Written by Kortnee With-a-K
dedicated to Kayla & Kara who will always be my babies.
October 22, 2013
The past 22 years of my life have been filled, consumed, and dominated by the joys of parenting. Practically every decision I have made about my own life for over two decades was guided, dictated and motivated by how it would affect my daughters. But yesterday, my younger daughter turned 18. She is officially and legally considered an adult across this giant orb called Earth and I have been granted exile in an empty nest with halls that echo and a sink strangely void of dirty dishes. But in my mind, this freshly hatched adult and her older sister are still my baby girls.
On their 18th birthday, after lavishing them with the customary hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fabulous gifts and prizes, I sat each of them down for a talk. I informed my daughters that an 18th birthday is a rite of a passage for several reasons, most of them obvious, but some more opaque. Rolling their eyes with a sweet smile and awaiting my motherly wisdom, my thoughts are shared as my eyes filled with tears, “Now you will truly begin to understand and know the depth and vastness of my love for you. Up until this point in your life, I was legally and morally obligated to take care of you and provide for you… not to mention all the incredible birthday gifts and parties. Now that you are 18, I no longer HAVE TO do any of that. From this point forward, everything I do for you and give to you is a BONUS. So now, after all these years, you will finally begin to get a tiny inkling of how deeply I adore you and how blessed I am to have you for my daughter.” And having been mine for 18 years, they catch my emotion disguised as satirical wit and throw their arms around my neck crying, “Oh, Mommie, I love you so much too!” I hold them close and wonder for a fleeting moment if somehow I managed to get it all right.
My tongue-in-cheek attitude is valid and all-too-stark upon my heart as I recognize that in addition to my obligations being complete, gone too are my opportunities for exerting my will, preaching morals, and proselytizing my sagacity on all subjects under the sun. With one simple tick of a clock, these moments are gone as well. The first 18 years of life, for the parent of a human being, is a commitment, an obligation, a whirlwind of have-to, must-do, should-do, oughta-do, and gotta-get-it-done. A parent is morally and legally obliged to provide for, care for, pay for, be there for, and ensure the overall well-being of their children. Some parents take this more seriously than others and most “normal” parents take it even more seriously than that. We are not birds who push our fledgling progeny off the edge, watch them fall and let them muddle along in the wild world. Instead we purchase million-dollar hover rigs and develop psychic super-human instincts dedicating our entire existence to our posterity.
I pause to consider that this day, this ceremonial 18th birthday, is perhaps simply another punctuation mark among the exclamation points of broken fingers and toes, the question marks of: why can’t you find your left shoe again; and the ellipses of all those things that were better left unsaid… ?! Parenting is punctuated and lived in chapters and moments; it is experienced in seasons and semesters. The seemingly endless run-on sentence of late night feedings and stinky diapers flashed by in a heartbeat as we landed on our backsides inside a jump castle moon-walk full of tangled pony tails and ampersands. Ten thousand commas, numerous semicolons, countless dollar signs and several asterisks later, I find myself looking behind me at the end of an era. I see a giant parentheses pointing backwards in time that somehow slipped past me in a story that I hardly remember turning the pages.
Today is the definitive closing of a parenthesis that began the moment I dropped my older daughter at her first day of Kindergarten. I cried that day: big tears with heaving sobs. Leaving my Sweet Angel Girl alone and unprotected in that big bad primary school was almost more than this Mommie could bear. Who would ever love her and care for her as much as I did? How would she possibly know that somehow everything would be okay? And what was she going to eat for lunch? Somehow I survived my firstborn’s first day of school and then all-of-a-strangely-suddenly-somehow, a wrinkle in time finds me in tears again on her baby sister’s 18th birthday. Sobbing, shaking and silently wondering all over again who will be her college sentinel.
I’m in a panic as these parentheses slam shut on my daughters’ school years. The time is now gone and I didn’t do enough. I didn’t teach them enough. I didn’t read them enough stories, I didn’t say enough bedtime prayers, I didn’t take them to church often enough, and I most certainly didn’t check their homework folders every night. Did I feed them enough broccoli? Did I take them on enough trips to far-off places? Did I spoil them enough? Did I spoil them too much? Are they scarred for life from those times I lost my temper? Did I let them watch too much TV? Did I remember to tell them to brush their teeth? Will they wash behind their ears? Do they know that I’ll always be right here waiting for them with my arms wide open for them to run to from across the world or wherever they may find themselves…
…And in the very moment I write these words with tears and self-pity streaming down my face…
My heart leaps as I am rescued by love and modern technology. A small miracle has occurred in the middle of my self-doubt. The chiming text tone called “spell” magically and unexpectedly spills from my phone. It is her. It is my very own 18-year-old-adult daughter. The one who greeted her adulthood yesterday by piercing her ear cartilage moments after flashing her I.D. card to buy a lottery ticket. I smile through tears as her text message pops onto my screen from across the universe, “Love you so much, Mommie!” Pausing, I relish the warmth that washes over me. I wipe my tears to finish writing this very sentence and within 10 seconds I hear another tiny miracle sound, this time it is a “harp” tone. It is her older sister, My Sweet Angel Girl. Her sister is texting me too! I have to smile. Beautiful timing.
No, I didn’t do it all right. There were moments and opportunities missed, things I screwed up, library books and shoes lost forever in the trunk of a car…
But the love is what matters. And so, for just a little while, I ‘m going to think that I may have actually gotten it right. Not everything… but the things that matter. Yes the parentheses have closed on this chapter. But it isn’t the end of the story…