My husband and I started identifying ourselves as “empty-nesters” in October, last year. Daughter #1 was back from Guatemala, where she’d gone to learn Spanish, and had decided to live with her girlfriend instead of us. Daughter #2 had exhausted her 2-year post-school allotment of free room and board, and decided she must move to Washington, D.C. if she ever hoped to work for the State Department. Daughter #3 had finished her degree in Chicago earlier that summer and never came home. She landed a job that most of her friends thought of as a “dream job” — sales rep for a craft brewery. And Daughter #4 had started college in August, technically not gone but now living, for the most part, four hours away. Stepsons #1 and #2 had moved out years ago and seemed unlikely to move back.
October to November was very peaceful and quiet. I learned to like it a lot sooner than I thought I would.
December became very busy with all the holiday preparations. My husband and I debated over whether or not we should bother with decorations. We agreed on having a tree, without question. The lights outside and the extra interior decorations made the cut only because the kids would be home. Newly retired, we had our own agenda and we weren’t eager to squander our time on this.
Christmas was wonderful. I love having my girls home. The boys visited but didn’t stay more than 12 hours at a stretch. Once they left, hubby saw he was greatly outnumbered and retreated to his man cave. So the holidays were mostly girl time with my daughters and their friends and we had a blast. At some point during this time, daughter #3 announced that she was quitting her job drinking beer so she could move back home and work on a new degree. Say, what?
A food intolerance test revealed she has issues with gluten and alcohol. Not only had she gained weight since starting this job but her gastrointestinal system was in revolt and she just couldn’t do it anymore. I tried to talk her out of quitting. Can’t you sell beer without having to drink it? You’re the only one that’s not delivering pizzas or waiting tables. Are you sure you want to give up 401Ks and FSAs? I’d like to say I only had her best interests at heart but the truth is, I was just starting to enjoy this empty nest.
She wanted her room back. I had just turned it into a guest room with twin beds. Ah well, one step forward, one step back. It won’t be forever. Mind you, I only reached this Zen state of mind after a tear-filled, hour-long argument with her. I didn’t want to undo my progress and she didn’t want to feel unwelcome in her childhood home. Once I realized how this was tied to her need to feel secure, I was fine with her moving the furniture and repainting the room.
The truth is, I’ve always had this weird dream of keeping my daughters close. I’m not talking about the marry-and-settle-down-in-the-same-state-as-us kind of close. I’m talking about the I-wish-we-had-our-own-family-commune kind of close. I’d also settle for owning a vast estate with a palatial home that allows each child their own private wing for their family.
I know this isn’t healthy. We’d end up being this insular group of bizarre misfits with their own language who never come down off the mountain, always playing Guesstures and having themed dance parties . I wouldn’t care. I’ve lived a full life and my family are my favorite people in the world and dammit! I like Guesstures and dancing. But if I keep my girls with me, they won’t get to do all the incredible things I know they’re going to do. I didn’t raise them to be such strong independent women just to keep them by my side. Besides, they’d drive me crazy if we all lived together. There’s a lot of drama in a house full of women. (Let us pause here and take a moment to acknowledge my husband, the saint.)
So with one hand I push the kids away and with the other I pull them close. I don’t make myself available for every phone call or text from them but when we’re together we spend whole days just hanging out together and talking. If I were graded by parenting experts I’d probably receive an average score in child rearing. I ‘m not consistent or wise. I’ve overindulged them in some ways but neglected them in others. But they all know without a doubt that they’re loved.
I always thought that if I were to be judged a good mom, it would only be because I loved my children unconditionally. That’s all I can think of to recommend me. But tonight daughter #3 was hanging out with me in the kitchen while I worked. In the midst of juggling a few tasks at once, I paused to rhapsodize like a recovering food addict over the heavenly flavor of the pork roast I was making. She laughed and told me what a good mom I was. I asked her what I had done just now to deserve that praise. She said it was because, not only was I nuturing my family by cooking for them, but I was doing it my own way, enjoying it and owning it, unapologetically.
Huh. Well, it wasn’t the approval vote I expected, but I’ll take it. If my daughter thinks I’m a good mother then I’ve done something right. For whatever reason, the results are in. It’s official and I will allow no take-backs. I am a good mom.