothing on the floor until I threaten never to do their laundry again or they suddenly realize they need that uniform piece or favorite shirt.
They’ve long ago given up helping out in the kitchen, but I can still picture my smiling three year old darling carrying his dishes to the sink. When was the moment he decided, “Nah, I don’t need to clean up this plate I just finished using to eat the food you just spent two hours cooking for me. I’ll leave it for the hired help.”
I went apple picking with a borrowed three-year-old recently. I forgot about the fun of wielding a plastic sword in a field full of trees dripping with apples. As I stirred the homemade applesauce, I told my own kids about my day’s outing. They smiled kindly without even turning down their music as if I was some sad, desperate street person asking for a hand out.
I miss my kids – you know the ones who thought I was cool and would play Go Fish for hours. I miss the kids who would sing the Wheels on the Bus and make up silly new verses. I even miss the kids who had tantrums in the grocery store. (Well, maybe not those kids.)
Now I have to beg them to write their college essays, stay at the dinner table longer than two minutes, or go apple picking with me. I’m grasping at these last moments hoping for a whiff of the kids that used to love my company.
I worry that I didn’t teach them all the things I wanted to and now it’s too late. Now they can’t hear me. I wish they ate kale. I wish I’d cooked more stir-fries when they were little and ate what was put on their plate without question. I wish they turned their clothing right-side out before they put it in the hamper. I wish they were better at calling their grandparents, writing thank you notes, and opening the doors for others. I wish they truly knew the value of the dollar. I wish I could make them feed the animals, help in the garden or stack wood without threatening and over-paying their minimal labor.
I was going to make all those things happen. It was in my grand plan as a mom. Somehow, the time ran out with no warning. I have to hope I’ve taught them enough. I hope they’re still saying please and thank you when they’re guests in someone else’s house. I hope they are respectful to their teachers and kind to strangers. I hope they are making good choices about who they trust with their friendship and most especially, their love. I hope, beyond hope, that they like who they have become and are confident in their own abilities, intelligence, and future.
It always felt like I had plenty of time to teach them all the things I wanted them to know and do, but the finish line snuck up on me. Or maybe I thought it was still a few years off. Either way, it’s apparent on a daily basis that my control over them, if I ever had any, is tenuous at best.
There are still days when we connect. Days when we appreciate each other and even days when they seek my guidance. I appreciate those moments so much now and regret that I didn’t appreciate the thousands of moments that passed by unnoticed in the last 17 years.
Many older parents tried to warn me that it goes by too fast. I would nod and agree, but I didn’t get it. I truly didn’t. It does go by fast and it’s over before you know it. I can say that until I’m blue in the face, even write an essay about it, but I am certain that no one who is in the throes of potty training or homework slips will believe me.
I round up all the shoes and return them to their cubbies. I wipe down the counter and the jelly off the floor. I load the dishwasher and listen to its faithful hum. I restore the kitchen to order in preparation for their return, promising myself that when they do, I will stay still a little longer and watch them a little closer, savoring these days.