This article was published in a family/parenting magazine about three months ago.
When I was thinking of a good title for this article, the first phrase that crossed my mind was “roots to grow and wings to fly.” It’s a phrase that I’ve heard quoted so many times yet, to this day, I still don’t know who said or wrote it first. I searched Google and landed on a newspaper column that I wrote in January 2008 entitled – you guessed it – “Root to Grow and Wings to Fly” (reproduced here). At the time, my daughters were in high school and still living with us, and I wrote: “In a few short years, the girls will be off to college and since we live in the suburb, we’ve discussed so many times, and from various angles, how the college arrangement will be. Will the girls commute? Will both or one of us drive them to school in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon? Will they live in a dorm? Will we give them a car and let them drive?”
The questions were partially answered when our firstborn, Sam, went to college in 2009 and moved to a rented condo unit within walking distance of the school. The questions were fully answered when, a year later, our second and youngest child, Alex, went to college and moved in with her sister. We only see them on weekends.
What is it like? I am a mother who chose to give up my legal career to raise my children. What is it like to have them, talk to them, laugh with them, help them with schoolwork and listen to their troubles, then, suddenly, to live with the reality that there would be no schoolbus arriving at five in the afternoon to deliver them to our doorstep five days a week?
Let me backtrack to 2009 after Sam moved to the rented condo. It was the second week after she had left and Alex was still on her summer vacation. I just finished cooking lunch and, as things go during vacations, the girls are usually still in bed by lunch time. I knocked on Alex’s bedroom door and told her that lunch was ready. Then, I walked farther down the corridor and knocked on Sam’s door. When there was no response, I twisted the door knob, pushed the door open and saw the immaculately made-up but empty bed. It’s difficult to describe how I felt during the next few seconds. Stupid, depressed… I sat on her bed and cried. I don’t know why. It’s too simplistic to say that I missed her because it was more than that. I would cry alone many more times after that, often, in Sam’s bathroom which I started using regularly in her absence.
Three months after Alex moved in with Sam, I was talking about selling our house in the suburb and moving back to the city so that there would be no need for a rented condo and we could all live together. I said – and it is very true – that it would be less expensive because maintaining two households is no joke. I had a lot of other reasons, all of which were valid. But were they the real reasons why I wanted to move back to the city?
One time, my girl friends from the U.P. College of Law were at the house for dinner. We were chatting over our after-dinner drinks and one of my friends, Laly, who is Alex’s godmother, asked how her goddaughter was doing in college. She was doing fine, I said, and I told them about my idea of selling the house and moving back to the city. I said ten years in the hinterlands was quite enough for me. Question, answer, question, answer… Laly’s a lawyer too and, pretty soon, she got me to admit – to myself, especially – why I really wanted to move.
It wasn’t the separation exactly. It wasn’t the fear of not knowing what was going on with the girls everyday. And it certainly wasn’t because I didn’t trust them. Oh, no. I’ve prepared them, I had been preparing them all their lives, and I knew that I had instilled enough in their minds so that they could tell the difference between a thrilling adventure and a foolhardy risk. And it wasn’t like I didn’t know what was going on with them. When they came home on weekends, they would tell stories about school, about their friends, about their after-school gimmicks… When they were in high school, the moment they got home from school, they’d get snacks from the kitchen then proceed to the master bedroom, sit on the bed, munching while chatting about their day in school. It’s the same, really, except that the daily ritual has become a weekly ritual. The truth is, the girls have adjusted well. Except for the first few weeks when I knew that they were adapting to their new situation and surroundings, and going through the expected separation anxiety, I’m happy to know that they’re doing well and enjoying college as I always hoped they would.
No, it wasn’t really for them that I wanted to move. It was for me. I was the one who was finding it difficult to adjust. My days were too long and empty. I who have always abhorred the regularity and predictability of rituals suddenly found myself craving to walk them to the front door when the school bus arrived in the morning, and see them sitting on my bed in the afternoon, eating their snacks and laughing over some silly thing that happened in school. Even cooking wasn’t so much fun when there were no hungry teeners to come home at the end of the day. I’ve been a lot of things in my life – daughter, sister, student, wife, lawyer, writer… but the role I loved and enjoyed the most was being a mother. And I felt that, somehow, I had lost that.
That was some months ago. I am still a mother and I realize that motherhood has many dimensions. My girls are growing up and I need to grow up too. I would still love to move back to the city if we had the opportunity. Heaven knows how I’d love to live near the theaters and the bookstores, and have access to cooking ingredients and tools that they don’t sell here in the boondocks. But there is no longer any sense of urgency because I don’t kid myself anymore that the move is something for the benefit of the girls. I’ve always said that when it was time, they would have their wings to fly and they are showing me how they have taken those wings, how wide they are spreading them and how far they want to fly. I will not hold them back by being a maudlin middle-aged fool.