In honor of Independence Day, here's a meditation on children's independence. Meditation is the wrong word, actually. It's more like a musing - or a moaning.
A week ago we abandoned the rising 6th grader on a muddy hillside, in the rain. The hillside was part of the grounds of her summer camp, but nevertheless, we left her there, shivering.
True, she was wearing a bathing suit and waiting to take a swimming test, but it was raining, and she was shivering, and she wanted us to stay for the test, but the counselors did not, and it did feel like abandonment to me.
Just the weekend before, we dropped off the rising 10th grader at her 5-week summer dance intensive. That one felt less like abandonment, since she gave nary a backward glance as she grabbed the handles of the last haul of goods we brought her – t-shirts, Luna Bars, paper towels, Ritz Crackers – and disappeared down the hall. Besides, at that time, we still had the other one with us for a few more days.
So, as I was saying, we abandoned her to her composting toilets and her bunk, and I was forced to ask myself, Self, why do I insist on encouraging independence in my offspring, when what I most want is for us to live within spitting distance of one another? If this is my definition of successful parenting, then I have to wonder if I’m going about it the wrong way. So then I ask myself, Self, why are other mothers able to find activities for their offspring that take them out of the house for several hours of a summer’s day, but bring them home again of an evening to fill the Sonos system with their strange blend of music and my schedule with their need for rides, while I seem to find places for my children that are miles and hours away from me?
All of this encouraging independence ends up, you know, doing just that. After all, my parents sent me away to camp – and thank God for that. That, along with therapy, and of course an excellent education (which I am not at all sure I’m providing for my children, though I’m sure I’m providing much fodder for therapy), was the equivalent of a brief handshake, a quick smack on the bottom, and a point in the direction of “outtahere.” I haven’t lived near them since I left for college.
Readers, this is most definitely not what I hope for my children; yet I seem unable to provide them anything other than what seemed perfect for me: a place to go where I could be something other than what my parents saw in me, if that was who I was. So they go away places, and I hold my breath and hope they’ll come back. Meanwhile, I envy the people who seem able to keep their offspring close. I want mine to be both independent and near, and that seems paradoxical. Why this focus on independence, anyway? I mean, aren't Europeans doing that family bed thing well into three generations? And they are totally well-adjusted, and don't even have trouble with alcohol. Why am I always saying goodbye to my children? More distressing to me is why are they always saying goodbye to me, and then going? Why aren't they clinging to me and making it impossible for me to remove my ankle from their clutches?
After the camp deposit, we continued north for a “just us” getaway. By “just us” I mean, the husband, me, and my melancholy. We arrived at our inn quite late, and despite having arranged with the innkeepers about getting in, had to ring the bell and wake them. After that, it was just a quick flight up in our charming olde inne, to our bedroom, which has a comfortable bed that is definitely on a slope. But nevermind, because sleep is for the foolish – like the husband, apparently. The wise lie awake at an angle – is it a 4% or a 5% incline? I'm attuned to the degrees, thanks to my StarTrac treadmill at the Y– and replay montages of mud, rain, bedraggled children, sawdust, and composting toilets.
After sunrise, the wise arose, grumpy, and bathed, and ate a continental breakfast of a dubious croissant and cup of tea, while listening to the hacking and sighing of an emphysemic gentleman at the table nearby. He did not expire, which was lucky, because the husband, who is a doctor, would then be forced to do something. I, personally, entertained a brief vision of myself standing over the stricken fellow, whose physique is right out of an A. A. Milne poem illustration, and exclaiming in a bad Quebecois accent, “Monsieur, you are unwell!”
Then we went out into the city, where my mood threatened to improve so much I was afraid I would forget to mention the tiny bathroom that makes our former NYC bathrooms seem spacious, and I wouldn’t want to seem to appreciate what I’ve got, now would I?
© Hope A Perlman July 2013
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