I’ve never really had “peers.” When I was in my twenties and having kids, most of my peers were doing normal stuff for 20-year-olds, so I couldn’t relate to them. I couldn’t hang out with classmates at university, because I had responsibilities at home, and none of my classmates wanted to hang out with me and my kids because…well, that’s no fun for most twenty-somethings without kids.
As my kids got older, I made friends with other parents, but especially when my oldest was in school, the other parents were significantly older than me, and, once again, I couldn’t relate. I was not in the same place financially as most of them, and couldn’t participate in some of their outside-of-school activities. I made a couple of lasting friends, rare people, but by and large, I didn’t have peers in that period of my life either.
Now I’m about to send my last wee bairn off to college, and the people with whom I have contact–people my age, my friends–are once again removed from me, separated by our foreign experiences. Because I am preparing to move my life out to Portland immediately after our youngest child has started school, there’s a sense from my “peers” that I am somehow abandoning my child for selfish purposes. A hushed but audible gasp comes from people to whom we relate the story of our plans, as if we are embarking on a mission to the moon, or dropping our kids on the side of the road with a box of Cheetos and a crudely drawn map to the next filling station. “How could you?” their eyes ask, as their mouths form words of wonder at our boldness.
But what they don’t grasp is how far ahead in our mental and emotional development we are on this subject. Our starting point was a full ten years ahead of theirs, and our reservoir of patience is running low. Not patience for the kids, who are, at this point, much more enjoyable and exciting to be around, but patience for our own lives to begin. We’ve been waiting, setting aside our needs and drives and sense of who we are in the world, feeding instead their dreams and goals and desires and giving them the life, the start we know they need. And we feel that we’ve done a pretty good job, especially given some difficult circumstances.
And that may be the crux of my frustration with this attitude. I am no saint. My husband is no saint. We’re not perfect. But by God, we’ve faced some awful things in our life together, from two divorces (one ugly, one not), a nasty custody battle involving endless court appearances, resulting serious financial difficulties, multiple surgeries for one of our children, another child who suffered alone (we had no idea) in a hell crafted for him by an irresponsible parent, medical problems that went unaddressed for years, and now, finally, a prolonged separation. And through that all, we’ve raised three kids who, while not necessarily future Presidents of the United States, are more than reasonable human beings. They’re kind, intelligent, each of them has a great sense of humor, and they’re all in different stages of learning how to stand on their own two feet. We worked hard to make sure these kids got through without major damage. On that front, we feel like we did a pretty good job.
And so now, it’s our turn. Yes, the timing of the move out to Portland would have been better if we could have waited a year. But the job happened when it did. We took a chance on a long shot, and it paid off. Now. Not in a year.
The youngest child will certainly not be without support when he goes to college. He will always be able to call us, and if his need is great, one of us will–without hesitation–be by his side, just like we have been (and would be) for his two older siblings. His grandparents will be less than 2 hours away, and will also jump if he needs them. His bio-mother is relatively nearby. If his Cheetos run out, he will not want for food.
But it is–finally–our turn. It’s time. Those years of “sacrifice” were worth it for everything our children have become, and I wouldn’t trade anything for those years. I got to be an energetic young mom with my energetic son, I got to be with my daughter when she needed me most, and I have had the chance to be the mother our youngest needed in his time of crisis. But now, please understand, it’s our turn.
Please. Drop the horrified looks and realize that we also deserve a little of what we’ve already given our kids: we deserve the chance to be ourselves.
Meg Currell apologizes for not being willing to succumb to the sorrow and loneliness of being an empty-nester.