Sure, I read the parenting books that told me my job as a parent was to help my children grow up to be independent adults, and to send them happily off to make their way in the world.
It all sounded easy on paper, and in the early throngs of motherhood when I would have sold my soul for an uninterrupted night of sleep, it even sounded desirable.
But that was then.
Now that my two girls are both on the cusp of branching out into independent lives, it has become quite another story. A new story I am desperately struggling to rewrite into one with a much happier ending, at least for me. A new tale in which they stay happily ensconced in our family home with me as their beloved matriarch; until I no longer need them.
That’s right. Me, need them.
I have spent so many hours, days, months, and years with their lives completely intertwined with my own, it has become impossible for me to comprehend a new reality that does not include them on a yearly, monthly, daily, and hourly basis. They have been the reason for ninety-nine percent of everything I have done for so long, I find myself at a loss to decipher exactly what my purpose is now supposed to be.
This past summer my youngest moved out with her boyfriend for the relatively short period of eight weeks, mostly for the convenience of commuting to her summer job, but also to try on the mantle of independence. She is doing quite well. I, however, am not. Four a.m. seems to be my personal witching hour. In the black of night my racing heart pulls me from the depths of sleep. I wake in a panic; pulse throbbing in my temples, and the worry begins. Is she safe? Was this the right move for her? Will he break her heart? And finally, the kicker: why does she not need me like I need her?
My baby is gone.
My baby is looking to someone else for guidance and support.
My baby is growing up and away from me.
She will return in the fall to continue her studies at university, but then it will be even harder for me to keep at arms length. She has proven herself capable of surviving on her own, so how to stop myself from stepping in and trying to take charge again?
I’m not quite sure how our relationship is going to survive this new reality.
And, just when I have begun to accept this foreshadowing of things to come, my oldest tells me she has been looking for an apartment.
My heart, still reeling from my youngest daughter’s departure, now stutters in panic at the thought of losing another.
I am torn. Proud that my girl is self sufficient enough, both financially and emotionally, to consider this move but devastated that she is now financially and emotionally independent enough to consider this move.
Where is the instruction manual that would have prepared me for this? Telling me my job is to prepare my children to move forward into their own independent lives is useless. That part I understand. What I need to know now, is how to accept that they have reached that point.
Why is it that the majority of parenting books are focused on mothering children from birth to the toddler years? As far as I’m concerned that was the easy part, and a job at which I excelled. I was a great mother; creative, compassionate, caring and above all, involved.
My heart wants to continue to be all those things. It does not know how to stop. Some parts will still be acceptable to my children; that last bit? Not so much.
So now what? Shouldn’t there be some rulebook for us menopausal mothers? Some wonderful tome filled with sage advice to assist us in this transition?
Maybe I’ll have to write that book myself, and then when that middle-of-the-night witching hour arrives, I won’t be worrying, I’ll be writing.
Leslie Wibberley is physiotherapist by profession, a slightly maddened mother to two outstanding young women and one slightly insane cocker spaniel, and wife to a loving and extremely tolerant husband. Writing has always been her passion but one she has only recently re-committed her life to. With one middle grade novel complete, one young adult novel in the throngs of revision, and numerous short stories and personal essays lying in repose in her beloved MacBook Air, she is now proud to call herself a writer. Her article RAISING A CHILD WITH SPECIAL NEEDS, A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE recently won 6th place in Writer’s Digest annual contest.
don’t confine her to a day of the week or give her the burdens of a childless queen rescued by crocodiles Auguste said names could slide you into a destiny
choose with abandon –then-
buoyed with the well wishes of rejected sages
a name for our new baby girl
one that lets her raise herself from denial’s pit
free from the weight of having birthed the world
even against the counsel of tradition
in the face of greedy censure, masked and ancient
hungry to consume light
he wanted to take a chance
as much for himself as for you
to place you in a basket
swaddled in name
bound in our faith
that you would float into a grand adventure
we gave you to Isabella,
coal black, six-feet, steaming in her own appetites
because she staked a claim on self
hoisted by the gravity of her own cravings
to announce her arrival
and that is what we wished for you
a bodacious declaration of self
because armed with this
you can traverse the world in love
Octavia McBride-Ahebee’s work has appeared in many journals and anthologies including For Harriet, Raising Lilly Ledbetter; Women Poets Occupy the Workplace, Yellow Medicine, South Philly Fiction, Blackberry Magazine, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Kindling, Damazine; A Literary Journal of the Muslim World, Fingernails Across The Chalkboard: Poetry And Prose on HIV/AIDS From the Black Diaspora, Under Our Skin: Literature of Breast Cancer, Sea Breeze- A Journal of Contemporary Liberian Writing, The Journal of the National Medical Association, Art in Medicine Section, International Quarterly; Faces of the Americas and the Beloit Poetry Journal. Her poetry collections include Assuming Voices and Where My Birthmark Dances.
When my son was two months old, lightning struck Mount Charleston, the highest peak of the Spring Mountains range, and caused a forest fire thirty minutes northwest of our home. Responders tried to contain it, but it quickly spread and proved monstrous, raging for weeks before it was immobilized. A dark smoke cloud blanketed the sky above our house. Solid blue peeked around the edges, taunting us with the sunlight we were missing, while tiny flecks of ash fell like snow flurries in the burnt-scented air. In the evenings, when my husband and I would have ordinarily taken the baby for his stroller walk and let the outdoors absorb some of his colic-wrath, the sun turned blood red.
It made me nervous, not just because of the air quality or ominous view. I worried that I had somehow willed the environment to metamorphose itself to match my emotional state. Now it was seared, and in an endless cycle of damage, just like me.
Every day that summer, when afternoon trembled into evening, our newborn shifted his daily cries of discomfort to full-blown rage. They started as a complaint, built to a fretful fussing, then erupted in blaring screams. I could recognize their sonorous rhythm—two long wails, four short punctuating shrieks, one that sounded like a period at the end of a sentence, followed by the loudest one that reintroduced the cadence. The vein on his right temple would grow three-dimensional and dark as he stared skyward and poured adult-sized tears.
Colic is still something of a mystery in the medical and parenting worlds. Nowadays it’s mostly agreed upon as a digestive problem, but no one knows why some babies suffer from it and others don’t. Aside from a few options of occasionally effective over-the-counter drops, there is no real cure or method of prevention.
Guilt, I found, is the most prevalent side effect in mothers. Guilt for the inability to fully relieve your baby of his pain when you’d gladly take it on yourself. Guilt for your lack of coping skills when you have an otherwise healthy baby with no legitimate medical problems. Guilt for snapping at your husband for no reason. Guilt for wanting to disappear.
Three weeks after my son was born, I was invited to brunch by a group of friends and acquaintances. It was my first time away from him. I tried to shield my reality from the other women, feeling I was somehow complicit. My baby had shared my body since the beginning of his existence. If blame rested with anyone, it rested with me.
I wore sunglasses not just to shade my eyes from the shine on the restaurant’s bright patio but to hide the fact that they were glassy and lifeless as buttons. I fastened my pink cardigan across my chest to conceal my asymmetrical breasts, one engorged and perpetually trickling milk.
One of the women I didn’t know well mentioned that her son, now six months old, had suffered from colic. She was still alive, I noted. And sane. I leaned toward her, desperation steaming from my every pore.
“What did you do?” I half whispered, half hissed, as though I supposed she had some secret antidote to prescribe.
She smiled. “There’s really nothing you can do,” she said. “If there was some big trick to stopping colic, the whole world would know about it. There were a few things that worked some of the time—holding him and bouncing on an exercise ball, walking around the block with him strapped to my chest. Nothing worked all the time, though. As bad as it sounds, I would practically throw him to my husband as soon as he’d walk in the door from work.”
I groaned and looked down at the Hollandaise sauce on my plate.
“It doesn’t last forever,” she said. “Three months or so. Then it’s gone.”
But my son was only three weeks old. Had she forgotten that, from my side of the table, three months was an eternity?
At least she was a veteran, one of the few who had lived through the fray. The solidarity I felt with this woman, whom I barely knew, now surpassed that of friends and relatives whose children hadn’t had colic. I was convinced that the parents of silent babies I encountered in public were out to get me. They existed solely to advertise to the world what babies were supposed to be like, silently proclaiming what I knew to be true—we, my son and I, were flawed. Abnormal.
Though never uttered in my presence once I became a mother, a phrase I’d grown up hearing everywhere came to mind: Good baby. What a good baby. He’s such a good, quiet baby. We’re so lucky; she’s a good baby.
Which only meant that loud, discontented, restless babies were not good.
Too late, I learned that the worst of colic usually occurs between six and eight weeks of age. Before my son was born, I had scheduled his baptism for seven weeks old.
Relatives flew in from the other side of the country to see this angry child, donning a crisp, old-fashioned-style baptismal gown from Lord & Taylor, be welcomed into the church. I nursed him on a plastic chair in the ladies’ room before the service, but the calm I had intended didn’t last.
He cried during the opening song. He cried when the priest asked for his name. He cried when his godmother, my best friend, dutifully carried him to the baptismal font. During the latter half of Mass, my husband took him to a utility closet where he could have dark and quiet, rocking him until he passed out. The guests were gracious back at our home, where we drank Bellinis and ate lox and bagels and fresh peach cake, but I knew none of them had ever seen such an unhappy baby.
No, my baby could not stop crying. But then neither could I.
I cried as I ran my gamut of parlor tricks, sometimes landing on one that would quell his screams, if only for a few minutes.
I cried when I had five minutes a day to myself in the shower, listening to my husband try to calm him in the living room while my tear ducts and milk ducts expelled liquid with as much ferocity as the shower head.
I cried for his pain and his overshadowed beauty.
I cried for my old life and the resulting self-abhorrence.
I cried for my marriage, the edges of which we could both feel begin to singe and curl like paper held above a flame.
I cried for my own mother two thousand miles away.
I cried from exhaustion while I nursed, gazing down at the finally content, nuzzling form oblivious to my tears splashing his newborn hair that looked like dewy grass in the darkness.
I cried for motherhood and my unpreparedness for it.
I didn’t know yet that my son’s colic would subside when he was four months old. I didn’t know that the baby in our future would giggle when his father lifted him high in the air, squeal with excitement when he saw a dog, and smile at every relative who held him on Thanksgiving. That his contemplative but humorous personality would emerge and soothe my shell-shocked soul like a balm.
I knew none of this, and couldn’t have pictured it if I had. But by autumn, we took him for his first hike on Mount Charleston, of which nearly twenty-eight thousand acres had been charred. From his perch on my husband’s chest, our son seemed to give equal, wide-eyed reverence to the darkened skeletal remains of bristlecone pines as to the brilliant gold foliage of undisturbed Aspen trees.
Caroline Horwitz has an MFA in creative writing from Chatham University. Her work has appeared in publications such as Animal, Lowestoft Chronicle, The Summerset Review, and Nevada Magazine, among others. She lives in Las Vegas with her husband and son.
I know this title seems obvious, but it bears stating. Sometimes, teachers need to remember that the annoying, obnoxious, head-splitting monster sitting in their classrooms is someone’s darling baby. Keeping that in mind helps a teacher approach students with lovingkindness. Of course, expectations must be set. Redirects are launched. Rules are followed.
But, when we teachers remember that each and every one of these students is the love of a parent’s life, patience is better followed. And patience is something every teacher practices on a moment-to-moment basis. Deep breath. Consider, then speak. Are comments intended to help a child succeed? Is criticism provided to strengthen a student’s skills? This is the role of a “good” teacher.
Our job is to not demoralize a student, but to build him/her up. And children have bad days, too. There are family dynamics that must be considered. Kids come to the classroom not in a vacuum, but in context. I used to tell my high school juniors when they came into my classroom wailing about having a fight with their mamas, “Good. You need to have conflicts with your moms. How else are they going to let you leave for college? If you had a perfect relationship with absolutely no problems, mamas would never let you leave the nest. Fly, birdie, fly.”
That may seem unnecessarily flippant, but it’s true. As my child transitions into adolescence, I realize that his autonomous, growing-up self is striving for the independence he needs in order to leave home. I have many moments when I tilt my head at his behaviors. He makes mistakes. He errs in judgment. But, he’s learning. He’s maturing and growing and testing out his new independence.
However, in the process, I pray each and every one of his teachers see the darling baby I still see in his eyes. He may be five foot nine inches tall and awkward and gangly… but he was once a squishy, yummy baby. He’s still MY baby.
And that reminds me… each and every one of my students is someone’s baby, too.
Elizabeth Beck is a mother and a teacher. She is the author of two books of poetry. In 2011, she founded The Teen Howl Poetry Series that serves the youth of central Kentucky. For more information about Elizabeth, please visit: elizbeck.com