It’s probably best if you just steer clear of my husband and me this week.
Today, our 18-year-old heads off to college. Tomorrow, our 5-year-old starts kindergarten.
And the casualties from these momentous events are strewn across the battlefield we call home.
My husband is taking our eldest’s departure the hardest. For the last few weeks, he’s been moping around the house, mourning the fact that it is at last time for his firstborn to leave the nest. I imagine he’s feeling much like I felt not long ago, when it occurred to me that my childbearing days were over.
“I can’t believe she’s leaving,” he said at dinner last night, glumly pushing around the salad on his plate with a fork.
“It’s worse for me,” our 16-year-old replied from across the table.
“It’s not worse for you,” my husband objected.
“Yes it is,” I said, looking at our 16-year-old sympathetically. “The girls are best friends, Hubs. They do everything together.”
My husband scowled, and we all lapsed into morose silence.
I’m having an easier time coming to terms with the fact that our 18-year-old is leaving home; she’s been nice enough to help me deal by insisting for the last 10 months that she’s an adult and should be treated accordingly (which, to an 18-year-old, means no curfew, no responsibilities and unlimited funding from the ‘rents). What’s more, I know there’s a good chance that college will provide her with four of the best years of her life. I can’t help but get excited for her about that.
I look at my stepdaughter and see myself at that age, alternately eager and terrified at the prospect of striking out on her own, full of bravado by day and, I’m guessing, at least a few tears by night, convinced she is destined to become the next Tina Fey/ Kate Winslet/ Amy Sedaris, but having no idea of how to get there.
She’s ready. She’s not ready.
But while I’m trying to be philosophical about my eldest flying the coop, when it comes to my 5-year-old, I’m an emotional wreck. We’re talking, after all, about the child who adores me with a passion generally reserved for God and the perfect cheeseburger, the child who tells everyone that Mommy knows everything and Mommy is always right, the child who looks so much like me, she might as well be my clone.
While my 18-year-old all but disappeared from our lives the day she was given the keys to her car, my 5-year-old has stuck to me like glue since she was born. More than a few times, I’ve called her name, only to look down and realize she’s been standing quietly by my side all along. The thought of being without her for seven hours a day, every day, feels a little bit like finding out my arm is about to be amputated.
Hubs tries to console me. “She’ll be fine,” he tells me. “She’ll love it.”
I can only nod and whimper in response.
As much as I’d love to keep Punky at home with me, I have to admit that lately, she seems to need a little more than I have to offer. She’s been demanding constant playdates. Excursions. Social opportunities. Kindergarten is the obvious solution, despite the fact that whenever I mention it, she hides her face and says quietly that she’d rather stay with me.
She’s ready. She’s not ready.
I look at my girls now and think back on all the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes I watched with my oldest. I remember an entire week we spent once during Christmas break doing nothing but playing with Barbie dolls. A few years later, I spent hours and hours of my life rocking an infant Punky to sleep. I must have sung Amazing Grace to her a thousand times. Back then, those moments seemed like they’d last forever.
And now, suddenly, they’re gone, and both my girls are about to begin creating new memories that won’t include me. And I’m left thinking, “Why did I have children again?” No one sufficiently explained to me how much this parenting thing would hurt.
But don’t start sending me e-mails with the five signs of depression just yet. Because I have to be honest: There’s a small part of me that’s excited about having my 2-year-old’s daily naptime to myself again. And with just one teenager left in the house, there certainly will be far less day-to-day drama. I’m actually looking forward to working on all the things that have been put on the backburner these last five years. Seriously. These are tears of happiness. I swear.
Believe me, I’m ready.
I’m not ready.
Read more of Lindsay’s columns at www.suburbanturmoil.com