There are a lot of words pinging around in that space inside my head -- sometimes they come together and make some kind of sense. When they do, I put them here, to make room for more.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Childhood: done

It’s taken almost 17 years, but it suddenly hit me last night: this was my daughter’s childhood. And it’s just about over.

We were cleaning her pet rat’s cage – for the last time, I was hoping. Seriously, I love that little furry critter, but it’s getting to the end of its natural life, and, given their lifespan, we won’t be getting more. I don’t want to be left raising rats after my daughter is gone herself. Nope, I’m scaling back, preparing to have one less kid around.

And that’s when I realized she was done. Done raising rats, done being raised herself. Of course, I know that’s not REALLY true, and that she’ll still need guidance and love and all that. But the bulk of her childhood is over, and I’m left hoping I did it right. And a little terrified that I haven’t.

I don’t really plan; I more fly by the seat of my pants. But still, I had a vague idea early on of what my kids’ childhoods would look like, mostly loosely based on a smoothed out version of my own. And for the most part it’s gone along that way. But I haven’t really questioned whether it was the right way, until now. A little late, I know. And so I find myself frantically examining the life they’ve led, wondering what I’ve left out, in leaving it to chance.

What can, or should, I add in now? Have we done enough bonding activities? Have I been around enough to be there for her, or too much, not giving her enough independence? Has she learned how to stand up for herself, be her own person, and to cook enough not to starve? Is she truly ready to go forth and meet the world on her terms?

I have no idea. I’m hoping: hoping she doesn’t end up on a therapist’s couch, lamenting all the ways I’ve let her down. Hoping she’s strong enough to navigate the world without getting sucked down into it.

You know, they leave us by increments, starting with that first step, and then moving to their first sleepover, first bus ride, first boyfriend, yada yada yada. So small you don’t even notice. Until you do.

This is what flying by the seat of your pants gets you, unlike those organized people who had a plan and followed through, whose kids, I have no doubt, had happy, lovely, carefree childhoods with all kinds of happy memories and appropriate life lessons. I’ll be the parent frantically cramming in those last-minute things right up until I drop her in her dorm room, I’m sure.

Last night I realized I can see the finish line, the point where I stay here while she keeps going. I don’t think I’m ready – who ever is, really? – but I’m thinking of all the things I think I can do in the time I have left. I just have to plan.