Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week I’m sharing about my oldest turning eighteen.
I dreamt of this day, but somehow it always seemed such a long way off. During the diaper and stroller days, and the sticking band-aids on boo boos (and imaginary boo boos), and reassuring during the awkward braces stage, it’s hard to believe that one day it may all be over.
And it is. Last weekend my oldest child turned eighteen.
She’s got a year of university behind her already, and she’s working full-time to earn a pile of money this semester, all with the goal of moving out next September. My baby is flying out of the nest.
People say that time goes by so fast the older you get, but I don’t feel as if the last eighteen years have been a whirlwind. Instead, it’s more that I forget what life was like before she entered the world. When Rebecca was born, who I am today was born, too. I became a Mom.
To be a mom is to have your heart permanently walk around outside your body. You never dreamed that you could love someone this much, but when you look into those little eyes you realize that you are staring into the rest of your life. Certainly that means that you notice threats where you never noticed them before; I spent four years in downtown Toronto teaching Rebecca the mantra: “Cars are bigger than Beccas!”, so that she would learn to be careful on the streets. Every stranger is a potential abductor. Kitchen utensils are ominous.
Yet it is not the fear that I remember as much as it is the wonder of discovery. Having a child makes you see the beauty of the world again. A child loves those pesky seagulls—they fly when you run towards them. They laugh at squirrels. They’re fascinated by dandelions, and worms, and rainbows. Now, wherever I go, I’m always a little melancholy if I’m by myself, because I think, “Rebecca would love this.”
This world has become bigger because it is a place where she can explore, and discover, and leave her mark. And, that, I think, is also what is most exciting about this period of our lives. As she leaves home, I’m excited to see what she will choose to be, what she will choose to do, whom she will choose to love. I struggled with that for a time in her teen years; she is so much like me—she looks like me, and she acts so much like me—that I found myself taking her successes and her disappointments a little too personally, as if I were the one reliving teenagehood (though the very thought of reliving those years gives me the willies).
But we’ve both grown up recently. I have many regrets, but I can’t change that now. I did the best I could do, and she did the rest. She is who she is, and I am who I am. She doesn’t need someone to tell her what to do anymore; she just needs a cheerleader, and a confidante, and hopefully someone who will show up on her doorstep with food every now and then.
As this is published we’ll be in an airplane together, heading down to Mexico for a week to celebrate her adulthood. I considered doing something profound—bringing photo albums and journals so that we could mark this moment with the gravity it deserves. But I left them at home. Instead, we’re bringing snorkel gear. We’ll discover new things together, and we’ll laugh, and reminisce. And yet forever I will know that my heart is still there, outside my body, destined never to return.
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