It used to be that during the summer I did more cruise directing than the Activities Coordinator on the Pacific Princess. I had six little ducklings who would follow wherever I led, and I led them everywhere; we'd travel together, we'd picnic together, we'd swim together and at night we'd collapse together on the couch and I'd read them a chapter or two of our latest book.
Boy, have things changed.
This summer there are only four ducklings left in the nest. Two are actually full-fledged drakes, and the other two are growing their flight feathers as fast and furiously as they can. Gone are the days when I rearranged my schedule to accommodate them – now THEY fit US into their schedules when they can find a spare moment. There has been no travel this summer, and few picnics or other outings that include the entire family; our annual Family Campout is coming up, and two of the in-house four will miss all but the last day because they have to work.
I used to dread this. I adore my kids, and I adore being a mom because it means I get to DO things with them. Back in our full-house days (and it's shocking how recently that was, feels like eons ago), Lance used to say worriedly, “Millie, when Joy moves out you're gonna be a mess.” (Joy is the oldest and would, we assumed, be the first to leave the nest; she wasn't, but that's a story for another day.) Actually it was Joy moving out that made the whole idea okay, because . . . even though she lived somewhere else, she was still Joy.
Besides, by that time we hardly ever saw her anyway. You can tell your kids have reached their late teens once you can recognize them more quickly from the back than you can from the front – they're always out or on their way out. Our “babies” are fifteen and sixteen, and if they're not volunteering they're out riding bikes or playing basketball, and if they're not out doing that they're at a rehearsal for something, and if they're not out doing that they're off with friends or at yet another birthday/ slumber party. If they're not gadding about they're asleep. The college kids are even more elusive, because they can stay out all day and half the night – so they do.
How do I handle this?
Well, first, I rejoice. My kids are healthy and active and social, so even though I am sometimes very nostalgic for those “get in the car, we're going to the zoo!” days, the fact that they're becoming more independent all the time means that I'm doing my job right. We raise our ducklings from the beginning with one eye on the day they'll fly away, after all; that would be a pretty awful day if there hadn't been some gradual loosening of the ties first.
Secondly, we have trained them well so even though we may not be together, we keep tabs on each other. That's fairly easy in these days of cell phones, but beyond that we have a few firm house rules: Let people know where you're going, call home if your plans change and no one under the age of 18 is allowed to be in a house where there is no parental supervision. Lance and I follow these rules, too. It's just good sense, no matter your relative ages: If they need backup they need to know how to get in touch with you, and you need to know how to get to them. (By the way, this is one of the great unsung benefits that comes with having adult children: All of a sudden, you have backup! That's pretty great.)
Finally, I try to get my own life. I had one, once, B.C. (Before Children). I am still in the school volunteer – homework helper – visits to the dentist/ pediatrician / optometrist stage of motherhood, but it is fading fast. I can see the time coming when my most important Motherly function is going to be remaining on “standby” in case they get stranded or stuck. I don't have the time to pursue anything yet – having four kids with four schedules is like having a nursing baby, you just sit down to focus on something and you're NEEDED again – but I'm working on it.
Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the Chaos Years. When they're over, my kids will be “visiting” when they're with me, not “home” - and that day will be here soon enough.