There comes a day as a parent when the pendulum swings towards your child becoming a full-grown adult.
The world tilts a little and the pendulum stays there, never returning to childhood again.
I look at my daughter’s face and see barely a whisper of the little girl who once reached for me with chubby hands and a baby toothed grin – her nails are manicured, her teeth are straight and white. Her face is now all cheekbones and eyeliner.
The little boy with scraped knees and eyeglasses perpetually in need of adjusting is now a grown man with two jobs.
The day I could see that my daughter was all grown up was the day she gave me this gift.
There was no reason for it. It wasn’t Mother’s Day, or my birthday. She saw it, bought it, wrapped it and handed it to me with such joy – “Look Mom! Look what I got for you!”
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It’s not easy to face the fact that your children are gone – and not just from your empty nest. It doesn’t happen in a burst of adulthood on one of the momentous days we record for posterity. It doesn’t happen when they first venture out into the world on their own. It’s when the phone calls become less frequent, the questions about real life become more profound, the visits are less about coming home and more about spending time together.
It’s the first time you turn to your child and say “I’m having a hard time. I’m feeling down. Can you help me?” And with the ease and maturity of a young adult, your child does.
My daughter gave me a gift much like I often do for her – for no reason other than to let me know she loves me. I did that sometimes for my children when they were growing up, to let them know that during the course of the day, while they were off managing the daily challenges of growing up, I was thinking of them.
One time when my son was a young boy he asked me a question of great importance, his big green eyes suddenly curious.
“What do you do all day while I’m at school?”
It occurred to me that he probably imagined me sitting quietly in our house, waiting the 6 hours between drop off and pickup until I would be there, as always, waiting for him with a snack and a drink, knowing how hungry he’d be at the end of the day. But of course he did. What other purpose does a 6 year old boy see for his stay-at-home mom but to care for him?
As my children have grown into adults, I’ve also grown into someone I’ve never been before. As they’ve left their childhoods behind I’ve moved past being mommy into something…else. I’ll always be their mother, but now I’m many other things – not just in the world, but in their eyes.
While my son was home visiting last month, I cut up an apple and brought it to him. He looked up with delight and surprise.
“Thank you!” he said.
How many apples have I sliced up for him over his lifetime? How ordinary was that, for so many years? This time it was a different sort of thing – not the mundane act of a mother raising her child, but the simple generosity of one adult giving to another. Here, here is an apple, sliced carefully, all of the pits removed, just the sweetest part. Not because I’m your mother and am responsible for your nourishment, but because I love you and want to do something to make you smile.
It’s the giving and appreciating of love, without obligation, that marks the true onset of adulthood. It’s the generosity of the heart that separates the child from the grown-up. It’s recognizing the adults who have known and loved you all your life as vulnerable, complicated individuals. It’s the awareness of the inner lives of others.
The pendulum has swung, as it should. My world has shifted, as it must. My children are gone, as they should be. In their place are two adults who give me gifts I cherish.