August 27, 2009
Helping my daughter pack up her apartment in Manteo, NC to prepare for a move to Maryland over the weekend marked yet another milestone in my ever diminishing role in life as a mother. That makes the third this year – many more and my mommy gene, which has already shrunk to the size of a malnourished pea, will be unrecognizable from its once robust self.) Compared to the previous two events, one being her college graduation in May and the other, a mere fortnight later, her wailing the words “wine, man, mistake” into the phone from 2100 miles away without a trace of irony, this latest seems relatively minor. How else to explain the blasé attitude of everyone around me? No one, not even those directly related, seems to understand the import and effect of this change. Not my husband, who simply pats my head and says, “Poor Annie,” nor my daughter, who pats my head in exactly the same way and says (in a tone more pleased than commiserate), “Poor li’l Mommy.” Others – to whom I turn but don’t generally rely on for emotional support and it’s a damn good thing – are just as clueless. My mother, who never wanted to be a parent in the first place and so cannot understand how liberation from one’s child could be anything but cause for lengthy celebration, tells me to get over it. My brother, whose daughters, at the ages of 20 and 28, still live at home, tells me I’ve always been too close to Lauren. (That is, he says, the downfall of birthing but one child.) Even my friends, many of who are in the same situation and so seem to understand but are, like everyone else, busy with their own milestones, greet any attempts at self-absorbed whining on my part with tales of their own woe. Then there is my husband’s family, important to this tale because in the process of moving away from her parental home, my only child has moved closer to that of my in-laws.
But back to the weekend:
I spent most of Friday afternoon weeping. In between I stripped Lauren’s bed here at home, washed what few items of adolescent-era clothing that still remained in her closet, packed up a few books and folded it all into giant plastic trash bags. The next day, her father and I drove seven hours through a driving, eternal rainstorm, spent the night in an overpriced (but lovely) inn in Manteo, got up at 8am to help her pack up her VW Beetle (in the continuing rain) and then treated her to a hasty lunch, after which she said goodbye and headed for Maryland – land of her birth and home of several generations of Maiers – not one of them her mother.
I understand, of course, that all children grow up and move away – that is after all what we raise them to do. If they can’t we worry over whatever issue(s) makes autonomy impossible and if they don’t we bitch about their reluctance to be responsible adults. And Lauren has always been frighteningly independent, starting at age three when she informed me, quite cheerfully, that she would be moving out as soon as possible. But it’s not like she simply headed north for an apartment close to her job or a room in some random stranger’s house – she’s actually living with her grandmother (and aunt and ten-year-old cousin). Now, I adore Billy’s mother. At 89 years old, she still follows the Baltimore Orioles, keeps a lovely garden and works one day a week at an auto parts store. My niece, Anna, is also extremely high on my list of favorite people. And though my relationship with my sister-in-law is a bit stickier, I trust her implicitly with my child.
Except that my child isn’t a child. She’s a young woman who has, for the last five years, lived on her own, coming and going and dreaming at will. Aside from school, she’s lived in England, traveled to Scotland, Greece and Turkey, spent two summers in Brevard and one on Roanoke Island. She’s stretched and grown in ways that amaze me. And make me proud. And I cannot stand the thought that anything might come between her and newfound independence.
I know from experience that the Maiers, for all their warmth and loveliness, are a straight-laced, righteous lot, following all rules (particularly those of the Catholic church – which Lauren, her father and I have studiously avoided for several years), and just as eagerly upholding them. Which leaves me torn: Even as I let Lauren go, I have an overwhelming desire to protect her, as I always have, from those who say “No.” Not no you can’t stick a pen in that socket, or turn your music so high grandma’s ears bleed or move that guy into the basement. But no you can’t run, leap, stretch, try, fail, fall, hurt yourself. No you can’t google Wicca, talk to strangers, walk to work. I want to protect her from what Joseph Campbell calls “Thou Shalt” (as in shalt not); from religious repression, institutional dogma, cultural sophistication and societal demands for conformity. From caution and hesitancy and empty obligation. I want to spare her the suffocation of my own youth (and even adulthood). I want her to be a decent, kind, productive human being, but I also want her to continue to grow in as many directions possible. So while part of me, the mature-Mommy part (remember, it’s shrinking!) is grateful that she will have a safe haven in Washington and that she will get to spend time with her grandmother, aunt and niece at this stage in all of their lives, another part, a larger part, wants her back on her own, safe in the knowledge that nothing, nothing is more important than her dreams.