And so it is done. Fini. The last of my brood of five has graduated from college, accepted a job and found an apartment. He is off my payroll.
I thought this day would never come, and now it has, seemingly too soon even as it was much-awaited. Allow me to take a bow. I feel I deserve it.
After my children’s father died almost 21 years ago, I clung to one singular goal: Raise and educate our kids as best as I could. I brooked no dissent in this, accepted no difference in opinion, however small. And though some teens tend to be more mutinous than others, I never loosened my grip on the wheel nor lost sight of the horizon. Examine the scars for proof. Check out the blisters.
It paid off, though. They’re intelligent, well-educated, independent adults now, but they’re also good, caring individuals, which is what truly matters. In the end, it’s better to have values than wealth, though life is richer with both.
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I didn’t do this alone, of course, not by a long shot. I had help, lots of it from my family, from The Hubby, their stepfather, from accommodating bosses and friends who occasionally pitched in. A colleague, the tender-hearted humorist Dave Barry and wife Michelle Kaufman, organized a fundraiser two decades earlier to seed prepaid college tuition accounts.
How true that it takes a village, no? Yet, at times I thought I wouldn’t make it. My energy flagged and my patience … well, shortages were duly noted by the ones most affected.
Recently I figured out that I’ve spent all my adult life parenting, tying the tail end of my youngest sons with the advent of my granddaughters. Empty nest? What’s that?
I now look back at those years — the countless harried days and homework-filled evenings, the penny-pinching for braces, eyeglasses and sports paraphernalia, the absolute and total exhaustion that defines mothering — and I realize what every parent has considered at some point or another: Too much, this is too much. Responsibilities can overwhelm and bury and, frankly, there were times I noticed, not without resentment, friends who traveled, friends with time to spare, friends with more money to spend on themselves.
Nurturing envy, however, became as exhausting as the work of child-rearing, and I learned to press on without that load. Frankly, I slogged through, pushed past, plodded along. Blinkers and one foot in front of another got me to this point.
Yet, every ending ushers a beginning, every beginning a challenge. My role as a mother hasn’t finished, only evolved. I’m requested — and needed — in different ways now. I’m more advisor than prime minister, more designated hitter than starting batter. As a result I try to opine less and listen more, though this isn’t easy. (Scratch that. It’s dang difficult.)
Now I’m free, sort of, kind of, but it’s a freedom tempered with breath-robbing nostalgia, with a sense that some big life test is over and ready to be graded. I’ve long believed that my lasting legacy — any parent’s, really — will not be a large inheritance, or a respectably solid career, or (in my case) a few books and thousands of columns and articles. My children are my most important achievement. Judge me then by what kind of people they become, by what you can find in the deepest recesses of their hearts.