Thursday, August 18, 2016

After August

This is a violin, not a viola.
And this is not the sixth symphony.
But you get the idea.
A while back, our two oldest children left for college one week apart. 

Jarring, yes. And yet, I remember thinking, I'm not upset enough.  It reminded me of when I was child and wanted to cry at a funeral because everyone else was.

July rolled into August. Suitcases filled, rooms emptied of posters and books and CDs, and while I found myself looking longer and harder at my children, I was still not weepy. Nor was I second-hand weepy around the mothers who couldn't get through a discussion about the coming goodbye.

I was even a tiny bit more cheerful as September came into view.  No more details, no more shopping. No more saying, "Did you," at the start of every sentence.

One brilliant green and yellow morning, I listened to the last movement of Beethoven's sixth, a piece my violist-daughter and I adore, and one I'd watched her perform the previous summer. I thought about that lilt in the beginning, the part she really loved, and wondered, where did it actually begin? I went to her room to ask her, and got halfway. In a week, I would not be able to do this.

I still remember my face getting cold, and a feeling of being hollow. And did I cry hard enough to make my best friend come over in her pajamas? Yes, I did.

As new parents write of lost identity when babies come, veteran parents write often of disorientation when babies go. What of the next relationship we ask ourselves, when we aren't yet those people we will be for each other?

This canyon of "now," between "were" and "will be," is a thing that makes the prospect of separating a tiny bit like a death. And it's talked about that way, in terms of what is over for good. There is grief over truncated moments, regret over unrealized joys and sadness over endless "lasts." There is halting in the hallway, there are cold faces. There are thoughts of who will we be instead of us?

I have come to understand the answer to this, and it isn't something I would have understood at all had someone tried to explain it before August.

But it is this: my relationships with our four adult children, are more rewarding today than at any other time  because today, they demand more of me as a person than a parent.  

They are different people, but share a tolerant, kind view of the world. They require this of those they trust. More than once they have made me examine my heart and change it, close my mouth and open my mind, discuss hard truths, question wrong assumptions, update my views.

I've started more than one conversation with, "Help me change my attitude about something."

I've never found it this easy to laugh at myself.

Today, our daughter  lives 650 miles away from us in Cleveland. There, she directs a program which offers violin lessons to inner city children. Small children. Children who arrive tired and cranky and are more interested in my daughter's earrings than the piece upon which she must focus their little attention spans. 

She took me to tour the facility. When she left to take a call her boss resumed the tour, explaining the programs they offered and the value my daughter has brought to them. 

"We love her," said this man who has only known her as an adult, a kind, talented, professional woman. "She's a natural."

Later , we shopped for groceries and prepared dinner and talked in her kitchen about things we thought about, worried over, looked forward to, dreamed about. We had as much fun as two grown women can have when one is no longer – nor yet – dependent on the other. She is healthy and committed to intellectual, physical and spiritual balance.  Today, we are more alike than we aren't, despite the twenty-plus years between us.  We share a mother-daughter relationship, but have adult lives in common.

My August hallway question is long behind me but I have learned this: children leave, and they travel as far as they must to become their individuated selves. But then, whether they move down the street or text us from their living rooms across the country, they will come back not in need of answers or approval, but as people with experiences to share, in need of comparison, in need of commonality.

The fall is coming. Parents will miss their college freshmen perhaps more than they imagined. I say, let the memories come. And as you remember the times you'll always cherish, also remember the times you wouldn't revisit for anything.

Above all, be joyous about the certain possibility of times to come, when love will grow right along with you and connect you, long after August has come and gone.

This piece was originally published by in August of 2015.


  1. Wow...Hi.
    With each one of these writings, I hope you find the better version of yourself that I find. This is such a fine example in accepting the joy of life's lessons, and not miserably resisting life's changes. A friend told me about his sailing experience. "Sailing is about learning how to navigate the wind, and too much rudder will tip your boat," he told me. "When you navigate the wind, you may not ride the water in a straight line, but it generates both joy and terror at the same time."
    Thank you for these words. They rang true.

  2. Dale, your friend's words are poetic. I have learned that peace and fulfillment as goals by themselves are elusive; they come as natural results of living in full - the joy and the terror - and yes, it is a crooked path.

    I'm glad you stopped by and left those words to think about. Thank you.

  3. Thanks for this! I just dropped off my elder daughter at college for the first time. It's reassuring to remember the relationship hasn't ended, and helpful to be optimistic about its possibilities as the years go on.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Hope, and with all my heart, I believe we all change for the better along with our relationships.