Twenty years ago this week is the last time I gave birth. Two decades gone. Come Sunday, I am done parenting teens. I’ve been a parent for twenty-two and a half years. Other than marriage, parenting is the thing I have done for the largest part of my life but oddly it has all gone by pretty fast. In looking back at my life that stretch from seventh grade until high school graduation (despite being less than six years) seems like the longest chunk of time. Five years of college stretched out too but these years of parenting have raced by, perhaps because they are the years I wished to savor most.
Motherhood is so often pictured as a beautiful woman in a billowing white cotton frock with a cherub-like infant nestled to her bosom. I have loved being a mother but despite feeding the children the purest of foods the end result when they were infants was best kept away from pristine linens and really better suited to the gym shorts and sweatshirt I was likely wearing. The true miracle of birth for me was how my focus was forever changed from “How do I look and what should I wear?” to what they wore, what they were doing, what they needed. A life change that I have never regretted.
I remember always wanting to be a mother but upon reflection didn’t really grasp all that the position entailed. I recall the maternal “mama bear” kicking in when my oldest had blood drawn by a nurse who pricked her tiny little (some might say “perfect”) heel many times to get it and how my daughter’s squealing made me want to physically harm the woman. I remember when I took her baby brother for the same test and how I braced myself with my plan to ask for another nurse if the first one did not draw enough by the second try, only to have him sleep in his car seat through the entire procedure. That was when I began to realize that parenting is a lot like college, each child is a different class. In my case the classes were in entirely different disciplines. I have learned so much from raising both of my children and it has been like preparing projects for two separate courses with two dramatically different professors; the assignments are entirely different, their needs (demands) unique, the materials required varied. While some of the skills required to complete the works have overlapped, the end results are truly originals and I am so proud of both.
Parenting books tend to end with adolescence and parents themselves often quit looking to books for answers after potty training is through but the process continues; offering advice on education, travel, relationships and major purchases, perhaps even someday advice on parenting itself. My daughter has been home this week on her final spring break from college. A few days ago we found ourselves enjoying lunch together at Macy’s in the Southdale mall, a tradition we had often enjoyed with my mother under the monikers Dayton’s and Marshall Fields. I pointed out the table I had eaten lunch at with my mother on our final outing together. My daughter and I reminisced. I told several stories of my mischievous childhood. One story regarding an escapade with three of my girlfriends to the downtown Dayton’s over a spring break as ninth graders. A quart of vodka and Burger King orange soda followed by dining at the Dayton’s salad bar did not end well for one of my companions. It was an epic story of immaturity and bad choices. As stupid as it was hilarious, it is the kind of thing that would involve social services today. There was another great story involving officer Metro from the St. Louis Park police department when I was a sophomore. The poor choice of transporting alcohol in shampoo bottles on a choir trip was disclosed. They were not stories I was proud of, not stories I am ashamed of, they are simply my stories. When I had finished with regaling her with episodes from my youth, I shared a couple from my father’s teen years. His were stories shared with me during summers I was in college, some that he had never shared with my older brothers.
There were occasions in my life that I thought would define me as an adult but as they came and passed I never felt like I was truly a grown-up. Being old enough to vote, driving, moving out of state, buying my first car, these were milestones but they did not make me feel grown-up. Not even getting married, having children, buying a home or the loss of my parents truly made me feel like an adult. Even as a Girl Scout troop leader, teaching art in the elementary school and eventually chaperoning school dances only left me feeling like an older kid, never an adult. Though I am not one who will ever fully embrace maturity, I will say that the closest I have felt to being an adult has been sharing the errors of my own youth, with my children, now that they are adults and can view these stories more as history lessens than a “How-To” course.
As a little girl I always wanted to be a mother. Being the youngest of my siblings and even the cousins on both sides of the family I had little exposure to babies but I thought that was what being a mom was about, taking care of babies. While I loved my children as babies and adored them as toddlers, was mesmerized by their learning in elementary school and feel fortunate to have witnessed their blossoming talents and personal growth through high school, I am beginning to think that what I may ultimately enjoy most as a parent is the sharing of our stories with each other. Adult to adult.