I heard a loud “whump!” last Friday. It was the sound of another chapter of my life coming to a close.
My son just graduated from college. My daughter graduated from college a year ago. The era of having college-age children started with my daughter’s entrance to college in the fall of 2011 and ended with my son’s commencement in the spring of 2016. They were born 18 months apart and my son was a year behind my daughter in school. That 18 month apart thing was a really good arrangement – until right now, with everything suddenly being over.
My daughter and son were the best of friends and they enjoyed doing everything together. As a stay-at-home mom, they were the best entertainment I could ask for. My daughter was very advanced for her age and began talking at nine months. By the time her little brother came along and started talking around 11 months, she was almost 2 ½ years old and was able to translate his baby language for me. He would smile when I handed him whatever my daughter told me to give him so I assumed she was translating accurately; if not, he didn’t seem to mind. When she was four years old she often said that her little brother was “the genius of gentle” and that she loved hanging out with someone so kind. Her understanding of a “kind” person at that age was someone who did whatever she said. As my son got older he wanted to be doing everything his super smart sister was doing. Lucky for him, she loved playing “school” and she was very eager to teach him everything she knew. I didn’t bother correcting her when she told him that ‘official’ meant ‘fun,’ that artists work in ‘artifacts,’ that God made striped snakes because he wanted them to look like garden hoses, that people with black bruises are ‘gothlic’ . . . because I was too busy trying to suppress my laughter. My son was also very advanced for his age and when he was a toddler he did his best to surpass his sister’s knowledge. She was very competitive though, and refused to be outdone by him. As a result, she consumed information even faster. So then my son consumed information at a faster pace to try to keep up with her. They continued racing with each other toward the goal of knowing the most. Daily, I watched iron sharpen iron – iron with strawberry blonde hair and chubby cheeks, that is. When he turned four, my son sighed and asked if he would catch up to his sister when he turned seven. When she wasn’t focused on outperforming her little brother, my daughter still took time to teach him things. Without my awareness, when she was almost seven years old, she took the training wheels off of her 5 ½ year-old brother’s bike so he could be more grown up like her. After she successfully taught him to ride a two-wheeler, he used his new skill to attempt to run her over at every opportunity.
With their super accelerated, competitive pace, it has felt like every phase with my children ended as quickly as it began. While it seemed like the infancy phase – with all of the sleeplessness, yucky diaper changes, painful breast feeding, crying (done mostly by me) went on forever, all of the other phases seemed to end just as I was getting the hang of things. I truly enjoyed playing with toddlers; entertaining pre schoolers; inspiring elementary schoolers; chauffering middle schoolers; sharing vehicles with high schoolers; remotely facilitating college experiences . . .
I was determined to not only enjoy, but carry out to the best of my ability the chapter of my life about having children. It started in November 1992 when I became pregnant with my daughter and ended after my son’s college commencement in 2016, when he drove away to his new career and new home on the west coast. That chapter with my kids was 8,453 days long. In addition to laughing with them daily, raising independent children was my goal throughout our journey together. I guess I accomplished that goal, because now, a little over 23 years after I began this odyssey with my first pregnancy, I find myself at the end of a road where I’m looking off into the distance and see my adult children successfully navigating their lives. There aren’t any pages left for me to write in that “having children” chapter.
My daughter stepped off the pages of my story a year ago. So, because her little brother is always one step behind her I had ample warning that this part of my life would soon be coming to a close. But it still feels abrupt; 283 months with my children under my care wasn’t quite enough. All good things have to end at some point and they’re both writing their own stories now. It’s good for them to move forward – it’s what they always strove to do. And because I want them to pursue other relationships that help them continue growing as people, I actually hope I won’t be a main character on the pages they choose to write from this point on. But I do hope that, on occasion, I appear in the footnotes of the stories they write as the person who: facilitated their passion for learning; removed all of the walls and ceilings around them; made up stories about entertaining places for them at bedtime; put funny notes in their lunch bags so they could laugh each day; created constant adventures to combat boredom; pointed out the oddities in the world to challenge their way of thinking; planted the idea that they could go anywhere and be anything; sewed wings on their backs and encouraged them to someday fly off to their own lives . . .
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© 2016 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
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